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Title: STEM faculty perceptions of spatial thinking for sustainability

Don’t do this.

Try to tell a story here, no matter what your field. You are writing for human beings, not computers. What’s the area, what’s the problem you are trying to understand. How? What have you found?

(You are summarizing your core results, not cramming them into this tiny space).

target: 84-151 words
current: 43
(This is a word count footer. We don’t have automatic word counts yet, so I use is this Chrome extension)

Introduction - “The Setup”

Research questions: What are university faculty members perceptions of the spatial thinking skills necessary for understanding environmental problems?

Introduction Situate the assessment

  • Human environment behavior

  • Rationale in spatial understanding

  • Interventions for spatial in ES

  • Requires an assessment from spatial understanding in environmental science

  • There are discipline specific assessments, but not one that focuses on sustainability

  • In order to develop an assessment applicable to understanding environmental problems, we turn to previous discipline specific assessments as well as eliciting the perspective of experts in the field.

  • Research questions: The current research asks: What are university faculty members perceptions of the spatial thinking skills necessary for understanding environmental problems?

#Intro: What impacts environmental action?

See Coffee 2005 for model of major and minor factors influencing citizenship behavior.

Also see previous spatial thinking writing for other models.

#Environmental literacy

Describe environmental literacy and situate the need for spatial thinking within it.

Break down environmental literacy components.

  1. Taylor, 2011, Developing a Framework for Assessing Environmental Literacy)

In order to develop an instrument to assess environmental literacy Hollweg, Taylor, Bybee, Marcinkowski, McBeth, & Zoido (2011) synthesized the historical literature on environmental education and frameworks for defining environmental literacy. In their synthesis, they state initial goals for environmental education outlined by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1978. Their definition of environmental education is as follows: “the goal of environmental education is: to develop a world population that is aware of, and concerned about, the environment and its associated problems, and which has the knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations and commitment to work individually and collectively toward solutions of current problems and the prevention of new ones.” This definition was the foundation for several frameworks to follow, each providing a perspective on the environmental community’s priorities for the skills, understandings and abilities of an environmentally literate person.

The framework for adopted by Hollweg, Taylor, Bybee, Marcinkowski, McBeth, & Zoido (2011) for the purposes of creating an environmental literacy assessment describes an environmentally literate person as some one who “both individually and together with others, makes informed decisions concerning the environment; is willing to act on these decisions to improve the well-being of other individuals, societies, and the global environment; and participates in civic life” (p. 2-3). Environmental literacy exists as a continuum that its students may progress along as they develop “knowledge and understanding of a wide range of environmental concepts, problems, and issues, a set of cognitive and affective dispositions, a set of cognitive skills and abilities, and the appropriate behavioral strategies to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make sound and effective decisions in a range of environmental contexts” (p. 2-3). The skills an abilities described here are quite broad, but are outlined more specifically in Table 1.

This aligns with literature on environmental education, which describes the goals of environmental education as


  2. Address this gap through environmental education initiatives (Coffee, 2005)
  3. a description of the spatial thinking skills that serve the skills and abilities described here.

#Affective variables

Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera (1987) conducted a meta-analysis of studies aimed at identifying the relationship between several factors and environmental behavior. They identified and calculated the average correlation coefficient for three categories of factors affecting environmental behaviors: demographic, cognitive and psychosocial. We will review the latter two here, since they are most likely to be impacted by a simulation-based intervention.
Cognitive variables.
Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera (1987) described the cognitive factors affecting a person environmental behavior as not only the knowledge of environmental problems, including their origins and consequences, but also knowledge of action to take to promote environmental health or address and environmental problem. The authors found that for both variables, there was a strong, significant, positive relationship with environmental behavior. That is, a person who has a greater understanding of the origin and consequences of an environmental problem is more likely to act to prevent or correct it. Likewise, those with greater knowledge of action to take to prevent or correct and environmental problem, will be more likely to take that action.
Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera (1987) found five factors in the literature that were studied in relation to environmental behavior: attitude, locus of control, verbal commitment, personal responsibility, and economic orientation. The first four were found to have significant positive relationships with environmental behavior.
Attitude is described as having two components. Attitude toward the environment, that is do we generally feel it is important and a good thing, and attitude toward taking positive environmental action, that is, feeling it is important to do things like recycle or bike instead of driving a car. The authors found that both types of environmental attitudes were positively correlated with environmental behaviors. Those who generally feel the environment is important and good are more likely to behave in environmentally conscious ways. Likewise, those that feel environmental action is important are more likely to behave well toward the environment.
Locus of control is a factor that has been studied in relation to a variety of human activity. It describes an “individual’s perception that they can bring about change through their own behavior” (Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera, 1987, p.4). The meta-analysis found a positive correlation between locus of control and environmental behavior. Those individuals who had an internal locus of control, or in other words, felt that their actions could bring about change, were more likely to act on behalf of the environment.
The two psychosocial factors mentioned above had the strongest correlation to environmental behavior. The authors also found that a person who had made a verbal commitment was more likely to act on behalf of the environment, as was a person who felt a personal responsibility for environmental conditions. The authors also tested for a correlation between a person’s economic orientation and environmental behavior. Economic orientation is described as an individual’s cost consciousness toward the effectiveness of certain environmental behaviors. The author’s found only a weak correlation between economic orientation and environmental behavior.
Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera (1987) go on to describe effective curricular characteristics from a group of experimental studies they reviewed. While the studies were too diverse to describe using correlation statistics, the authors state that curriculum that targets more than one of the factors mentioned above tend to be more successful at changing environmental behaviors. Interventions that focused on some combination of the following targets were most successful: knowledge of issues, discussion of alternatives, development of investigation, problem-solving, and action-taking skills and values discussion.
Meinhold and Malkus (2005) examined some of the variables previously described by Hines, Hungerford, and Tomera (1987), including locus of control, knowledge and attitude, and related these factors to what they describe as a moderating factor, self-efficacy. They recognized previous findings that related environmental attitude to environmental behavior, and added that self-efficacy could act as a moderating factor between the two. Those students who had pro-environmental attitudes and believed that their actions could make a difference would be more likely than those who simply had pro-environmental attitudes. They further described a complex system in which students who perform pro-social acts toward the environment would have “positive feelings about themselves and the contributions they can make in the future” (p. 514). They argue that these students’ levels of self-esteem, self-efficacy, and sense of an internal locus of control in their lives would increase as well.
Research demonstrates the potential for environmental education to affect the psychosocial factors mentioned above.
Erdogen (2011) found that both attitudes and behaviors were positively and significantly affected by an outdoor education course, while knowledge was not.
Howe and Disinger’s (1988) findings were similar: that an increase in environmental knowledge alone is not sufficient to affect environmental behavior.
Ramsey (1995) reports on a study in which students participated in curriculum designed to target predictor variables related to responsible environmental behavior. The goals of the curriculum were to increase understanding of ecological principles, increase awareness of environmental issues and values related to those issues, target investigation and evaluation skills and develop environmental action skills. The authors found that there was a significant increase in environmental sensitivity, environmental action skills, and perceived knowledge of environmental action skills. This indicates, once again, that formal curriculum can impact environmental action through the factors known to have an impact on it.

Literature Review

Literature Review
Purpose: to describe the need for an assessment that elicits students mental models of spatial relationships present in environmental problems and situate how a faculty perceptions survey works toward that.
Factors that contribute to environmental action

  • Affective factors.
  • Environmental literacy
  • What is spatial thinking?
  • Spatial thinking is critical to environmental literacy
  • Spatial thinking as a mental model
  • What is spatial understanding in environmental science?
  • Environmental science-related spatial understanding as a mental model
  • Example of environmental problem and spatial understanding required
  • Relate environmental science being of multiple disciplines to the many spatial understandings needed to think about environmental problems
  • The perspective on spatial thinking about sustainability and environmental problems of experts in the fields that are used to address them support the design of an assessment meant to elicit students’ spatial understanding about environmental problems.

#What is spatial thinking?

Included here for now is the writing that was done previously. Still to read on this front are the references on the list to the right. As they are read notes to follow…

#REFERENCES: What is spatial thinking?

Boroditsky, L. (2011). Metaphoric structuring: understanding time through spatial metaphors. Cognition, 1–28.

  • INCLUDED IN PREVIOUSLY READ MATERIAL: An addition here to the utility of this paper may be in the design of the instrument itself. If we decide to ask the faculty members some time-oriented items, this paper will be important to describing the importance.

Dominguez, M. G., Martin-Gutierrez, J., Gonzalez, C. R., & Corredeaguas, C. M. M. (2012). Methodologies and Tools to Improve Spatial Ability. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 51, 736–744. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.08.233

  • Not useful to this description of spatial thinking. This is a report on a study that tests tools to improve spatial thinking

Gentner, D. (2001). Spatial metaphors in temporal reasoning. Book chapter M. Gattis (Ed.) Spatial Schemas in abstract thought Cambridge MA MIT Press 2001

  • More here on the relationship between temporal and spatial thinking. Again, useful to tool design and this material was already covered in the first ST writing that was done.

Hegarty, M. (2011). The Cognitive Science of Visual-Spatial Displays: Implications for Design. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3(3), 446–474. doi:10.1111/j.1756-8765.2011.01150.x

  • This paper describes the importance of the design of visuo-spatial displays to promoting/increasing spatial thinking abilities. This might be useful to a discussion of models and modeling. If we are taking that TF lens, this paper discusses the represented world and might make a good comparison.

Hegarty, M., Crookes, R. D., Dara-Abrams, D., & Shipley, T. F. (2010). Do All Science Disciplines Rely on Spatial Abilities? Preliminary Evidence from Self-report Questionnaires. In H. E. al (Ed.), Spatial Cognition VII (pp. 85–94). Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

  • VERY IMPORTANT PAPER TO OUR DISCUSSION. HIGHLIGHTS THE IMPORTANCE OF SPATIAL THINKING/ABILITIES IN DIFFERENT FIELDS. Is also a self-report questionaire of different scientific and other disciplines on small scale and large scale spatial thinking abilities.

Mathewson, J. H. (2011). Visual-Spatial Thinking: An Aspect of Science Overlooked by Educators. Science Education, 83, 33–54.

Matlock, T., Ramscar, M., & Boroditsky, L. (2011). On the Experiential Link Between Spatial and Temporal Language. Cognitive Science, 29, 655–664.

Merchant, Z., Goetz, E. T., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. J. (2014). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students’ learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 70(C), 29–40. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2013.07.033

Michael, W. B., Guilford, J. P., Fruchter, B., & Zimmerman, W. S. (1957). The Description of Spatial-Visualization Abilities. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 17(2), 185–199. doi:10.1177/001316445701700202

Newcombe, N. S., & Stieff, M. (2012). Six Myths About Spatial Thinking. International Journal of Science Education, 34(6), 955–971. doi:10.1080/09500693.2011.588728

Ramadas, J. (2009). Visual and Spatial Modes in Science Learning. International Journal of Science Education, 31(3), 301–318. doi:10.1080/09500690802595763

Shipley, T. F., & Gentner, D. (2013). Introduction to the special issue on spatial learning and reasoning processes. Cognitive Processing, 14(2), 103–104. doi:10.1007/s10339-013-0565-1

Tate, N. J., Jarvis, C. H., & Moore, K. E. (2005). Locating spatial thinking in teaching practice. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 29(2), 87–91. doi:10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2004.12.001

Uttal, D. H., & Cohen, C. A. (2012). Spatial Thinking and STEM Education: When, Why, and How? The Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 57, pp. 147–181). Elsevier Inc. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-394293-7.00004-2

Uttal, D. H., Miller, D. I., & Newcombe, N. S. (2013). Exploring and Enhancing Spatial Thinking: Links to Achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(5), 367–373. doi:10.1177/0963721413484756

Ware, E. A., Uttal, D. H., & DeLoache, J. S. (n.d.). Everyday scale errors, 13(1), 28–36. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00853.x

Materials & Methods - “The Characters”

[We have here method A, B, and our new method C.]

You have established the core question(s) of your research. Now introduce the tools you are going to use to understand it.


What happened (objectively)?

Do not interpret, simply state the facts.

Let’s be honest: the first thing most of us do when skimming a paper is look at the figures. If your key results can be presented in figures, then start with that, and structure your paper around that.


Results are objective, but science isn’t about listing data, it’s about extracting meaning from what we observe.

What do your results tell you about the core problem you were investigating?


Bring it back to the big picture. How do your results fit into the current body of knowledge?

Most importantly, how can these results help you ask better questions?


We don’t have bibliography support yet, but we do have “named links” so you can refer to specific links by name rather than retyping it each time.

“Black holes are cool.” [1], and DNA is cool too [2]. But black holes are still cool, though not “absolute zero” cool [1].