Equity and spacial reasoning in students' mathematics development


Spatial reasoning is that which allows you to visualise three-dimensional objects in your mind and manipulate these images mentally. For example, someone with good spatial reasoning skills may be able to imagine how an object would look if it were rotated.


Spatial reasoning is an important area of the mathematics curriculum that impacts on students' facility to understand their location in the physical world and their visualisation and manipulation of objects. It is a good skill to have when generating solutions in some fields such as architecture, design, astronomy, science or engineering. For example, an architect designing a new building needs to be able to visualise and transfer images from 2D to 3D drawings.

Spatial reasoning is also essential for performing common, everyday problems such as driving or parking your car, using a map to find your destination, estimating the number of items that will fit in your car, or using the rear view mirror. However, not all students develop these skills, which, in turn hinders their learning opportunities. There is compelling evidence that students can improve their spatial abilities with practice. 

For our most disadvantaged students, opportunities to develop such reasoning skills are limited—they are typically not taught in schools. The consequences of low numeracy and Spatial-Reasoning are profound in terms of learning mathematics, learning in general and their adult life.


University of Canberra Centenary Professor Tom Lowrie, in partnership with Professor Robyn Jorgensen, have been funded $541 000 from 2017-2020, through an Australian Research Council Discovery grant to explore how to improve disadvantaged students’ spatial reasoning and mathematics skills and their life opportunities. 


This project, commencing in 2017, aims to understand the influence of Spatial-Reasoning on school mathematics. Spatial-Reasoning skills are a significant predictor of achievement in mathematics, and will become increasingly necessary in digital and dynamic environments. Opportunities for disadvantaged students to develop such reasoning skills are limited; they are typically not taught in schools. The project investigates the role and nature of Spatial-Reasoning in students’ mathematics development; and substantiates the long-term effect of a spatial learning program on educationally disadvantaged students’ mathematics performance and reasoning.