Initiatives Summary

Initiative 1: Characterize spatial skills relevant to STEM and chart their development. This initiative investigates which spatial skills are relevant to STEM and which respond well to intervention. In doing so, we are mindful that there are significant differences in spatial skill and learning across individuals, gender, and socio-economic status and are trying to discover the factors that are responsible for these differences.

Initiative 2: Understand tools for spatial learning. This initiative investigates how analogy, external symbol systems (language, maps, graphs & diagrams), and other spatial tools (gesture and sketching) work to support spatial thinking, and how they can best be used to facilitate spatial learning and to advance STEM education.

Initiative 3: Improve spatial skills, spatial learning and STEM education. This initiative develops educational techniques based on the spatial learning tools and tests them in laboratory settings for effectiveness. This research seeks to discover which tools are most effective for particular problems, at which points in the learning trajectory they are most useful, and for which particular populations they are most effective (e.g. gender differences).

Initiative 4: Educate using spatial learning at home and at school. This initiative takes techniques into classrooms, homes and other real-world settings, such as museums, modifying them as necessary to be practical and potentially scalable. It provides data about real-world effectiveness and feedback that is used by the other initiatives.

Initiative 5: Develop infrastructure for the science of spatial learning. This initiative focuses on creating resources to help build the science of spatial learning. This includes making our sketch understanding software robust for widespread distribution, creating ready-to-use activities and curriculum units for wide-spread distribution, building up corpora and other data resources, and creating assessment tools.

Initiative 6: Build spatial learning as a field. This initiative focuses on building up the spatial learning community, through constructing and maintaining a web site, building an on-line Spatial Network, and sponsoring lectures, conferences, and workshops.

Initiative 7: Diversity. This initiative focuses on encouraging the participation of underrepresented minorities and women in research and education. Our activities cover a variety of levels, from high school students to faculty members.

Initiative 8: Outreach. This initiative focuses on disseminating our results to the public, through activities that reach a wide variety of people (e.g., staging a massive “block party” in New York’s Central Park to encourage parents to use spatial materials, such as blocks and puzzles, in play with their children). SILC aims to reach parents, teachers, policy makers and the general public.


The figure below shows the main goals of SILC, how they are related to each other, and how each initiative is related both to the main goals and to each other.

SILC structure
SILC structure

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