, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 331–343

The role of 2D and 3D mental rotation in mathematics for young children: what is it? Why does it matter? And what can we do about it?

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11858-014-0637-4

Cite this article as:
Bruce, C.D. & Hawes, Z. ZDM Mathematics Education (2015) 47: 331. doi:10.1007/s11858-014-0637-4


The ability to mentally rotate objects in space has been singled out by cognitive scientists as a central metric of spatial reasoning (see Jansen, Schmelter, Quaiser-Pohl, Neuburger, & Heil, 2013; Shepard & Metzler, 1971 for example). However, this is a particularly undeveloped area of current mathematics curricula, especially in North America. In this article we discuss what we mean by mental rotation, why it is important, and how it can be developed with young children in classrooms. We feature results from one team of teacher-researchers in Canada engaged in Lesson Study to develop enhanced theoretical understandings as well as practical applications in a geometry program that incorporates 2D and 3D mental rotations. Children in the Lesson Study classrooms (ages 4–8 years) demonstrated large gains in their mental rotation skills during 4 months of Lesson Study intervention in the Math for Young Children research program. The results of this study suggest that young children from a wide range of ability levels can engage in, and benefit from, classroom-based mental rotation activities. The study contributes to bridging a gap between cognitive science and mathematics education literature.


Spatial reasoning Mental rotation Mathematics Young children Geometry 

Copyright information

© FIZ Karlsruhe 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education and Professional LearningTrent UniversityPeterboroughCanada
  2. 2.Ontario Institute for Studies in EducationUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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