The Spatial Ability in Education (SPACE) Project

TERG researchers: Dr Niall Seery and Jeffrey Buckley
Other researchers: Prof. Sheryl Sorby, University of Cincinnati; Prof. Brian Bowe, Rachel Harding, and Edmund Nevin, Dublin Institute of Technology; Dr Eabhant Ni Fhloinn, Dublin City University


The SPACE project is a longitudinal project funded by the Irish Research Council through the National Spatial Skills Research Network in Ireland. The overall aim of this project is to determine the role that spatial ability plays in academic success in STEM disciplines across all level of the Irish education system. Research studies carried out across many countries, including Ireland, have shown that spatial skills and reasoning play a central role in determining a student’s perceptions of STEM subjects and disciplines, and significantly impacts on their ability to succeed in these areas. This research is being carried out to establish the levels of spatial ability across all levels of education in Ireland and to introduce education interventions and learning activities to increase students’ spatial skills. It is also being carried out to establish if there is a difference in scores between male and female students and to determine the relationship between subject selection and spatial skills.Spatial ability has long been considered a key indicator of intellectual ability as evidenced by the inclusion of spatial tasks in many intelligence tests. Spatial ability was described by Thurstone (1938) as being a critical component of intellectual ability. Thurstone (1950) cites seven factors related to human intelligence, three of which referred to visual orientation in space:

  • The ability to recognise the identity of an object when it is seen from different angles
  • The ability to imagine the movement or internal displacement among parts of a configuration
  • The ability to think about those spatial relations in which the body orientation of the observer is an essential part of the problem

Understanding students’ spatial ability and where necessary improving students’ spatial skills is widely considered to be a key factor for preparing students’ for careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) related disciplines.

Objectives of the Project:

Phase One – Obtain Baseline Data

The initial objective of the project was to gain an insight into the spatial abilities of secondary school students by gathering baseline data from first year students in each of the participating schools. This will now contribute to the construction of a national profile of spatial ability. From the sample it is possible to establish the spatial ability of first year students before they progress through second level education. This report marks the end of this phase with the initial results disseminated to the participating schools and other stakeholders. In addition a spatial skills training intervention will be provided in the transition year programme to improve students’ spatial ability in preparation for the senior cycle.

Phase Two – Extend Data Collection and Commence Spatial Skills Training Intervention

As the first phase of testing is complete and a baseline of the level of spatial ability in first year has been obtained, phase two of testing will commence in September 2016.This will involve testing students from first to sixth year in the second level education system to gain insight into how students’ spatial ability develops as they progress from years one through six.

Long Term Objectives

The long term objective of the project is to understand the role that spatial ability plays in academic success in STEM disciplines across all level of the Irish Education system. This knowledge will be used to develop training programmes and/or modify curricula to improve academic achievement and progression in STEM disciplines.