Building a model of "spatial ability" : an analysis of grade 5 and 6 learners' strategies for solving "spatial" activities

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study explores the notion of "spatial ability" from the perspective of mathematics education. A review of the literature on "spatial ability" is used to compile a preliminary model of the phenomenon. Certain questions related to interaction in space arising from the literature review are noted in this model. Three aspects of this interaction are the focus of the empirical study. The results of the research are used to shed light on the preliminary model of "spatial ability". The three themes of the empirical study can be described as follows: the visualisation of "objects" from different perspectives (in "small-scale" space); the visualisation of "objects" from different perspectives (in "large-scale" space): and the representation of a three-dimensional "object" in a two-dimensional net. The results of the study suggest that a range of strategies can be used on the same "spatial" activity, and that a learner can adopt a variety of different strategies on a set of activities. Of the ten strategies identified in the study, some appear to rely on the manipulation of visual imagery, while others suggest that the manipulation process has been generalised resulting in a more "abstract" strategy. Interesting features related to the use of physical manipulation in solving spatial tasks and the communication of visual processes in the form of drawings and verbal responses are discussed. These results are used to expand the preliminary model of "spatial ability". This updated model suggests that a learner who has mastered four "abilities" and has a working knowledge of visual conventions will be able to interact successfully in the visual world. The different strategies identified in the empirical study are required during this interaction in space. The researcher also identifies areas for further research in. the field of "spatial ability" and reflects on the methodology associated with the assessment of this phenomenon. The potential value of the results of the study for use in mathematics education is discussed.

Bibliography: leaves 88-91.