How often do we need to imagine how something would look if it changed its orientation in space? For example, say you are wearing a piece of jewelry you thought was one of a kind, but you see through a glass display case what looks to be an exact copy. Of course the one you are looking at might have the parts at different angles than yours. You mentally rotate the piece you cannot touch and try to figure out the match between the two objects. Or for another example, you think you see a car that looks exactly like the one in your garage, so you mentally rotate the image until you see it in your mind in the standard profile you remember for your own car. We use mental rotation in many contexts and some people have jobs that depend on this skill (e.g., jet pilots, dentists, locksmiths, sculptors).
If we were to use video media to help children develop this skill, does research give us guidance for how to set this up? Many years ago I remember hearing Joanne Rovet present a study that had some answers. She gave 8 year old children many video examples of block structures that rotated in full view from position A to position B. Then she tested them to see how much they improved on a standard metal rotation task (mental rotation is the process of imagining an object rotated into a different orientation in space. For more, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_rotation). The children who did the best were trained using a visible rotation that began for two seconds, then went blank, and then completed with the last two seconds. That is, the full rotation of the block structure from A to B had a big gap in the middle of the visible rotation. The children who were trained by watching the complete rotation from A to B did not do as well. Why?
Rovet reasoned, quite plausibly, that the children who did the best were trained to “fill in the gap” with their own mental images, the gap after first two seconds up to the beginning of the last two seconds. The gap in the middle of the rotation caused the children to think on their own. This study confirms the current view that whenever we use video or computer events to teach children, we want to be sure that the children are required to be active thinkers. Giving children helpful but partial information engages their mind more actively than giving them the whole banana. We need to allow children the time and opportunity to construct those images or facts that fill in the gaps that we deliberately present to them.
Rovet, Joanne. Can Audio-Visual Media Teach Children Mental Skills? Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (San Francisco, California, April 19-23, 1976).
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