Spatial ability learning through educational robotics


Several authors insist on the importance of students’ acquisition of spatial abilities and visualization in order to have academic success in areas such as science, technology or engineering. This paper proposes to discuss and analyse the use of educational robotics to develop spatial abilities in 12 year old students. First of all, a course to introduce robotics to 6th grade primary school students was designed. The key intention was to prepare practical and motivating sessions in order to foster the students’ involvement in hands-on learning. Hence, during the sessions of the course, challenges were provided for the students, in order to develop their capabilities as proficient problem solvers. The teacher assisted and guided the students, and the students were encouraged to solve the problems by themselves, working in 3-members teams. The main goal of this paper is to discuss and analyse the potential usefulness of educational robotics to develop spatial abilities. To carry out the analysis, students were randomly divided into an experimental group (EG), which participated in the robotics course, and a control group (CG), which did not take part in the robotics course. The extensive existing literature for spatial ability evaluation was analysed and reviewed and a pre-test and a post-test were prepared for use in the research study. Initially, the spatial ability of both EG and CG students was assessed with the pre-test. Then, after finishing the robotics course, the same sets of students were tested with the post-test. An extensive analysis of the results is provided in the paper. Results show that the positive change in spatial ability of the participants in the robotics course (EG) was greater than change evident in the students who did not join the course (CG). The improvement was statistically significant. The results also show that the overall performance of the students depends on the instruments used to evaluate their spatial abilities. Hence, this study manifests clearly the importance of the selection of those instruments.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11
Fig. 12
Fig. 13
Fig. 14
Fig. 15
Fig. 16


  1. 1.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

  4. 4.


  1. (2000). Principles and standards for school mathematics. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

  2. (2006). Massachusetts science and technology/engineering curriculum framework. Resource document., Accessed: January 2015.

  3. Bakker, M. (2008). Spatial ability in primary school: Effects of the tridio learning material. Master Thesis of Psychology. University of Twente, Enschede.

  4. Barak, M., & Zadok, Y. (2009). Robotics projects and learning concepts in science, technology and problem solving. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 19(3), 289–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Barker, B., & Ansorge, J. (2007). Robotics as means to increase achievement scores in an informal learning environment. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(3), 229–243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Benitti, F. (2012). Exploring the educational potential of robotics in schools: A systematic review. Computers and Education, 58(3), 978–988.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bers, M., & Portsmore, M. (2005). Teaching partnerships: Early childhood and engineering, students teaching math and science through robotics. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 14(1), 59–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Contero, M., Naya, F., Company, P., & Saorín, J. L. (2006). Learning support tools for developing spatial abilities in engineering design. International Journal of Engineering Education, 22(3), 470–477.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Coxon, S. (2012). The malleability of spatial ability under treatment of a first lego league-based robotics simulation. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 35(3), 291–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Datteri, E., Zecca, L., Laudisa, F., & Castiglioni, M. (2013). Learning to explain: The role of educational robots in science education. Themes in Science and Technology Education, 6(1), 29–38.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Ekstrom, R. B., French, J. W., Harman, H. H., & Dermen, D. (1976). Kit of factor referenced cognitive tests. Princeton, New Jersey: Educational Testing Service.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Hegarty, M., & Waller, D. (2004). A dissociation between mental rotation and perspective-taking spatial abilities. Intelligence, 32, 175–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Highfield, K. (2010). Robotic toys as a catalyst for mathematical problem solving. Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 15(2), 22–27.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Humphreys, L., Lubinski, D., & Yao, G. (1993). Utility of predicting group membership and the role of spatial visualization in becoming an engineer, physical scientist, or artist. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78(2), 250–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Metz, S., Donohue, S., Moore, C. (2012). Spatial skills: A focus on gender and engineering. Resource document., Accessed: June 2014.

  16. Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Rocard, M., Csermely, P., Jorde, D., Lenzen, D., Walwerg-Henriksson, H., & Hemmo, V. (2007). Science education now: a renewed pedagogy for the future of Europe. Luxembourg: Publications Office.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Rockland, R., Bloom, D., Carpinelli, J., Burr-Alexander, L., Hirsch, L., & Kimmel, H. (2010). Advancing the “E” in K-12 STEM education. The Journal of Technology Studies, 36(1), 53–64.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Rogers, C., & Portsmore, M. (2004). Bringing engineering to elementary school. Journal of STEM Education, 5((3, 4)), 17–28.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Sorby, S. A. (2009). Educational research in developing 3-D spatial skills for engineering students. International Journal of Science Education, 31(3), 459–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Sutton, K., & Williams, A. (2007). Spatial cognition and its implications for design. Hong Kong, China: International Association of Societies of Design Research.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Sutton, K., Heathcote, A., Bore, M. (2005). Implementing a web-based measurement of 3D understanding. In: Computer–human interaction special interest group conference (CHISIG), (pp .23–25).

  23. Verner, I. (2004). Robot manipulations: A synergy of visualization, computation and action for spatial instruction. International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning, 9, 213–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carme Julià.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Julià, C., Antolí, J.Ò. Spatial ability learning through educational robotics. Int J Technol Des Educ 26, 185–203 (2016).

Download citation


  • Robotics
  • Spatial ability
  • Visualization