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IES Grant

Title: An Elementary-age Origami and Pop-up Paper Engineering Curriculum to Promote the 3-D Spatial Thinking and Reasoning Underlying STEM Education
Center: NCER Year: 2014
Principal Investigator: Taylor, Holly Awardee: Tufts University
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (8/1/2014-7/31/2017) Award Amount: $1,250,884
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A140151

Co-Principal Investigator: Allyson Hutton (Think3D)

Purpose: Visuospatial thinking relates to success in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education (e.g., topographic map interpretation, molecular structure understanding), so it is important that children practice fundamental visuospatial skills at an early age. The purpose of this project is to develop and pilot test an elementary-aged curriculum that will promote the development of and practice with visuospatial thinking integral to STEM disciplines. The curriculum will teach visuospatial thinking through 2-D to 3-D transformation challenges of origami and pop-up paper engineering.

Project Activities: The curriculum will be developed in four iterative development phases during Years 1 and 2, incorporating feedback from children and teachers provided during instruction, free-time exploration, and debriefing. One module will be developed for each grade between 3rd-6th grade. The goal of Phase 1 is to determine what activities are developmentally appropriate for each grade. The goal of Phase 2 is to test the feasibility of including 12 sessions for each module. The goal of Phase 3 is to implement shortened versions of the modules to see if the activities meet the developmental needs of the targeted grade. The goal of Phase 4 is to implement the 12-session versions of all modules to allow for final modifications prior to the pilot study. The research team will also develop assessments for the pilot study and teacher instructional materials. In Year 3, the research team will conduct a pilot study to assess the curriculum’s effectiveness for improving students’ visuospatial thinking and STEM performance.

Products: At the conclusion of this project, the team will have fully developed an elementary-aged curriculum designed to promote the development of and practice with visuospatial thinking. Evidence of promise of the curriculum at meeting those goals will also be collected. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: In this study, the participating elementary schools are located in rural areas in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Sample: For iterative development of the curriculum, participants will include approximately 200 3rd through 6th grade students from rural elementary schools. For the pilot study, participants will be approximately 800 3rd through 6th grade students (200 students per grade from approximately 12 classrooms) from rural elementary schools.

Intervention: The research team will use the curriculum to teach visuospatial thinking through 2-D to 3-D transformation challenges of origami and pop-up paper engineering. Visuospatial thinking challenges will build as the curriculum progresses from teaching the fundamentals of folds and the single cuts needed in pop-up paper engineering to explorations of the folds’ and cuts’ emergent properties, and then to intentional uses of folds and cuts to create specific 3-D objects. The fully developed curriculum will include four modules, targeting 3rd through 6th grade. Each module will have 12 sessions, 4 each for origami, single-sheet paper engineering and applied paper engineering. The modules will be delivered across the academic year. Each module will draw on students’ experience with previous modules.

Research Design and Methods: The iterative development process will include development and implementation of the curriculum. During iterative development, students and their teachers will try components of the curriculum and will provide feedback during three parts of a session: instruction, exploration, and debriefing. Qualitative and quantitative data will be collected and used to inform future development. The pilot study will be an underpowered efficacy study. Half of the approximately 12 participating classrooms will be randomly assigned to the intervention condition, and the other half will participate as an active control group. The intervention classrooms will implement the full curriculum throughout the year while the control group participates in a filler task. Prior to the start of the study, students will complete baseline assessments of spatial thinking and STEM performance. Students in both the intervention and control classrooms will complete assessments throughout the year in addition to completing final assessments at the end of the study.

Control Condition: For the pilot study, same-grade classrooms from the same or matched schools will participate as the control group. Students from these classrooms will engage in a small-group spelling challenge game and complete test measures at the same times as the intervention classes.

Key Measures: For both iterative development implementation and the pilot study, researchers will assess student performance in three key areas: 1) curriculum-specific visuospatial thinking, 2) general visuospatial thinking, and 3) STEM understanding and engagement. Curriculum-specific visuospatial thinking will be assessed with the mental paper folding task and an origami fold matching task which were previously developed by the research team. General visuospatial thinking will be assessed with the Purdue spatial visualizations of rotation test and the Imagine-a-Die task (previously developed by the research team). STEM performance will be assessed with STEM worksheets developed by the research team. These worksheets will include math items drawn from grade-level national and international standardized assessment tests and are intended as the primary pre- and post-test measure of students’ STEM performance. STEM performance will also be assessed with teacher reports of students’ understanding and the results from the math and science portions of the state standardized test, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). In addition the research team will collect measures of curriculum engagement (e.g., number of models attempted, number of children doing curriculum related activities during choice times), responses from students during curriculum discussions, responses during teacher discussions, and measures of fidelity of implementation.

Data Analytic Strategy: Data analyses will focus on changes in both spatial thinking and STEM performance over time, between-group differences in performance between the control and intervention classrooms, and the relationship between spatial thinking and STEM performance. To determine how students’ performance in the intervention classrooms changes over time relative to students’ performance in the control classrooms, researchers will analyze data using repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance. To determine how spatial training impacts both spatial thinking and STEM performance, researchers will analyze the data using factor analysis and meditational analysis.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Burte, H., Gardony, A.L., Hutton, A., and Taylor, H.A. (2017). Think3d!: Improving Mathematics Learning through Embodied Spatial Training. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 2(13).