Characterizing the Growth in Spatial Thinking Abilities in Meteorology Students Across the Curriculum
Spatial thinking skills are essential to student success in disciplines such as geology, atmospheric science, and geography. In particular, previous work on spatial thinking in the atmospheric sciences has demonstrated that skills such as mental animation, disembedding, and perspective taking have been shown to be important for interpreting, understanding, and predicting the four-dimensional atmosphere. However, when students develop and build on such skills as they progress through the meteorology curriculum is unknown. In this study, the Spatial Thinking Abilities Test (STAT) is used to quantify the extent of spatial thinking abilities in undergraduate students enrolled in courses required for the meteorology major at a large public university in the southeastern United States. Using a subset of 12 multiple choice questions, STAT is administered twice a semester in each course as a pre-test and post-test. Starting in Spring 2022 and continuing through Fall 2022 and Spring 2023, data was collected from students across 10 required courses. There were several key findings from the three semesters of data collection. First, STEM majors outperformed non-STEM majors for all administrations of the STAT. The second key finding is similar to the first: Meteorology majors scored higher on average than non-Meteorology majors for both the pre- and post-test in the Fall 2022 semester, and the Spring 2023 pre-test. Third, on average Males outperformed Females, which was true for all three pre-test administrations and the Fall 2022 post-test. Additionally, by looking at the normalized learning gain for each group of students, it provided insight on improvements on specific spatial thinking skills. In the Spring 2022 semester, STEM majors showed more improvement compared to non-STEM majors. Non-METR (STEM) majors showed the most improvement in spatial thinking skills compared to Meteorology majors and non-Meteorology majors. Lastly, females showed larger improvement in spatial thinking skills compared to males in the same semester, however, males showed more improvement than females in Fall 2022. Finally, the Pathways Students provided important information that can help characterize the growth of spatial thinking skills in meteorology students. Group 1 (including students who took Global Environmental Change, Fundamentals of Meteorology and Atmospheric Thermodynamics) showed little to no improvements in overall spatial thinking abilities. Group 2 (includes students enrolled in Atmospheric Thermodynamics, Physical and Synoptic Meteorology, and Atmospheric Dynamics I and Climate Dynamics) showed the most improvement in spatial thinking abilities between the three groups. And Group 3 (made up from students enrolled in Atmospheric Dynamics I and Climate Dynamics and Advanced Dynamics II and Advanced Synoptic) also had a positive normalized learning gain which showed improvements in overall spatial thinking abilities. This data helps provide crucial steppingstones to developing and including pedagogical interventions to support students spatial thinking skills and success in meteorology.