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The Use Of The Visual Spatial Intelligence In The Solution Of Elementary Physics Problems

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Physics in the K-16 Classroom

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1184.1 - 8.1184.13



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Paper Authors

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Sallie Townsend

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Natalie Segal

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session #2480

The use of the visual-spatial intelligence in the solution of elementary physics problems.

Sallie S. Townsend, Natalie D. Segal

S.I. Ward College of Technology at the University of Hartford


The process of transforming a word problem, the only kind in physics, to a mathematical representation of that problem uses several of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences. Traditionally, only the verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences have been emphasized. However, the authors have found that solving physics problems requires the ability to visualize the problem statement into a mental video. Not only does this process entail the visual-spatial intelligence but also the kinesthetic as the student needs to have a sense of how the physical world works. This paper addresses visual techniques that aid in the solution of mechanics problems in freshman physics courses. First is the use of multiple sketches to enhance visualization of the problem. Most texts suggest "sketch" the problem with the implication of a single sketch. When the problem is time-dependent, it is appropriate most of the time to provide two or more sketches. These sketches are snapshots in time taken from the mental video of the problem at hand. Another is the use of tables for data organization and recognition. Creating a visual organization of information makes it much easier to see what to do next for the visual- spatial student. Both are visual tools to solve analytical problems. Several examples of application of these methods are presented.


The students at Ward College of Technology at the University of Hartford can major in Architectural, Audio, Electronic, Computer, and Mechanical Engineering Technology. They are thus a diverse group, with different abilities. We have found that our Architectural Engineering Technology (AET) students, for example, tend to process information visually, whereas the Audio Engineering Technology (AUET) students process information aurally and the Mechanical Engineering Technology (MET) students process information kinesthetically. To develop strategies for teaching mathematics and writing to this diverse group, strategies that don’t rely on the traditionally emphasized verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, but that strengthen them, we turned to Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. The theory helped to validate our initial instinct that our students handle information differently and provided us with resources for our teaching. We have been using strategies informed by Gardner’s theory for two years now. We have applied them to our freshman technical writing course, taught by Ms. Segal, and to our freshman pre-calculus class, taught by Dr. Townsend.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Townsend, S., & Segal, N. (2003, June), The Use Of The Visual Spatial Intelligence In The Solution Of Elementary Physics Problems Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11716

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