University of Redlands


Spatial thinking, computational thinking, and mathematical performance correlated with one another, depending upon the assessment. Overall, among both girls and boys and across students varying in math abilities, the spatial STEM-C curriculum generally did not improve spatial task performance according to the quantitative assessments.

Teachers proposed that assessing spatial skills with hands-on and interactive assessments, instead of pencil-and-paper assessments, might have shown a different picture. Although improvement in the spatial skills of students in treatment versus control classrooms was not different according to the quantitative data, teachers perceived that the spatial STEM-C curriculum did increase students’ interest and engagement with spatial thinking, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Key Takeaways

  • Elementary school students build spatial skills during this crucial time in their development.
  • Spatial abilities are correlated with computational thinking abilities and mathematical performance.
  • Computational thinking abilities and mathematics skills are highly intertwined.
  • K-5 girls under perform boys on assessments of spatial thinking skills and computational thinking abilities. 
  • Children from less affluent homes under perform other children on assessments of spatial thinking skills. 
  • Playing with building toys appears to be related to spatial ability and may help build spatial skills. 
  • Embodied spatial games with embedded spatial language may be effective in building spatial skills.
  • Targeting individual students who need help with spatial skills may be more effective that targeting demographic categories of students.
  • Helping parents, teachers, and other caregivers to engage in supportive, joint spatial problem-solving with children may be effective in building spatial skills in young children.
  • Assessments are needed that better measure targeted components of spatial thinking skills and computational abilities being developed by K-5 children in their play and academic activities.