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Keywords:

  • Spatial visualization ability;
  • Problem solving;
  • Physics;
  • Visual-spatial working memory

Abstract

Three studies were conducted to examine the relation of spatial visualization to solving kinematics problems that involved either predicting the two-dimensional motion of an object, translating from one frame of reference to another, or interpreting kinematics graphs. In Study 1, 60 physics-naíve students were administered kinematics problems and spatial visualization ability tests. In Study 2, 17 (8 high- and 9 low-spatial ability) additional students completed think-aloud protocols while they solved the kinematics problems. In Study 3, the eye movements of fifteen (9 high- and 6 low-spatial ability) students were recorded while the students solved kinematics problems. In contrast to high-spatial students, most low-spatial students did not combine two motion vectors, were unable to switch frames of reference, and tended to interpret graphs literally. The results of the study suggest an important relationship between spatial visualization ability and solving kinematics problems with multiple spatial parameters.