Shaping up: Exploring how spatial language promotes children's spatial thinking

Worksite Location
New York City, CUCE-NYC Office
Project Dates
June 1 - August 8, 2018
Faculty Sponsor
Marianella Casasola
Other Campus-Based Mentors/Supervisors
Jennifer Tiffany
Field Mentors/Supervisors
Ana Maria Canas
Stipend Amount
$4,000
Project Summary and Intended Outcomes

Spatial skills contribute to positive academic outcomes, such as stronger mathematical performance and entry into careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields (e.g., Mix et al., 2016; Shea, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2001; Wai, Lubinksi, & Benbow, 2009). Children who have larger spatial vocabularies also have stronger spatial skills than peers with more limited spatial vocabularies (e.g., Pruden et al., 2011). In our own work, we find that increasing preschool children's exposure to spatial language promotes their spatial skills, particularly their mental rotation. In the present study, we explore possible mechanisms for this facilitation. In particular, we test whether particular types of spatial words are more effective in promoting spatial skills than others. We manipulate the types of spatial words children will hear during play. We also manipulate the degree to which children are encouraged to produce spatial language during the play sessions to test whether children's production of spatial language is critical for promoting their spatial skills. We also explore approaches to promoting caregivers' use of spatial language during play.

Roles and Responsibilities

The intern will work with Ana Maria Canas and take primary responsibility for recruiting and testing children in the study. The intern will also assist Ana with the development of parent-training workshops and will assist with these workshops. The workshops will be used to recruit children for the study and in one study, to recruit caregivers as well.

Qualifications and Previous Coursework

The intern will need a strong background in the language development and spatial skills of children. The intern will also be required to have worked in the Cornell Infant Studies Lab for at least one semester in order to train on the methods for the study. It would ideal to have the intern be bilingual in English and Spanish to be able to assist with the parent-training workshops which may include Spanish-speaking families.

Benefits and Skills

The intern will learn to design and conduct research with children and will gain experience with assessing children's language and spatial skills. The intern will also have the opportunity to work closely with Ana Canas to develop materials for parent-training workshops. Finally, the intern will have the opportunity to observe parent-child interactions and pilot possible interventions to promote the use of spatial language by caregivers.