The Spatial Thinking & STEM Learning lab focuses on individual differences in spatial thinking and learning in STEM fields. Since spatial thinking is found in a variety of domains, the lab is focused on spatial skills and strategies in three areas:

Developing and Evaluating Spatial Thinking Measures

Psychometric measures of spatial thinking are frequently used in the academic and educational literature to quickly assess people’s skills in using and manipulating spatial properties. Many of the pencil-and-paper assessments of spatial thinking that are most commonly used were developed in the 1960s and 1970s. While still useful, these assessments are in need of redesigns to match modern computers and to meet modern psychometric standards. In this line of research, the lab is investigating these questions:

  • How can we better assess spatial thinking in children?
  • How can we improve upon older spatial thinking assessments?
  • Are these new spatial thinking assessments reliable and valid?
Arismendi, V., Fackler, C., Jircik, H, & Burte, H. (2021). Strategy Differences in Spatial Visualization Assessments Psychonomic Society Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA, November 4–7.

Spatial Thinking in Elementary Students’ Math Learning

Spatial thinking skills are associated with STEM learning outcomes, but methods for improving spatial thinking is largely absent from elementary classrooms. In this line of research, the lab is:

  • Developing assessments of spatial thinking as it connects to mathematical learning.
  • Identifying connections between children’s developing spatial thinking and mathematical learning.
  • Testing the effectiveness of spatial thinking interventions on elementary students’ spatial thinking and mathematical learning.
Burte, H., Gardony, A. L., Hutton, A., & Taylor, H. A. (2020). What are Elementary Teachers’ Attitudes and Beliefs about Spatial Thinking and Math? Psychonomic Society Annual Meeting, Virtual, November 19–22.

Sense-of-Direction in Navigation

Navigation is an essential skill and is the prototypical example of a spatial task. Whereas it is well understood that individual differences exist in navigational abilities, it is not known why people vary so widely. In this line of research, the lab is:

  • Investigating individual differences in directional understanding, which is essential for navigational success.
  • Determining how aspects of the individual (such as sense-of-direction) and environmental factors interact to impact directional understanding.
  • Developing and testing interventions for improving directional understanding and navigation abilities.
Hawthorne, C., Myers, M., Quintero, S., & Burte, H. (2021). Directional sense in familiar environments misaligned with the cardinal directions. Spatial Cognition in Riga, Latvia, August 1–4.
Akbaryan, A., Girgenti, G., & Burte, H. (2022). What biases impact north pointing accuracy on the Texas A&M campus? Texas A&M Student Research Week.
Watanabe, B. K., Park, S., & Burte, H. (2022). Should you take directions from an extrovert? The relationship between personality and perspective taking. Texas A&M Student Research Week.
Nutalapati, N., Raina, Y., Watanabe, B. K., Park, S., & Burte, H. How well do you know your campus? A pilot study examining the relationship between anxiety and spatial ability. Texas A&M Student Research Week.

Spatial Thinking in College-Level Physics Learning

College-level physics courses require students to adopt new problem solving techniques and to change their conceptual understanding (moving from naïve to expert understanding) of physics. While spatial thinking is clearly involved in physics problem solving, it is not clear what role spatial thinking plays in conceptual understanding. In this line of research, the lab is investigating these questions:

  • How does spatial thinking and physics conceptual understanding change over the course of first-year physics courses?
  • How do changes in conceptual understanding relate to spatial visualization skills and the spatial strategies students tend to use?
  • Can we design physics learning interventions that are personalized to the physics concepts with which a student is struggling and to a students’ skill level in thinking spatially?