Standardized tests discriminate against the next Einsteins and Teslas


At 16, Albert Einstein wrote his first scientific paper titled “The Investigation of the State of Aether in Magnetic Fields.” This was the result of his famous gedanken experiment in which he visually imagined chasing after a light beam. The insights he gained from this thought experiment led to the development of his theory of special relativity.

At 5, Nikola Tesla informed his father that he would harness the power of water. What resulted was his creation of a water-powered egg beater. Tesla, who invented the basis of alternating current (AC) power systems, had the unusual talent to imagine his inventions entirely in his mind before building them. He was apparently able to visualize and operate an entire engine in his mind, testing each part to see which one would break first.

So what does the research tell us? In a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, my colleagues and I used longitudinal data from multiple data sets across 50 years to show that spatial talent (in addition to math and verbal talent) is important for success in STEM domains. The data came from the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), Project Talent and the GRE. Of those students in the top 1% of spatial talent, roughly 70% were not in the top 1% in either math or verbal talent—showing a large fraction of students having the high spatial but lower math/verbal profile.

Now a new study by Harrison Kell, David Lubinski, Camilla Benbow and James Steiger published in Psychological Science has made the connection between early spatial talent and creativity in adult life even stronger. The study, based on SMPY data, showed that spatial skill had an increment of prediction over and above math and verbal skills (assessed at age 13) when looking at scholarly publications and patents—even those in STEM.

So, can enhancing spatial thinking improve outcomes in STEM? A new study by David Uttal, David Miller and Nora Newcombe published in Current Directions in Psychological Science notes that “a recent quantitative synthesis of 206 spatial training studies found an average training improvement of 0.47 standard deviations.”  The authors suggest that including spatial thinking in STEM curricula would “enhance the number of Americans with the requisite cognitive skills to enter STEM careers.”

Read the whole story: Quartz

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