Initial Publication Date: June 19, 2015

Registration Details

This half-day workshop is part of the GSA Short Course 4-Pack. For $50, select any two workshops from the four (add 517C or 517D). Early registration ends on September 15. To sign up for a workshop, use the GSA meeting registration ( This site may be offline. ) .

517B. Improving Spatial Thinking in the Geosciences

Co-sponsored by NAGT and the Geoscience Education Division of GSA

Saturday, October 18, 2014 - 8:00 am to noon
Part of the GSA Short Course 4-Pack

Instructor: Basil Tikoff, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison; Bridget Garnier, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison; Thomas (Tim) Shipley, Temple Univ.

Workshop description

The workshop is designed to provide information about recent research on improving spatial reasoning – how can teachers improve geologist's most important tool, their mind? The workshop will be divided into thirds. The first third will review research in cognitive science on the nature of spatial cognition, its role in STEM education, how to improve spatial thinking, and how to support students who are struggling with spatial problems. The second third will be hands-on activities aimed to provide case-studies of how to apply the lessons of cognitive science, e.g. using analogical learning, to the geology classroom (improving 3D thinking through sketching, improving understanding of deep time through hierarchical alignment, using gesture to communicate complex spatiotemporal concepts). The last third of the course will be guided small group discussions to work on applying the principles to disciplinary material selected by workshop participants.

Before you go

  1. We strongly encourage you to read:
    Shipley, T., Tikoff, B., Manduca, C., Ormand, C. J. (2013). Structural Geology practice and learning, from the perspective of cognitive science. Journal of Structural Geology, 54 (August), 72-84
  2. Please send your two favorite/most innovative/most effective spatial activities to Bridget Garnier (

Workshop program

8:00 am Introductions and Icebreaker

8:30 am Presentation: A Cognitive Science perspective on the Geosciences classroom

9:15 am Hands-on activities: Sketching and Gesture

9:45 am Break

10:00 am Small group work: Developing effective analogies

10:45 am Group discussion: Analyzing the cognitive science in current practice

11:15 am Group discussion: Developing best practices

11:45 am Summary, further resources, and workshop evaluations


  • SILC
    The Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC) works to improve our understanding of spatial thinking and improve programs and technologies to to help bring that understanding into the classroom.