Skip Navigation

What is and Why Spatial Literacy?

"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" ... Learning to Think Spatially, the National Research Council (NRC) 

U.S. Department of Labor identified geospatial technology as one of the fastest growing industries.

Spatial literacy is the ability to use the properties of space to communicate, reason, and solve problems.  A spatially literate student can be characterized by:(Learning to Think Spatially)

  • 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.

    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.

    • 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

      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. 

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