Coordinating Children’s Spatial Knowledge




Bell, Scott

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


Children’s understanding of their environment is a complex, multidimensional concept. My research examined how one spatial variable, scale, affects how children come to know a novel environment. I was specifically interested in whether the accuracy of children’s knowledge of location varied with scale. The underlying research question was whether there exist unique cognitive mechanisms for recording spatial information, and therefore acquiring spatial knowledge, at different functional scales. From a functional perspective, different scales can be defined theoretically by the discreet differences in the way phenomena act in spaces of different size. There have been several well developed classifications of spatial extent and scale based on how spatial tasks are performed and spatial informations processed (Ittelson 1973; Montello 1993; Freundschuh and Egenhofer 1997; Tversky et al. 1999). While each of these classification schemes is based on empirical evidence from the existing literature, it was the intention of my research to examine the veracity of these schemes with an explicit set of experiments (Bell 1999, 2002). In addition, it was important to create an experimental design that could help explain why functional differences exist in spaces of different size. The results indicate that frames of reference play an important role in how spatial knowledge is acquired and expressed at different scales. While the results are inconclusive as to whether different cognitive mechanisms are operating at different scales, the coordination of reference systems is an integral component of a model of spatial knowledge acquisition that is scale sensitive.



spatial knowledge, scale, education


Bell, S. (2001). Coordinating children’s spatial knowledge. Research in Geographic Education, 3(1), pp. 82-85.


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