Transforming Preschoolers' Spatial Orientation Learning
2021 to 2024

Prior research suggests that preschool mathematics knowledge is a strong predictor of children’s later academic success, that spatial learning has a unique contribution to later STEM engagement, and that developmentally appropriate preschool mathematics experiences hold exceptional promise to address educational inequities. Spatial thinking, which includes spatial orientation, is often ignored in formal education settings during the early years. This is a significant curricular limitation, given that recent evidence links spatial thinking to readiness for kindergarten, and in particular mathematics, and suggests that strong spatial skills may create "a cascade of effects” on later mathematics learning.

To help start this upward cascade, our team of learning scientists from Education Development Center and Digital Promise Global, with public media producers from WGBH Educational Foundation, seek to increase preschoolers’ spatial orientation (SO) learning and STEM identity, particularly for underrepresented and underserved groups, by developing and researching a preschool mathematics curriculum supplement that leverages digital touch-screen tablets and Augmented Reality technologies with other hands-on, developmentally appropriate spatial learning activities.

The project will use a design-based research and development approach that leverages research to improve the learning activities. We will design a set of spatial orientation classroom activities with a digital teachers’ guide for preschool classrooms, a set of family SO learning activities that are easily accessible to families through a family guide, and a validated SO assessment for preschool students. Finally, we will conduct user studies and a pilot study to test the activities and inform revision to those activities, including the development of a hands-on assessment to understand and track preschoolers' learning of spatial orientation concepts.

The study findings will illuminate the potential for this approach on preschoolers’ SO learning specifically, as well as add to the literature on how to design digital activities that foster learning, thereby developing knowledge that the field can capitalize on for other domains and age groups.The project will broaden the participation of young children, parents, and preschool teachers in robust math and technology learning experiences that increase STEM identities, and will provide a model for STEM interventions that use AR to facilitate children’s SO and STEM identity and support teachers' and parents’ engagement with preschoolers’ learning.