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Showcase February 2016: Space and Mathematics: What’s the Connection?

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Space and Mathematics: What’s the Connection?

Conference Sponsored by the Spatial Intelligence Learning Center (SILC)

Held at the University of Chicago

November 17-18, 2015


Dominic Gibson and Eliza Congdon

University of Chicago

On November 17th and November 18th, 2015, researchers, faculty, and students met at the University of Chicago for a workshop on the relation between Space and Mathematics. The workshop was sponsored by the Figure 1
Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center, and was organized by SILC principal investigators, Dr. Susan Levine (University of Chicago) and Dr. Nora Newcombe (Temple University) as well as Dr. Kelly Mix (University of Michigan). The organizers of the workshop invited speakers from over twenty universities from all over the world to share cutting edge research on spatial thinking and mathematics and to discuss the role of research on spatial thinking within the broader context of mathematical cognition. The conference was organized into six sessions with opening remarks from Nora Newcombe and Susan Levine and closing remarks from Jay McClelland. The session topics and speakers are listed below:

Session 1: How are space, non-symbolic quantification, and number related? Neurally, metaphorically, or artifactually?
♦ Stanislas DeHaene, College de France
♦ Avishai Henik, Ben-Gurion University
♦ Elizabeth Spelke, Harvard University
♦ Hans-Christoph Nuerk, University of Tubingen
Session 2: In what sense are non-symbolic magnitudes "generalized"? With talks and panel discussion by:
♦ Stella Lourenco, Emory University
♦ Jessica Cantlon, University of Rochester
♦ Lisa Cantrell, University of California-Davis
Session 3: How is nonverbal quantification related to symbolic number and what is the role of spatial reasoning in this mapping?
♦ Daniel Ansari, University of Western Ontario
♦ Linda Smith, Indiana University-Bloomington
♦ Justin Halberda, Johns Hopkins University
♦ Ian Lyons, University of Western Ontario

Figure 2

Session 4: How is early mathematics related to higher mathematics and does spatial reasoning play a role in this relation?
♦ Susan Levine, University of Chicago
♦ Beth Casey, Boston College
♦ Wenke Möhring, Universite de Fribourg
♦ Andrea Frick, Universite de Fribourg
Session 5: Can educators leverage the connection between space and mathematics? With talks and panel discussion by:
♦ Robert Siegler, Carnegie Mellon University
♦ Elizabeth Gunderson, Temple University
♦ Kelly Mix, Michigan State University
♦ Daniel Schwartz, Stanford University
Session 6: What does research on special populations reveal about the relations among space, quantification, and mathematics?
♦ Brian Butterworth, University College London
♦ David Geary, University of Missouri-Columbia
♦ Daniel Berch, University of Virginia
♦ Susan Goldin-Meadow, University of Chicago

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As a center, SILC has brought together scientists and educators from multiple institutions including the University of Chicago, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University, to better understand spatial learning. Specifically, the center aims to understand spatial thinking across the lifespan, and how spatial thinking can be harnessed to develop programs, technologies, and teaching interventions that will transform educational practice and equip learners with the skills required to be competitive in a global economy.

In an extension of this mission, SILC researchers have sought to understand how spatial thinking and reasoning connects to other kinds of mathematical thinking. Mathematical achievement is a strong predictor of positive educational outcomes such as high school graduation rates, college attendance, and academic success in the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Over the course of six plenary sessions, researchers presented cutting-edge work that highlighted both the challenges and the triumphs of understanding the connections between spatial thinking and other mathematical constructs, such as symbolic number. Several major questions were addressed including: 1) What is the a neurological basis for the link between approximate arrays of numbers and symbolic numbers? 2) How do individual differences in spatial thinking map onto individual differences in mathematical processing? and 3) How can our understanding of the relation between space and mathematics allow us to improve educational interventions, practices and policy. Overall, the conference was an incredibly productive several days in which the SILC network forged new connections with a larger group of exceptional scholars from all over the globe.

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