Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Wilhelm


This dissertation employed a mixed-methods approach to examine the relationship between spatial reasoning ability and understanding of chemistry content for both middle school students and their science teachers. Spatial reasoning has been linked to success in learning STEM subjects (Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009). Previous studies have shown a correlation between understanding of chemistry content and spatial reasoning ability (e.g., Pribyl & Bodner, 1987; Wu & Shah, 2003: Stieff, 2013), raising the importance of developing the spatial reasoning ability of both teachers and students.

Few studies examine middle school students’ or in-service middle school teachers’ understanding of chemistry concepts or its relation to spatial reasoning ability. The first paper in this dissertation addresses the quantitative relationship between mental rotation, a type of spatial reasoning ability, and understanding a fundamental concept in chemistry, the particulate nature of matter. The data showed a significant, positive correlation between scores on the Purdue Spatial Visualization Test of Rotations (PSVT; Bodner & Guay, 1997) and the Particulate Nature of Matter Assessment (ParNoMA; Yezierski, 2003) for middle school students prior to and after chemistry instruction. A significant difference in spatial ability among students choosing different answer choices on ParNoMA questions was also found. The second paper examined the ways in which students of different spatial abilities talked about matter and chemicals differently.

Students with higher spatial ability tended to provide more of an explanation, though not necessarily in an articulate matter. In contrast, lower spatial ability students tended to use any keywords that seemed relevant, but provided little or no explanation. The third paper examined the relationship between mental reasoning and understanding chemistry for middle school science teachers. Similar to their students, a significant, positive correlation between scores on the PSVT and the ParNoMA was observed. Teachers who used consistent reasoning in providing definitions and examples for matter and chemistry tended to have higher spatial abilities than those teachers who used inconsistent reasoning on the same questions. This is the first study to explore the relationship between spatial reasoning and understanding of chemistry concepts at the middle school level. Though we are unable to infer cause and effect relationship from correlational data, these results illustrate a need to further investigate this relationship as well as identify the relationship between different spatial abilities (not just mental rotation) and other chemistry concepts.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)