Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati and Tikumporn Boonchuaylue
The high school science teacher turns his students into ‘electrons’ and gets them to walk along a prescribed route in the classroom, reinforcing concepts associated with circuit diagrams and electricity. The primary school mathematics teacher gets her students to make funny shapes with their bodies that represent the numbers 0 – 9, creating a fun way to tackle mental arithmetic problems. The ICT teacher creates a variety of ‘human graphs’, getting students to line up in columns based on their chosen answers to assigned questions.
What do all of these examples have in common?: The students are using movement to solve problems and, in doing so, are engaging multiple regions of the brain.
Every single day, our experience of the world around us is created by five main sensations or senses, namely:\
Touch: Experiencing the texture of different objects
Taste: Stimulation of various taste receptors on the tongue
Smell: Linked strongly with taste and involves stimulation of olfactory receptors in the nasal passage
Sight: Our perception of light energy through stimulation of cells in the retina
Hearing: The way in which we receive and process longitudinal vibrational energy
The above five senses allow us to perceive the world around us so that we can make decisions effectively. However, what a lot of people forget is that all of the above five senses become obsolete, and can be switched off, if one vital organ is missing: the brain.
A point I often make with my biology students is that we see, hear, taste, smell and touch with our brains! We don’t see with our eyes, we don’t hear with our ears and we certainly don’t feel touch because of our skin alone. All of these sense receptors just mentioned are tasked with one job only: to send information to the brain to be processed. Once the brain processes the necessary information, we then feel the intended sensation.
Evolution has ensured that our brains are hard-wired to remember information generated by all five senses. It is essential that we can do this, otherwise we would not be able to survive.
Immanuel Kant, author of Critique of Pure Reason, puts this very eloquently:
All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason
When students have a good rapport with their teachers and are genuinely interested in the subject being taught, they acquire the self-confidence and motivation to pursue their learning with hard-work and enthusiasm. ‘Interest’ is a funny human condition because we often make the mistake of thinking that it’s just something that each person has an affinity for, based upon their life experiences or even the way they were born. However, the real truth is that the effective teacher behaviours outlined in this blog and my book can literally change students’ lives as they go from ‘liking’ a subject, to wanting to be the best student in the class!
But what is Spatial Learning?
There are many definitions and interpretations of spatial learning on the web and in various books. Some of this pedagogical mumbo-jumbo can be really confusing, but I believe I’ve nailed it down to one sentence:
Spatial Learning is when students use bodily movements to express themselves, solve problems and model situations.
Spatial Learning has both general and specific applications. I’ll now go through some great examples that illustrate the power of this excellent teaching tool.
Here’s a quick video I made about Spatial Learning:
A human graph and true or false?
Do you want to know the opinions of your students on a subject matter? Maybe you’re taking a survey (e.g. which day is the best for canteen food). Maybe you have a list of multiple choice questions and you want a fun way to get the kids through them.
A human graph might be the right tool for you!
What if you just want to quickly check your students’ conceptual understandings (e.g. as a plenary)? You could ask some true/false questions and get the kids to raise their hands, or you could use a way cooler (and more fun) method!
Choose one wall to be the ‘True’ wall and one to be the ‘False’ wall. Once you’ve asked the question, get the kids to walk to the correct wall. It’s that simple! Just make sure that the kids walk back to the middle of the classroom before each question.
This great illustration from Pop shows you the steps to take for each of these activities:
Do your kids need to express numerical answers sometimes? Maybe they need to work out a percentage or a fraction, or translate numbers from one language into another. Maybe they need to express something in Binary Code. Well it’s time to put pen and paper down and get your kids moving!
Turn your students into ‘human numbers’ by following Pop’s beautifully illustrated instructions:
For double and triple-digit numbers you can put students into groups for added fun!
The vast majority of the Spatial Learning I do involves modelling a situation, concept or solution. Like the example I gave earlier about the electrons travelling around the circuit, the students actually become the things that you’re teaching about.
I find that almost everything I teach can be modelled spatially in one form or another.
I’ll provide some examples to show just how easy it is, with just a little creativity, to turn any monotonous textbook paragraph into a living, breathing, exciting and stimulating task.
Modelling example one: Diffusion
Textbook definition: Diffusion is the passive movement of liquid or gas particles from a region of high particle concentration to a region of low particle concentration. The speed of diffusion of any given particle is dependent on its molecular mass. This means that a particle of ammonia, for example, will diffuse faster than a particle of hydrogen chloride as ammonia is the lighter of the two particles.
Modelling activity: As you can see, the textbook definition is rather hard to swallow. So, to jazz things up a little, you can turn the students into ammonia and hydrogen chloride particles and tell them to diffuse! In this activity, the students simply walk across the classroom at different speeds, depending on which molecule they are. Quick, easy to do and a nice break from writing, reading and listening to a lecture. More importantly: it’s really useful as a tool to help kids understand this concept.
See this illustration I drew below (my art work is dire compared to Pop’s, so I hope it’s understandable!):
Modelling example two: A Typical Home Network
In an attempt to show you just how pliable spatial learning is, I’ve designed a task for a subject area I don’t specialise in: ICT
Concept: A typical home network may be wired, wireless or a combination of both. Hardware components process and convey the data message from from part of the network to another.
Spatial learning task: For this task you need moving and stationary students. The stationary students stand at predetermined positions in the classroom (you can put signs on desks or on walls to help). These students represent the hardware. The rest of the students are the ‘data message’, and they move from one component to another. I hope the illustration below helps you to see just how easy this is to implement and how much fun it can be. Students should shout out the name of the hardware component they reach at each stage as they walk around the room.
Can you think think of ways to use modelling in your subject area?
My debut book is filled with great spatial learning and active engagement tips. After the enormous success of that book I’ve decided to work on a new book that will be released mid-2018 which goes into even greater depth and breadth about the range of classroom management tactics available to teachers. Also, if you’re looking for a great book to build up spatial learning skills in small children, then I strongly recommend Julie Dillemuth’s Lucy in the City:
Also, a great manual for designing great spatial-learning activities is Dr. Thomas Armstrong’s Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom (highly recommended):