The relationship between spatial ability and the conservation of matter in middle school

Merryn Cole, Jennifer Wilhelm, Briana Marie Mcknight Vaught, Corinne Fish, Hailey Fish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Research has shown that spatial ability plays a key role in understanding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) content, including chemistry. Conservation of Matter (CoM) is an essential but challenging topic for chemistry students of all ages to grasp; it is often taught in a way where students memorize it but do not learn what it means conceptually. This research explored the relationship between understanding spatial ability and conceptual understanding of CoM in middle school students. CoM was examined in two ways using the Conservation of Matter Assessment (CoMA): through questions on conservation of atoms and the conservation of mass. Spatial ability was measured using the Purdue Spatial Visual Test: Rotations (PSVT). Significant, moderate correlations were found between spatial ability and understanding of CoM prior to and after a chemistry unit including instruction on CoM; the correlation was stronger after instruction. Scores on the PSVT and CoMA significantly increased pre to post instruction. The data show spatial ability may impact students’ understanding of CoM, which contributes to the literature on factors that impact students’ understanding of chemistry. Additionally, it provides evidence that teachers should consider including spatially rich experiences in their chemistry classroom, such as making explicit connections between the areas of Johnstone’s Triad.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalEducation Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Chemistry
  • Conservation of matter
  • Middle school
  • Spatial ability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • General Computer Science
  • Education
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Public Administration
  • Computer Science Applications


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