Spatial thinking is often an intelligence (literacy) we neglect to address in our schools. It is one of those things we consider ourselves to just not be so great at – “I’m not that great with depth perception” (guilty) or “Geometry and measurement has never really been my strong suit”.
This week, after reading a post by a mentor of mine, I suggested to a colleague we download the app Blokify for our student iPads. It is addicting to the children, especially if they have played Minecraft before, and it is addicting in a good way. The level of engagement is outstanding.
Blokify offers two modes for users to create 3D images. Images can be built according to a pattern, or using free play. Hints are given for the pattern, telling the user where to place blocks and of which type. The less hints used, the more diamonds one can earn. The diamonds can be used to “buy” additional types of blocks or worlds to create with. All in one app, my students are building, creating, collaborating, visualizing, and problem solving. It requires a level of spatial reasoning that can be difficult for our kindergarten minds at first – as this is a developing intelligence. Together, students and teachers, we are learning through trial and error and perseverance to become more skilled.
Today, we shared a Skype session with another kindergarten class with the creator of the app. Jen was incredibly helpful and patient with our questions, answering each one. We learned about improvements that are upcoming for the app (as it is very new) and how images created in the app can be produced with a 3D printer. In our classroom, we know to ask 3 friends before coming to the teacher. Each person is an expert at something. It was amazing to be able to communicate with the ultimate expert of Blokify and ask for more information.
What does building with 3D blocks have to do with good ole “traditional” literacy – the reading and writing of it all? Well, more than you may think. Increasing spatial intelligence can have an impact on reading and reasoning skills.
In my own research this week, I discovered a plethora of knowledge regarding spatial intelligence and children. On the parentingscience website, Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. writes about the importance of spatial intelligence and improving these skills within children. Evidence from studies suggests that simple practice with spatial activities heightens one’s abilities in later spatial tasks. This training also closes gender gaps that are often seen between men and women performing the same spatial exercise. Students who have a foundational knowledge of spatial vocabulary perform even better. Familiarity with shape and position words increases understanding of spatial relationships, which then in turn increases a student’s ability to visualize, manipulate, and problem solve efficiently. In a 2011 study, students who heard more spatial vocabulary, used more spatial vocabulary and scored higher on tests. We all know how a child’s working vocabulary directly impacts reading ability and in turn writing ability. My personal belief regarding this research is that the skills students build upon – problem solving, visualizing, and perseverance – have the greatest impact. Our struggling readers and writers often give up at the first hint of a challenge. By cultivating confidence, we can help all students succeed.
So if you are looking for a way to address multiple intelligences, increase engagement, collaboration and problem solving; I highly recommend Blokify. It is a free app available in the iTunes App Store.