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Visual and Spatial Reasoning for Scientists and Engineers

Visual and Spatial Reasoning for Scientists and Engineers

(Visual and Spatial Reasoning)

Enhancing Spatial Reasoning and Visual Cognition for Early Science and Engineering Students with 'Hands-on' Interactive Tools and Exercises

Many problems in science, engineering, and mathematics are inherently spatial in nature. Understanding and reasoning about atoms in a molecule, the design of mechanical and electronic systems such as robots, layout of an integrated circuit or microelectronic mechanical chip, transmission of tension and compression forces in a structural system-these problems all demand the ability to visualize and reason spatially. Surprisingly, students of science and engineering are seldom taught these skills.

Visual thinking and the ability to reason spatially can be taught and learned: indeed, this is a central component of architectural design education. We teach architects to manage and manipulate complex configurations of physical elements in space, and architectural educators have developed techniques for teaching this ability. In the past, the principal means for teaching spatial and visual thinking has been drawing and three-dimensional model-making. Today interactive media and software tools augment these traditional methods.

Based on experience with teaching visual skills to architectural designers we propose to develop a series of exercises that, as part of a course on visual and spatial reasoning, can enhance science, mathematics, and engineering education for undergraduate students. The exercises will include drawing with pencil and paper as well as computational drawing media, physical as well as computer-graphics based three dimensional modeling, and techniques for shifting between computational and physical representations. We will test these exercises in a course taught to first-year college students and assess the learning experience using both formative and summative evaluations.
Visual and Spatial Reasoning for Scientists and Engineers
    sponsor: National Science Foundation CCLI-0127579

last updated 11.8.2004 by Mark D Gross

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