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MSU study shows spatial training in children improves math skills

July 3, 2013

Through research conducted by MSU scholars with local elementary school students, there is direct evidence of how children can improve their math skills if trained in spatial reasoning.

Kelly Mix, professor of educational psychology at MSU, said past research- has shown people who are good in math also tend to be good at spatial reasoning-, leading to her lab wanting to find out if there is a link between the two.

“I just think it was surprising that spatial reasoning showed an immediate effect on math with such a short period of training and space,” Mix said. “It just shows to you the potential that this training really has. This is just a preliminary study, but our results are pretty promising.”

The study was conducted by using tests where the children would match pieces together to form pictures, doctoral student in the College of Education Yi-Ling Cheng said. The study trained 6-8 year-olds in a spatial ability called mental rotation, and researchers found a significant improvement in their addition and subtraction scores.

“Previous studies have focused on giving children math mediation because their math scores were so low,” Cheng said. “We can now look at spatial reasoning as another way to improve a student’s math performance.”

Robbie Bettelon, mathematics senior at MSU, said there must be a certain age limit where spatial reasoning can have a positive affect on a student’s math performance.

“I can see how it helps with younger kids, especially when you are doing word problems where you can visually see the shapes, and break it down mentally,” Bettelon said. “But once you get into middle school and start taking classes like pre-algebra and algebra, it’s hard to imagine how putting two pieces of shapes together in different ways could help you with those courses.”

Mix said she currently is leading a larger study that tests elementary students on different forms of spatial ability and math performance after being funded by two grants totalling out to $2.8 million from the Institute of Education Sciences,


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