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Why Spatial Literacy?

A recent report from the National Research Council (NRC) entitled "Learning to Think Spatially" pointed out that "without explicit attention to [spatial literacy], we cannot meet our responsibility for equipping the next generation of students for life and work in the 21st century".

Spatial literacy is the ability to use the properties of space to communicate, reason, and solve problems.  The above report characterizes a spatially literate student as:

  • having the habit of mind of thinking spatially—they know where, when, how, and why to think spatially;
  • practicing spatial thinking in an informed way—they have a broad and deep knowledge of spatial concepts and spatial representations, a command over spatial reasoning using a variety of spatial ways of thinking and acting, have well-developed spatial capabilities for using supporting tools and technologies; and
  • adopting a critical stance to spatial thinking—they can evaluate the quality of spatial data based on their source, likely accuracy, and reliability; they can use spatial data to construct, articulate, and defend a line of reasoning or point of view in solving problems and answering questions; and they can evaluate the validity of arguments based on spatial information.

Recent advances in mathematics, computer science, and the growing availability of spatially referenced data have led to a growing interest among educators, planners, and governmental organizations in spatial literacy.  Indeed, the Department of Labor have identified geotechnology as one of the three fastest growing industries in the United States. 

For More Information:

  •  A Plea for Spatial Literacy

    Nora S. Newcombe (Temple University). 2006. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Vol. 52, Issue 26, Page B20.

    "American have historically considered spatial thinking less important than the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and not even as crucial as science, social studies, and some other components of the average school curriculum.

    A recent report from National Research Council makes the case that spatial literacy is indeed important."


  • The Fourth R? Rethinking GIS Education

    Michael F. Goodchild (University of California, Santa Barbara). 2006. ArcNews. Fall 2006.

    "... that maps, pictures, and spatial data need to rank with numbers, text, and logic as essential ways in which humans function, both on and off the job, as they reason, interact, and generally live their lives.  In the tradition of U.S. liberal postsecondary education, this makes spatial literacy part of what is variously known as the core curriculum or general education..."


  • Learning to Think Spatially - GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum
    (click the above link to read on-line at

    Committee on the Support for the Thinking Spatially: The Incorporation of Geographic Information Science Across the K-12 Curriculum, Committee on Geography, and National Research Council. 2005. National Academies Press.  ISBN-10:0309092086. ISBN-13: 978-0309092081.

    "Spatial thinking is a powerful tool. It is fundamental to problem solving in a variety of contexts: in life spaces, physical spaces, and intellectual spaces. In each case, it can offer increasingly powerful understandings, moving from description through analysis to inference. In each case, it depends upon a level of spatial knowledge, skills in spatial ways of thinking and acting, and the development of spatial capabilities. All of the component skills can, to some significant degree, be learned and this points to the crucial need for education in spatial thinking."



  • ( is a site for the discussion and sharing of resources among instructors interested in spatially integrated curriculum.