Women in Engineering: A Spatial Problem?
Spatial ability or reasoning is another mathematical skill that refers to the capacity to comprehend, reason, and draw conclusions about objects in three dimensions. Spatial thinking is visualizing through our “mind’s eye”: A routine mental act performed by engineers and architects to design buildings, or chemists to predict the three-dimensional structure of a molecule, or a surgeon to navigate the human body.
According to a recent National Science Foundation report, “only 19 percent” of women earned degrees in engineering. One of the key factors found to be attributed for this decline: Spatial Skills – which also happens to be a strong predictor of success in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Furthermore, several studies have shown that women generally score lower than men on tests of spatial reasoning, especially in the areas of spatial visualization and mental rotation. Dana Suskind in her recent book, “Thirty Million Words“, ponders on the importance of spatial skills and provides an interesting example during the discovery of the structure of DNA: “Watson and Crick’s re-forming Rosalind Franklin’s flat image into a three-dimensional model that became the famed double helix.”
The solution: Foster Spatial Skills in children as early as Pre-K and Elementary schools. Recent studies suggest that books that explain STEM concepts using illustrations from a three-dimensional perspective to pre-K and elementary could be as important for creating confidence in their ability to succeed in math and science courses and ultimately in a STEM career. From a neuroscience perspective, it would be prudent on our part to nurture spatial skills at the Pre-K and Elementary school level to leverage the brain’s malleable period of plasticity.
Some Recommendations for Introducing Spatial Skill for Children:
Parents and teachers can help Pre-K and Elementary School children, especially girls, develop their spatial skills in the following ways:
Introduce picture books that explain STEM concepts from a three-dimensional spatial perspective.
Nurture playing with blocks.
Encourage playing with construction toys including toys that encourage taking things apart and putting them back together again.
Encourage their participation that involves fitting objects into different places and working with their hands, e.g., assembling an IKEA furniture.
Use handheld models when possible (rather than computer generated models)
Praba is a children’s book author of a STEM series for Pre-K and Elementary School Children. He uses creative illustrations to teach STEM concepts from an experiential learning perspective. His books have been recommended by NSTA and reviewed by Midwest Reviews in addition to been nominated as the “2016 Children’s Literary Contest Finalist” for the Pacific North West Association Award. Praba’s motivation to write stories for children, especially girls, is to inspire them to take STEM careers as women currently hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering. He is an avid blogger and blogs on STEM and Experiential Learning. For more information, visit us at: www.boon-dah.com