Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education

First Advisor

Dr. Joseph P. Stoltman

Second Advisor

Dr. Heather Petcovic

Third Advisor

Dr. Kathleen Baker


This study examined the effectiveness of two geography courses at improving student spatial thinking skills. Spatial thinking is an important cognitive skill in the sciences and everyday life. A taxonomy of spatial thinking was constructed by Gersmehl (2008) in geography education which included core modes assessed in this study: comparison, region, transition, analogy, pattern, and association. Two additional modes related to space over time, change and movement, were also assessed. The central research question in this study is: What are the effects of a pre-service teacher education earth science content course (Geography 1900) that is conceptually designed and inquirybased on the spatial thinking of university students compared to the Geography 1020 course that follows a lecture format with an atlas study component? The six subquestions to this central question were: 1) What spatial thinking modes are embedded in the Geography 1900 course based on the Gersmehl (2008) classification of modes of spatial thinking? 2) What modes of spatial thinking do pre-service elementary education students exhibit prior to instruction in Geography 1900 and 1020? 3) What changes occur in spatial thinking and spatial skills as a result of enrolling in and completing a conceptually based, inquiry course (Geography 1900) that has embedded clearly identifiable spatial tasks based on Gersmehl's classification? 4) What are the effects of Geography 1900 on the modes of spatial thinking that students apply at the completion of the course? 5) What modes of spatial thinking do students transfer from the classroom to the outdoors as they move about campus? 6) Are there differences in spatial thinking between the Geography 1900 population and the Geography 1020 comparison sample of students that received a different course treatment?

The research used a mixed methods approach with both quantitative and qualitative information. Statistically significant changes were observed in the use of spatial constructs and concepts by students in each of the course treatments that were compared. Students were also observed to apply spatial modes outside the classroom that represented the spatial thinking within the new context of the university environment as they observed and described the landscape.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access