University of Chicago scholars to start Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center

University of Chicago scholars to start Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center


Chicago, USA, 16 November 2006 – The University of Chicago scholars are joining colleagues from other institutions to launch the National Science Foundation-funded Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center to be based at Temple University.

The overarching goal of the center is to understand spatial learning and to use that knowledge to develop programs and technologies that will transform educational practice and support the capability of children and adolescents to develop the skills required to compete in a global economy.

Susan Levine, Professor in Psychology, will serve as Co-Principal Investigator and will be joined by Janellen Huttenlocher, the William S. Gray Professor in Psychology and the College, and Susan Goldin-Meadow, the Bearsdley Ruml Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and the College.

The NSF has given the center an initial one-year grant of $3.5 million. The center may also apply for an additional $4 million per year for the following three years. The center will pursue fundamental research in the area of spatial intelligence and build on scholarship pioneered at the University, Levine said. Levine and Huttenlocher, for instance, established that boys have spatial intelligence advantages as early as age 4 1/2. The researchers also will build on Goldin-Meadow’s earlier work on gesturing by studying Chicago Public Schools students’ gestures and whether they aid learning about spatial relationships, Levine said.

The scholars will examine such basic questions as how to measure spatial learning. Spatial learning is becoming increasingly important to a technological society, as people work with data and manipulate images mentally in order to understand the workings of tools and instruments.

Spatial intelligence allows people to work with information about objects and their locations and thus be able to perform technical work, such as tool making. It also provides the foundation for a wide range of reasoning and communication skills as varied as designing buildings, solving mathematical problems and forming mental abstractions.

To be able to develop new ways of teaching spatial skills, the researchers will observe how Chicago Public Schools teachers currently foster these skills. The spatial intelligence center team will look at how teachers help students build a vocabulary to express spatial ideas and how students are taught about spatial relationships in mathematics, science and geography courses.

Nora Newcombe, principal investigator in the center, is a professor of psychology at Temple University. A faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania also is a researcher with the center, which includes scholars who study cognitive science, psychology, computer science, education and neuroscience. Other members of the investigative team are geoscientists and engineers with a particular interest in spatial intelligence.