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Spatial Reasoning and Play-based Digital Apps for Preschool Children

Centenary Professor Tom Lowrie during a summer 2019 SILC Talk

Researchers at SILC work with partners nationally and internationally to establish how educators can best embed STEM into the learning place, teach STEM, and incorporate spatial skills. This summer 2019 quarter, SILC invited two visiting scholars from Australia, Tom Lowrie at the University of Canberra and Kevin Larkin from Griffith University, who are developing a possible digital solution for their educational context, known as the Early Learning STEM Australia project, or ELSA.

During the two week visit, our partners shared insight about ELSA, a set of digital applications created by SERC as part of their STEM and spatial play-based initiative. Lowrie and Larkin hope ELSA will bring improved digital literacy, increase STEM skills, and give students a better conceptual understanding of math. SILC’s director David Uttal consulted on the ELSA project created by SERC on a visit to Australia last March.

Mathematics education expert Kevin Larkin, demonstrates ELSA with SILC Talk attendees at Northwestern

 The six play based learning apps were created for preschool-aged children to encourage STEM based activities and spatial skill learning on a digital platform. There is evidence on how spatial reasoning and math are intrinsically linked by sharing common processing skills.  Students can be taught to understand this content through digital applications which promote drawing, mental models, and embodiment. The apps are part of a floor-based program, combining digital play on tablets and active engagement to create dynamic play, while addressing concerns about screen time for children.

The visiting scholars wrapped up their visit to Northwestern with a talk presented to the SILC team titled, “Large Scale Impact of STEM Programs: The Role of Spatial Reasoning”. The attendees of the talk interacted with the ELSA app first hand and learned about patterning through playful dance. The partnership between SERC and SILC has monumental future implications on the fields of education and spatial research, as we continue to study how spatial concepts effect early STEM.