Scaffolding Pupils’ Spatial Thinking through Design

A Biomimicry Project for the Primary Classroom

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Abstract

Spatial thinking is embedded in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) learning. Design and Technology education inherently encompasses a wide range of spatial activities, such as mentally transforming objects and materials to form representations of design ideas, visually communicating ideas, and creating 2D and 3D design artifacts. Among different design topics, biomimicry offers a unique avenue for pupils to recognize and analyze forms and structures in nature. Mapping out the analogical links between nature’s strategies to design strategies, pupils can potentially exercise their spatial thinking while gaining inspiration to solve human design challenges. This study is one of the first to highlight opportunities for supporting primary school pupils’ spatial thinking through a biomimicry design project. Embracing the methodology of educational design-based research, we tested out and iterated on this design project with teacher’s input and authentic classroom feedback. Data are gathered from sixteen 11- to 12-year-olds at an international school in the Netherlands. Classroom videos and audios, pupils’ notes, 2D and 3D design artifacts, formative assessment, semi-structured interviews with pupils, and the pre- and post-project spatial test triangulate evidence for pupils' spatial thinking in this project. This case study contributes to the growing theories of integrating spatial training in primary curriculums and offers empirically-grounded suggestions for the design and cultivation of future spatialized learning ecologies.

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