Spatial Reasoning and Student Success



Spatial Reasoning

This year, I have had the privilege of designing a brand new makerspace for our school. In addition, I have been able to focus on visual-spatial reasoning as the thread that pulls together science, math and technology.

What is spatial reasoning?

According to the Ministry of Education, Spatial reasoning is the ability to engage in reasoning, and understand the location, rotation and movement of ourselves and other objects in space. It involves a number of processes and concepts. More information about this can be found here:


Why is Spatial Reasoning important?

There already exists a very strong body of research that spatial thinking correlates with later performance in math. In addition, research consistently demonstrates strong linkages between spatial ability and success in math and science — and those students with strong visual and spatial sense are more likely to succeed in STEAM careers.

It is absolutely clear that early exposure to visual-spatial reasoning is very important.

However, as educators, we traditionally have failed to recognize that our youngest students are actually able to perform way above the expected levels of spatial reasoning. We generally leave these tasks for older students. This has to change.

Not only is this a problem because we are neglecting our youngest students who already come to school with a high level of spatial-reasoning skills, but this also means that our youngest students are not having equal access to spatial reasoning activities that they are able to perform. This is a social justice issue. Especially when we consider that visual-spatial reasoning positively correlates with later performance in math (Mazzocco & Myers, 2003). If we know the research, and have the opportunity to employ high quality spatial reasoning activities for all students in Kindergarten, should we let older curriculum and older beliefs hold us back? Do we recognize when we are teaching in the ways that we used to be taught? What if we had the ability to ensure all of our youngest students engage in spatial reasoning? How would this impact their future?

In fact, students who experience issues with math, often have difficulties with geometry and visual spatial sense (Zhang, et al., 2012). This to me sounds like an amazing opportunity to understand mathematical achievement via spatial reasoning. The earlier we recognize this, the earlier we can respond.

Wouldn’t it be great if we gave all students the ability to access higher level learning associated with visual-spatial sense right from the get-go? Imagine the impact this could have in overall math achievement throughout our students entire school career, and beyond, in their STEAM based careers.

To me, I think this behooves us to ensure we have access to makerspaces – regardless of where they are located in our schools – to promote visual spatial reasoning skills.

What do you think?


Deborah McCallum

c 2016

Mazzocco, M. M. M., & Thompson, R. E. (2005). Kindergarten predictors of math learning disability. Learning Disablilities Research & Practice, 20(3), 142-155. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5826.2005.00129.x
Mazzocco, M. M. M., & Myers, G. F. (2003). Complexities in identifying and defining mathematics learning disability in the primary school age years. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 218–253
Zhang, D., Ding, Y., Stegall, J., & Mo, L. (2012). The effect of Visual‐Chunking‐Representation accommodation on geometry testing for students with math disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 27(4), 167-177. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5826.2012.00364.x

Globalization: Friend or Foe of Modern Learning?


Globalization has contributed to an amazing realm of possibility for modern education. But we can’t always assume it is always beneficial. We need to take critical stances as educators, and help ourselves, and our learners, to question what people say and write online. Question the motivations of others. While Globalization is amazing and the reason why we are emerging into new Modern Learning paradigms, Globalization can also be disparaging if we are not careful.

Perhaps the greatest friend of our 21st century is globalization, but it is also a foe in how it can scripts us, and re-script our histories. I have a growing concern that concepts and movements, and new trends have the potential to powerfully script new realities to benefit the privileged, white, heterosexual middle class. For instance, Growth Mindsets have become something other than what Carol Dweck originally intended for some educators. I believe that globalization practices, including social media, when there are no critical voices, have the ability to promote messages that might not be true. The concepts, ideas, and realities become something completely different than what was originally intended.

As educators, it is also important to ensure that our present does not replace and re-script the realities of our country’s history, especially that of our First Nations, Metis & Inuit, through globalization practices. Beyond assimilation, when we keep adding our own layers of understanding without critical stances, we are at risk of becoming scripted. For instance, the Legend of the 2 Wolves is a popular teaching tool in elementary schools. I have no idea if it is genuine or not, but I also have never checked this story out with any FNMI communities. According to this article, there are no local communities that this tale comes from. It is apparently not even a Native story. It becomes popular. We re-script our history.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an excellent example of how we can harness the power of globalization to teach people about Canada’s past, and present. I hope that this will not become re-scripted.

If educators are change-agents, then re-scripting new concepts and movements to continue ‘normalized’ teaching and learning practices will only serve to benefit the privileged. This in turn negates real change, and continues to maintain supportive and empowering spaces for the status quo. It also Supports schools as harmful spaces for oppressed groups.

The remedy? Not easy, but a good start is to always taking a critical stance. Always question from who and where the information is coming from. Questioning our own biases and learning how our own biases shape the information we choose to hear and give privilege to in our learning environments.

What do you think?


Deborah McCallum

c 2016



Syrian Refugees: Allowing Stories to be told in the Classroom

I have begun to think about how I would make sure that my practice is fair for helping Syrian Refugees in classrooms.

First, I don’t know their stories, and can’t ever own them either.

I think that there is pressure for teachers to know all, and be in complete control of the underlying stories that are told in the classroom.

As a result, there are stories about Middle Easterner’s that have already become reinforced in our Canadian schools. I think we need to try and figure those out, and figure out why they have become our stories. Understand that we cannot possibly own these stories. Therefore, I think about promoting critical literacy, deconstructing stereotypes, and acknowledging my lack of any knowledge about their experiences, thus allowing them to own their own stories.

Paying attention tothe stories that we think we aren’t telling.    Considering that the Middle East does not come up in Canadian Curriculum for elementary school students, I would say that this counts as promoting ‘stories’ that promote oppression.

I think that as teachers we need to take risks, make mistakes, but also remain accountable. Accountability need not be about following pre-packaged lesson plans, teaching to a test, and using reproducibles.

Perhaps the most important things we do, is address the misinformation and ‘stories’ about Middle Easterners that we have in Canadian society.

Practically, I think that asking students who are Middle Easterners, who have either been here for a while or are new refugees, should have the time, space and opportunity to share their own stories, in their own time.

I would also want to ‘check’ that I as an educator, am not shaping their stories to match our own ‘stories’ that are full of misinformation. Therefore, I think it is important to facilitate activities with students that disrupts our stories. Disrupt the stories we get in the media. Allow students to have their own stories and honour this.

Since school is the source where our sense of self becomes negotiated with the stories that others have, I see a great deal of potential for this in the literacy classroom, and the processes associated with storytelling, and story writing. I think that these processes could help students to explore their own self-concepts and explore the conceptions that others have. Also to explore how they impact personal identity. My hope is that this would help to disrupt the stories that get reproduced through the school curriculum, the null curriculum, and media.

Most important part of this process would be myself, and all teachers feeling okay with learning and knowledge that is upsetting, confusing, angering, and even disruptive of our common discourses of Canadian Nationalism.

We can admit that we don’t, and can’t own the story. Knowing that it is okay not to know.


Deborah McCallum


Help! Our School Structures are outdated and the Digital Divide is growing!

Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952,

This picture represents how learning was originally structured within school systems. One can make inferences about what was important in education in the 1800’s. But how much have things changed since our Canadian school system was implemented? Are Students engaged?

I can’t help but think however, that for all of our new technologies and new knowledge in the 21st century, that the core elements of the educational system are still fundamentally the same. Teachers are working so hard to integrate technologies and initiatives, while still maintaining the status quo set out by standardized evaluations, structures and frameworks upon which the education system is built.

With that in mind, please consider the following statements:

  1. We are headed toward a very serious junction point in education where things will fundamentally need to change to meet the demands of the 21st century.
  2. We are about to see an explosion of technology in our world BUT the digital divide will widen at unprecedented rates.
  3. No matter what an educator does, if the main foundational structures don’t change, the students at the lower end of the digital divide will suffer the most.

Our current structures and frameworks for education simply cannot support the needs of society in our age of technology and information. They also cannot support the digital divide and ensure equity and access for all students in the public education system.

How much of our experiences with educational technology are grounded in realistic assessments of how it is actually working for our students? Who’s voices are being heard?

In our enthusiasm to promote edtech and integrate the kinds of skills that we want our students to have, we come to understand that there are no ed-tech pioneers that have paved the way before us. We are the ones paving the way.


Some people make the mistake that confidence with technology translates into being able to effectively integrate technology with learning. This is not the case. While it is true that our students do not need PD to use technology – The teachers and educators are the ones that provides the opportunities to learn. Educators implement the best practices for students, time management skills, digital citizenship, and integration technologies with the curriculum. It is very hard work. It takes a lot of time. I have not yet found this to be a seamless process. Flexibility is key, because the fact is, when you integrate new technologies, you lose time that you had for other traditional learning opportunities.

The following are just some of the realities we are dealing with:

  • It takes time to log in to your learning management systems.
  • It takes time when students forget how to save and upload to the cloud.
  • It takes time when students also have to negotiate how they are going to share an iPad – a device that was meant for a 1:1 program.
  • It takes time when WIFI cuts in and out. If you are even lucky enough to have WIFI.
  • It takes time when you are not allowed to sign out your computer lab on a weekly basis. It takes time when the sound doesn’t work on one particular app – only on one device and you have to spend time figuring it out.
  • It takes time when students don’t remember how to erase a sketch they have made from a multimedia presentation.
  • It takes time for a lot of students to type out their responses and reflections onto a blog.
  • It takes time to teach students the ‘pathway’ to take to login and find their ‘class’ and/or name for adaptive technologies. And then re-teach it every time they need it because it is too difficult to think abstractly about where their work is online. 
  • It takes time when students forget their password.
  • It takes time when students are navigating the internet to conduct research and they have not had previous exposure and experience with adequate search skills.
  • It takes time to teach effective internet search skills.
  • It takes time when a student is conducting a search and an inappropriate image pops up.
  • It takes time when students are toggling back and forth to social media sites when the teacher is not looking.
  • It takes time to deal with situations where students are swearing at each other in the classroom – over a secret chat channel on their personal devices.
  • And this is in addition to the traditional classroom management issues that continually arise.

The fact is that edtech can be integrated into programming, yet it does take time. Time that has traditionally been devoted to curriculum learning. How engaging is this for students? The potential is there, but we still need ‘more’ to arrive at the point that we want for our students

Then you add on the fact that students need to be reading at a certain level by the end of each primary grade. And students also have to study for standardized tests throughout the school year to ensure that the students do well.

Next you mix this with a school that only has access to 1 computer lab per school, and a small set of devices that are only shared among a precious few.

This is not a recipe for bridging a digital divide, nor is this a recipe that supports the kinds of skills that our students are going to need once they leave school. Our schools need real innovative changes. Yet, there are key differences between schools and school communities. If we consider fundraising opportunities for schools, we see the realities that some schools raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in fundraising, in contrast to the many schools that only raise a few thousand dollars.

Our current systems just do not support the realities of the information age.

Who’s voice matters anyway?

The biggest, shiniest voices appear to pave the way, but let’s not forget the voices that we are not hearing. Under current systems, not everyone has the opportunity to be heard. We need to consider not just schools in areas of low economic status but also rural schools and communities, First Nations reserves, and schools even in our capital cities and metropolises that still do not have WIFI.

What about schools who still only have one computer lab for an entire school to share?

What about those schools who can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from fundraising each year, and those schools who raise only thousands.

At what point do meet that ‘breaking point’ where we realise that we cannot promote equity, access and justice to all students unless we undergo innovative changes? 

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.