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Third Grade Content Connection Sample: Visual and Spatial Thinking

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Visual and spatial thinking involves creating and expressing meaning through pictures and other nonlinguistic representations. Third graders use visualization to help create new understandings and connections by creating mental maps and schema. Visual and spatial thinking also extends the work of communication through visual media by using graphical representations. 

Visual and Spatial Thinking can connect 9 of 10 content areas as detailed below. 

Comprehensive Health and Physical Education

In comprehensive health and physical education, visual and spatial thinking is fundamental to developing movement competence. Students must conceptualize their environment and where they exist within that space. Students learn how to exercise and control their movements in a variety of contexts with a variety of equipment. Visual and spatial thinking allows students to master spatial awareness, visualize beyond their immediate perspective, and develop motor skills that increase their brain health and capacity for learning.

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Physical Education 


In dance, visual and spatial thinking refers to the form and articulation of the body needed to construct dance elements. To develop a movement requires a fundamental understanding of visual and spatial elements. Dancers must visualize an idea and consider the environment, movements and context in which the dance will reside.

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Drama and Theatre Arts

In drama and theatre arts, visual and spatial thinking involves creating basic stage environments. For instance, set pieces and stage properties require a learner to envision an environment from a text or their imagination. Spacing and considering the needs of traffic flows within a stage environment also requires visual and spatial knowledge. Interior design and simulating environments electronically rely on theatrical visual spatial ability.

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In mathematics, visual and spatial thinking is a means of constructing knowledge through visual mathematical models. For example, a number line is a visual model representing continuous quantity and arrays are visual models that display the concept of multiplication. Third graders use visual area models to connect their understanding of multiplication, division, and fractions.

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In music, visual and spatial thinking is visible in the notational structure and staff used in Western music. Just as language has specific structure to determine meaning, music relies on visual and spatial elements to communicate its message. Students can transfer their visual and spatial knowledge of music to learning new languages, understanding the visual and spatial qualities of fine arts and designing architectural or mathematical models.

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Reading, Writing, and Communicating

In reading, writing, and communicating, visual and spatial thinking involves constructing meaning through mental imagery and analyzing visual features of texts. Students develop graphic organizers to understand a text’s meaning and create digital media presentations to share research.

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In science, visual and spatial thinking relates to the shape and location of objects and organisms. The shape and location of an object and organism has important implications for that object or organism. For example, shape and location can influence things such as erosion and deposition.

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Social Studies

In social studies, visual and spatial thinking is used to construct meaning through pictures and other visuals. Historians use images such as pictures and documents as a way to reconstruct the past. Spatial thinking is foundational to the discipline of geography. For example, maps and globes are visual representations that help us better understand the physical world. Visual and spatial thinking contribute to an understanding of history and geography by informing how we interpret the past and how use space.

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Visual Arts

In visual arts, visual and spatial thinking is communicated through the creation of two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of art. This type of thinking requires a fundamental understanding of visual and spatial elements that impact the art making process. Artists must visualize an idea and consider the environment, materials and context in which the artwork will reside. Visualizing an idea before creating it is a necessary skill for innovation and invention.

Standards Pages 

Summary Document: All standards pages for visual and spatial thinking