Thinking in three dimensions: Exploring students' geometric thinking and spatial ability with the Geometer's Sketchpad

Raquel Andrea July, Florida International University


Current reform initiatives recommend that geometry instruction include the study of three-dimensional geometric objects and provide students with opportunities to use spatial skills in problem-solving tasks. Geometer's Sketchpad (GSP) is a dynamic and interactive computer program that enables the user to investigate and explore geometric concepts and manipulate geometric structures. Research using GSP as an instructional tool has focused primarily on teaching and learning two-dimensional geometry. This study explored the effect of a GSP based instructional environment on students' geometric thinking and three-dimensional spatial ability as they used GSP to learn three-dimensional geometry. For 10 weeks, 18 tenth-grade students from an urban school district used GSP to construct and analyze dynamic, two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects in a classroom environment that encouraged exploration, discussion, conjecture, and verification. The data were collected primarily from participant observations and clinical interviews and analyzed using qualitative methods of analysis. In addition, pretest and posttest measures of three-dimensional spatial ability and van Hiele level of geometric thinking were obtained. Spatial ability measures were analyzed using standard t-test analysis. The data from this study indicate that GSP is a viable tool to teach students about three-dimensional geometric objects. A comparison of students' pretest and posttest van Hiele levels showed an improvement in geometric thinking, especially for students on lower levels of the van Hiele theory. Evidence at the p < .05 level indicated that students' spatial ability improved significantly. Specifically, the GSP dynamic, visual environment supported students' visualization and reasoning processes as students attempted to solve challenging tasks about three-dimensional geometric objects. The GSP instructional activities also provided students with an experiential base and an intuitive understanding about three-dimensional objects from which more formal work in geometry could be pursued. This study demonstrates that by designing appropriate GSP based instructional environments, it is possible to help students improve their spatial skills, develop more coherent and accurate intuitions about three-dimensional geometric objects, and progress through the levels of geometric thinking proposed by van Hiele.

Subject Area

Mathematics education|Educational software

Recommended Citation

July, Raquel Andrea, "Thinking in three dimensions: Exploring students' geometric thinking and spatial ability with the Geometer's Sketchpad" (2001). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3018479.