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A CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY: ASSESSING AND IMPROVING SPATIAL THINKING OF PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS

V. La Ferla1, S. Olkun2, Z. Akkurt2, V. Toptas3

1Rhode Island College (UNITED STATES)
2Ankara University (TURKEY)
3Kirikkale Univsersity (TURKEY)
Spatial thinking is essential for scientific thought; it is used to represent and manipulate information in learning and problem solving. Visualizing two-dimensional views of three-dimensional structures, and integrating these views into a coherent mental image is a very important skill needed in many scientific fields. Many software packages aid in such visualization. Their use may enhance a student’s spatial visualization ability. The purpose of this research was two-fold. First, it was performed to investigate the effect of computer manipulatives on pre-service teachers’ understanding of three-dimensional structures. The second goal was to see if the observed effect was different for students living in the USA and Turkey. Instructional materials utilized Google SketchUp and other mental rotations programs to build toy-like buildings and manipulate them to see their different views.

Both Turkish and USA pre-service teachers were administered assessments of spatial ability before and after the treatment. Two treatments, with and without the computer, were administered with programs that potentially develop spatial ability. The control groups did the activities traditionally, manipulating unit cube blocks, constructing buildings from two-dimensional mat plans, while recording various views of the building. They then did the process in reverse, creating mat plans from their three-dimensional views. This group worked on three-dimensional buildings and their nets by cutting and unfolding cardboard cubes and prisms. They then folded these nets into three-dimensional structures. Experimental groups did the same activities as the control, but in addition, used Google SketchUp for creating buildings from two-dimensional plans, and for unfolding the sides of three-dimensional buildings to make two-dimensional plans. For this group, the front, side, and top views of three dimensional buldings made of unit cubes were observed on the computer and drawn on isometric dot paper.

Pre-service teachers in this study took the Space Relations (DAT) test, Spatial Visualization (SV) and Mental Rotations Test (MRT) before and after the treatment. Preliminary analysis of the data indicates that the use of Google SketchUp and other mental rotations programs may improve spatial ability. Pre-service teachers’ spatial visualization skills, as measured by MRT, DAT and SV, differ significantly between Turkey and the USA. Results of these tests show that there are some interesting similarities and differences between Turkey and the USA.