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Personally Speaking/Transcending Space

Blokus, Perfection, Rubik’s Cube, Angry Birds – these are just some of the games that awaited my students as they arrived at class. And, approximately 1,700 miles away in Redlands, Calif., another group of education majors were also playing spatial games and puzzles – Tetris, Parking Mania, Frogger. While distance separated the two groups, technology and a shared workshop experience had brought these pre-service teachers together to learn about spatial literacy and its importance in the classroom. Facilitating the experience using Edmodo, a Facebook-like social learning platform intended for schools, one would think these students were taking part in the workshop right next to one another. While they discussed methods of supporting spatial thinking in the classroom, they were also chatting about similarities and differences in their campuses, sharing views from classroom windows, educating one another on cheese-curd cuisine and debating whose cows were actually happier.

It was the fall of 2012 and I was enrolled in a graduate class, Assessment and Evaluation of Spatial Literacy Programs, through the University of Redlands. We were to design a two-day workshop which our professor would then deliver to a class of education majors at Redlands. Already a practicing instructor of some experience, my initial reaction to this assignment was sheer frustration: “Seriously? This is what I DO!” I thought that, if I were going to go through the trouble of designing a workshop, then I would want to offer it to my students at St. Norbert as well. It was then that I realized that a joint workshop connected by various technologies was something that could benefit two groups of students, and would push me to try something new.

One month later, I was able to watch as ours and Redlands’ education majors created a collaborative class map across a continent using multiple technologies that included Edmodo, Google Docs and Google Maps. They were getting exposure to numerous applications of spatial literacy that they themselves would teach in due course – applications like GPS and GIS, both part of the new classroom emphasis on graphicacy – that is, the ability to understand and convey information through images, diagrams and symbols.

Spatial literacy embraces the confident and competent use of mapping and spatial perspectives to address ideas, situations and challenges. I had chosen to enroll in the Online Graduate Certificate in Spatial Literacy for Educators at the University of Redlands, to dig deeper in the “why” behind the application of spatial tools. It is a unique program that also allowed me to collaborate with classmates across the country – much in the way that our own students did in our Redlands/St. Norbert workshop.

Back in our own transcontinental workshop, we had ended Day One with a geocaching activity in which the students geo-located puzzle pieces to assemble in order to find the coordinates for the final cache for the other school. Each group was dependent on the success of the other before they could find their prize, which happened to be a box of goodies from the partner school. (My professor and I had made the exchange earlier.) St. Norbert students enjoyed treats from California, while Redlands students relished some Seroogy’s chocolates and were able to top their pencils with cheesehead erasers.

Day Two saw us, among other activities, using Mindmeister – a collaborative concept-mapping tool – to compile the students’ ideas for classroom integration into various concept maps for each subject area. We used a Google form to collect student responses on “pre-” and “post-” workshop perceptions of their understanding of spatial literacy. The collective results were put together in a word cloud that showed how words like technology, graphicacy, graphs, data and location had newly entered their vernacular.

March 31, 2014