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Those of us in the fields of geography, education, and GIS can probably name numerous games and activities that we are attracted to simply because there is “something spatial” about them. Some of them may have to do with wayfinding, others with angles and directions, patterns and shapes, distances, adjacency, groups, or may rely on geographic content knowledge. In Monopoly, I always sought houses and hotels on Oriental, Vermont, and Connecticut Avenues simply because I liked where they were positioned on the board. I wasn’t deterred by the fact that they were on the “cheap” side of the board (consequently, I seldom won). I enjoy playing Blokus and putting together jigsaw puzzles because of their spatial aspects (although I never could get the top pieces in the 3-D globe puzzle I helped put together this past New Year’s Eve).3d_puzzle_globe_sm.jpg

Many of us were fond of the blue category in the original Trivial Pursuit game, which was geography (and were subsequently embarrassed whenever we missed a geography question!). I loved the angles and positions in early video games such as Pong and Galaga, and was frustrated by Asteroids largely because it seemed that the scale was wrong. Millions of people play Spatial IQ, Cross Fingers, Glass Tower, and other spatially oriented games on their computers and smartphones daily. And outside, while I found the directions to my one and only road rally game too complicated, I greatly enjoy confluence hunting, geocaching, and earthcaching.

A small but growing community of researchers and instructors is exploring how the playing of games can foster spatial thinking, content knowledge, and skills important in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, geography, and GIS. My colleague Dr. Diana Stuart Sinton teaches a class called the “Foundations of Spatial Thinking” as part of the Learning Spatially at the University of Redlands program. One of her assignments to the students is to categorize games and activities in terms of the spatial strategies used, and how the strategies may be relevant for STEM learning. Dr. Ola Ahlqvist has an NSF cyber learning grant to develop and study learning with GeoGames. National Geographic supported Reach The World’s development of geo-games. The world of geospatially-oriented games on smartphones and computers is poised for great expansion, with the inclusion of real spaces and places in these games posing intriguing potential for teaching, learning, and research. Imagine any game scenario not in an imaginary world but taking place using imagery and maps of Davenport, or Shreveport, or anywhere.

What are your favorite spatially-oriented games? How might you use games to foster spatial thinking and learning?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
In my last blog post, I mentioned that universities are increasingly thinking about implementing courses entitled “Introduction to Spatial Thinking”. I described a few existing excellent models for such courses, inviting comments from the community. Development of such courses would be hastened by community dialog so that each faculty member does not feel like he or she has to develop such a course from scratch. In this essay, I would like to share components that would valuable in such a course.workshop1_web.jpg

I believe such a course should include a mix of reflections on readings and videos, and hands-on work with GIS and GPS technologies. An active discussion on the theoretical underpinnings of spatial thinking is necessary, because most students entering such a course most likely have had minimal exposure to geography in the past, and most likely have not purposely thought about the applicability of spatial thinking to their education, career, or life. I would begin with selected videos and essays to foster discussion, including the Geospatial Revolution, GIS Touches our everyday lives, my ArcWatch article Spatial Thinking: Habits of Mind, and my video Why Geography Education Matters. I would access articles on the bibliography on the Esri Education Community from Diana Stuart Sinton, Sarah Bednarz, Reg Golledge, and Phil Gersmehl, among others.

Whether face to face or online, I would promote active engagement with geospatial technologies. Easy-to-implement yet powerful activities would use ArcGIS Online, including Earth Quiz: Name that Place, analyzing the distribution of bail bonds and car washes in a metropolitan area, Weird Earth (Using strange and unusual imagery to spark inquiry), Exploring 10 Landscapes (such as eskers, karst, and lava fields), analyzing 10 aspects of water, (including watersheds, wetlands, dams and reservoirs, and oceans), and analyzing demographic components and their implications (such as median age, income, diversity, population density, and population change over time). Over the course of the semester, I would gradually increase the analytical rigor, using ArcGIS for Desktop with selected lessons from the Our World GIS Education books, siting a ski area using GIS, and determining the mean center of population for the USA and for individual states, 1790-2010. I would frequently include getting students out onto the campus or in their own neighborhoods (if the course is online), collecting data, mapping data, hyperlinking text, video, and photographs, and analyzing resulting patterns within a GIS environment.

I would require frequent presentations from students, including a presentation at the end of the semester, asking each student: How do you use spatial thinking each day, how have you used spatial thinking to solve three problems in this course, and how will you use GIS in the future?

What would you include in a course on spatial thinking?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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