Mental Folding links to math/science achievement

Mental folding has long been considered an important component of spatial skills (Linn & Petersen, 1985; McGee, 1979, NRC, 2006). Mental folding involves being able to imagine how an object will look after it has been folded in a specific way.

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Can you imagine how to fold this paper in 3 places and end up with all yellow on one side, all blue on one side?

Can you diagram your moves for someone else to follow?



While there is strong evidence linking spatial ability to academic achievement. Mental folding is particular interest as it was one of the skills found to be predictive of entry into STEM disciplines (Wai, Lubinksi, and Benbow, 2009).

Children who perform well on spatial ability tests are more likely to study STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and to go into a STEM profession (Shea, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2001; Wai, Lubinski, & Benbow, 2009). This effect holds even when controlling for verbal and mathematical ability, suggesting that spatial ability is an independent component of intelligence(Wai et al 2009; Uttal et al 2013).

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The item above is performed like this. The 3 images on the left represent a series of 2 folds. The third picture shows where a sharp pencil was then pushed through the paper. To the right you have 5 choices for what the paper will look like if you now open it up to full size.


Other research pinpoints a close tie between spatial thinking and the development of “number sense” Early spatial intelligence predicts a child’s performance in mathematics (Newcombe et al 2015; Verdine et al 2014).

Zhang et al, 2014 , concluded from their research that young children who are better at visualizing spatial relationships develop stronger arithmetic abilities in primary school .

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Cheng and Mix, 2013 found after only one 20-minute session of practice with mental rotation puzzles,students (ages 8-6) earned higher scores on a math test compared with control-group peers.

The “trained” students became particularly good at algebraic problems, like “2 + ? = 7.”

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Middle school students who are good at mental rotation are more likely to achieve in science classes (Ganley et al 2014).

And there is evidence that early spatial ability predicts a young child’s reading skills (Franceschini et al 2012).  Sound familiar??? Can you begin to imagine the skills that link to spatial reasoning, the tasks you engage students with as they develop their reading skills??? Stay tuned…