Alphatome—Enhancing Spatial Reasoning

Journal Article by: Elizabeth E. LeClair Digital resources are stored online in your NSTA Library.

Using refrigerator magnets, foam blocks, ink pads, and modeling clay, students manipulate the letters of the alphabet at multiple angles, reconstructing three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional data. This exercise increases students’ spatial reasoning ability, an important component in many scientific disciplines.

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A selection from Journal of College Science Teaching—September/October 2003

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Reviews (3)
  • on Wed Oct 29, 2014 7:16 PM

My high school anatomy and physiology class used this activity today in preparation for their histology unit. It was a splendid success. Not only did my students enjoy getting their own specimen in "paraffin." At the end of the activity, when drawing their 3-D representation from all their cross sections, it clicked. Everything about which I had been explaining about tissue preparation made sense to them.

Ruth Hutson  (Westmoreland, KS)
Ruth Hutson (Westmoreland, KS)

  • on Wed Mar 02, 2011 12:34 PM

Students enhance their spatial reasoning by modeling how thin sections of tissues are made and viewed. Using alphabet refrigerator magnets and foam alphabet letters, students identify a 3-D specimen when they are only given a 2-D representation. Next, students encase a playdough letter in a block of playdough and cut the block into thin sections. Finally, Students are challenged to identify the letter from the thin sections. Reconstructing 3-d forms from 2-d data is a difficult skill for students to acquire. This hands-on activity gives students the tools they need to master this skill.

Ruth Hutson  (Westmoreland, KS)
Ruth Hutson (Westmoreland, KS)

  • on Thu Dec 16, 2010 8:54 AM

How do we get students to understand two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional data? This article discusses one approach she uses as students try to comprehend the 3-D structure of a life form under a microscope; as a geologist, I frequently found myself trying to understand subsurface glacial deposits using a map of the surface of the earth, or even a set of points to deduce a 2-D surface to arrive at a 3D representation. Most of us have to learn to "read between the lines" in our chosen disciplines; Ms. LeClair provides us an approach for 3-D modeling. Used with tools of our own trade, the concepts can be broadly applied to a number of disciplines.

Jennifer Rahn  (Delafield, WI)
Jennifer Rahn (Delafield, WI)

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