Are there gender differences in spatial skills?
According to certain studies, men on average have one standard deviation higher spatial intelligence quotient than women. This domain is one of the few where clear sex differences in cognition appear. Researchers at the University of Toronto say that differences between men and women on some tasks that require spatial skills are largely eliminated after both groups play a video game for only a few hours.
Research has shown that one of the fundamental barriers to success in engineering is the lack of development of spatial skills, particularly spatial visualization, mental rotation, and transforming from two-dimensional to three dimensional and back. Many girls lack this skill set, due in most part to lack of experience, not genetic capabilities, as has been debated for years.
Standard LEGO® sets, not the newer “girly” products, offer a great tool for building spatial skills. Consider bringing them in as part of your curriculum. Many schools still use the LEGO® Dacta™ sets as part of their science unit. Call the school system’s science department and ask. Other school systems use LEGO® sets as part of the middle school or high school technology department. Many other school systems have these sets sitting in warehouses—if you beg, you may be able to borrow them for a couple of meetings. You also can start a donation campaign to have people—friends, family, acquaintances, etc,—haunt yard sales and give you old sets. For many people, LEGO® sets with lost parts are useless. For you, they are priceless. You want the girls to do free-building—you don’t want them to always feel they have to follow the directions.
We have a unique opportunity in GEMS to change the course of girls’ lives by giving them opportunities to tinker and mess around with equipment and tools they may never get to use at home or in school.
Hidden Building (building block structures behind a screen while telling a partner how to build the same structure) is a great activity for working on spatial skills. Every time we do this, a girl or two who never knew how good her spatial and communication skills are, discovers building and communicating as strengths. It is gratifying to see this discovery.
Research and Information
Visual-Spatial Skills — an excellent article from Assessing Women and Men in Engineering
Implicit and Explicit Bias in Spatial Skills–what boys and girls believe
Spatial Intelligence–what is it? — from Parenting Science
Barriers to Success in STEM — features a TED talk from Dr. Sheryl Sorby
Gender Differences in Spatial Abilities — approaches to reducing the gap
Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center–an in-depth set of resources and research on spatial learning.