Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


First Advisor

Lorraine M. Males

Date of this Version



Metzger, M. (2019). Understanding Preservice Teachers Spatial Reasoning and How It Affects Their Work with Elementary Students. Dissertation, Ph.D. diss, University of Nebraska.


Presented to the Faculty of

The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska

In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements

For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy,

Major: Educational Studies

(Teaching, Curriculum, and Learning),

Under the Supervision of Professor Lorraine M. Males.

Lincoln, Nebraska:

July 2019

Copyright 2019 Michelle R. Metzger


Spatial reasoning involves those skills that allow one to mentally picture and manipulate objects which plays a unique role in learning and succeeding in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (STEM). Despite the urgent need for strong spatial reasoning skills, our current education system spends little time fostering elementary students’ visual and spatial reasoning skills. This is becoming increasingly problematic as the need to become literate in the STEM fields has never been greater.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the spatial reasoning skills that preservice teachers demonstrated and how their spatial reasoning skills were used in the enactment of the tasks of teaching. Thirty-two preservice teachers completed a spatial reasoning task. Each preservice teacher then teamed with their practicum partner, created an adapted plan using the same spatial reasoning task, and enacted their plan with an elementary student in Grades K-5.

Finding from this study indicate that the spatial reasoning skills of preservice teachers are weak, which hinders flexible thinking when observing elementary students engaged in a spatial reasoning task. How learners represent and connect pieces of knowledge is a critical factor in whether they will understand it deeply and can use it in problem solving.

Advisor: Lorraine M. Males