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Mental rotation skills


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I ave this presentation to the HoDs of mathematics in the Trinity group of (independent) schools.

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Mental rotation skills

  1. 1. Training mental rotation skills to improve spatial ability Christian Bokhove 14 March 2018, Southampton, UK
  2. 2. Who am I ? • Christian Bokhove • From 1998-2012 teacher maths and computer science, secondary school Netherlands • PhD from Utrecht University • Associate Professor at University of Southampton – Maths education – Technology use – Large-scale assessment (PISA, TIMSS) – Computer Science stuff (analysing 17,000+ Ofsted reports) – School Mathematics Project 2.0
  3. 3. This collaboration • Arose from collaboration Education School with Psychology department and earlier links with King Edward VI School (KES). • Dr. Bokhove had been using well-known ‘Building blocks’ applet from Utrecht University. • Dr. Redhead had worked with mazes and wayfinding. • Common factor: spatial skills. Could Mental Rotation Skills (MRS) be trained? • This presentation reports on a field experiment we did with four year 7 classes in KES.
  4. 4. Aims 1. Field testing online digital versions of MRS measurement instrument. 2. Trying out a quite well-known application: apart from it being challenging and interesting, can we measure its effectiveness? 3. In longer term, to eventually see if MRS training (i) improves MRS, but (ii) also transfers to other spatial and maths domains, e.g. wayfinding in mazes. 4. In this study a focus on (i) utilising a MRS training intervention to see if it’s effective regarding MRS speed and effectiveness, and (ii) determine if the expected gender effect takes place.
  5. 5. Spatial skills: MRS can be trained • Meta-analysis of training studies for spatial skills: training in mental rotation can lead to stable gains in MRS (Uttal et al., 2013) • Training benefited undergraduate students who initially exhibited poor spatial skills (Sorby, 2009) So, MRS can be trained
  6. 6. Spatial skills: MRS predicts maths • Good spatial skills strongly predicts achievement and attainment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (Uttal et al., 2013) • Thompson, Nuerk, Moeller and Kadosh (2013) strengthened the observed link between spatial and numerical abilities. And training: • Spatial tasks are related to arithmetical and mathematical performance (Dumontheil & Klingberg, 2011). • Cheng and Mix (2014) found evidence that mental rotation training improved maths performance in 6- to 8-year olds.
  7. 7. Spatial skills: gender differences • gender differences (e.g. see the meta-analysis by Voyer, Voyer and Bryden), • although this might depend on whether the environment is ‘pen and paper’ or virtual (Parsons, Larson, Kratz, Thiebaux, Bluestein, Buckwalter, & Rizzo, 2004).
  8. 8. Platform • Digital Mathematics Environment. Started as project in Netherlands at Utrecht University. • Extended into MC-squared platform ( and Numworx. • Allows integration of ‘widgets’ in digital maths books, within a Learner Management System (scope too wide to elaborate, please ask if interested).
  9. 9. Methodology • Two groups, with about 85 students randomly allocated to the conditions; they only differ in the order in which the activities are offered. • One group was 36 and the other group 49 (something to improve on next time round!) • Part of four classes with around 20 students each. Classes in year seven at this school had individual tablet computers available. The study was pre- registered at Intervention P1 I P2 P3 Control P1 P2 I P3
  10. 10. Try out at (Ask for a login) Intervention tool (I)
  11. 11. • Ganis and Kievit (2015), based on Shepard and Metzlar (1971) • Validated mental rotation stimuli • 48 sets of two block buildings with 7 to 11 cubes • Four arms rotated over four angles: 0, 50, 100 and 150o • ‘Same’ and ‘different’ Measurement tool (P1, P2, P3)
  12. 12. In action…
  13. 13. In action…
  14. 14. • Stores correct/incorrect • Time taken
  15. 15. Results In this study we wanted to look whether i. utilising a MRS training intervention to see if it’s effective regarding MRS speed and effectiveness, and ii. determine if the expected gender effect takes place.
  16. 16. Continuous/ discreet disclaimer!
  17. 17. Results In this study we wanted to look whether i. utilising a MRS training intervention to see if it’s effective regarding MRS speed and effectiveness, and a little bit, but not significant ii. determine if the expected gender effect takes place.
  18. 18. No intervention With intervention
  19. 19. Results In this study we wanted to look whether i. utilising a MRS training intervention to see if it’s effective regarding MRS speed and effectiveness, and a little bit, but not significant ii. determine if the expected gender effect takes place. there might be a gender effect, but inconclusive
  20. 20. Qualitative findings • It was highly enjoyable but challenging. – “Great fun” – “I love this I love this I love this” – “This is annoying”. • But also very challenging to get green ticks. The most the best students could finish was green ticks for the first 10 of the 20 available tasks. Some students seemed a bit frustrated when they couldn’t get the green ticks. In a future trial it might be good to have two stages, rather than let students decide: first get a correct building for all 20 tasks, after that aim for the minimum number for each of the buildings by removing cubes. • The technology worked very well, and there were no technical problems. The interface could be improved for a tablet interface. Especially, the zooming could be improved.
  21. 21. Limitations and further research • Ceiling effect, likely caused by no 7500 ms limit to tasks in the MRS measurement – Pupils used that time ‘naturally’ but pre-test longer. – Solution: limit time – But that might create differential gender effects • Registration of final timing due to no ‘exit’. • Tension length of treatment and (supposed) effectiveness. • Variations of the tool, for example green check or yellow check (see qual comments). • Pre-registration planned for a new trial.
  22. 22. Thank you • Contact: – – Twitter: @cbokhove – • Always happy to explore possibilities of collaboration. – Not only technology – Also, for example, specific mathematical knowledge – School Mathematics Project 2.0
  23. 23. Selected references Bokhove, C., & Redhead, E. (2017). Training mental rotation skills to improve spatial ability. Online proceedings of the BSRLM, 36(3). Boon, P. (2009). A designer speaks: Designing educational software for 3D geometry. Educational designer, 1(2), 1-11. Casey, M. B., Pezaris, E. & Nuttall, R. L. (1992).Spatial ability as a predictor of math achievement - the importance of sex and handedness patterns. Neuropsychologia, 30, 35-45. Cheng, Y-L., & Mix, K.M. (2014). Spatial training improves children’s mathematics ability. Journal of cognition and development, 15(1), 2-11. Department for Education. (2013). National curriculum in England: mathematics programmes of study. Retrieved from Dumontheil, I., & Klingberg, T. (2011). Brain activity during visuospatial working memory task predicts arithmetical performance 2 years later. Celebral Cortex, 22, 1078-1085. Ganis, G., & Kievit, R.A. (2015). A new set of three-dimensional shapes for investigating mental rotation processes: Validation data and stimulus set. Journal of Open Psychology Data, 3(1):e3, doi:10.5334/ Lauer, J. E., & Lourenco, S.F. (2016). Spatial processing in infancy predicts both spatial and mathematical aptitude in childhood. Psychological Science, doi: 10.1177/0956797616655977 Parsons, T.D., Larson, P., Kratz, K., Thiebaux, M., Bluestein, B., Buckwalter, G., & Rizzo, A.A. (2004). Sex differences in mental rotation and spatial rotation in a virtual environment. Neuropscyhologia, 42, 555-562. Recanzone, G.H. Jenkins, W. M.,Hradek, G. T., & Merzenich, M. M. (1992). Topographic reorganization of the hand representation in cortical area 3b of owl monkeys trained in a frequency-discrimination task. J. Neurophysiol, 67, 1031-1056. Shepard, R. N. & Metzler, J. (1971). Mental rotation of three-dimensional objects. Science, 171(3972), 701–703, doi:10.1126/science.171.3972.701 Sorby, S. (2009). Educational Research in Developing 3-D Spatial Skills for Engineering Students. International Journal of Science Education, 31, 459-480. Uttal, D. H. Meadow, N. G., Tipton, E., Hand, L. L., Alden, A. R., Warren, C., & Newcombe, N. S. (2013). The Malleability of Spatial Skills: A Meta-Analysis of Training Studies. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 352-402. Voyer, D., Voyer, S., & Bryden, M. P. (1995). Magnitude of sex differences in spatial abilities: A meta-analysis and consideration of critical variables. Psychological Bulletin, 117(2), 250–270