Museum of Science, Boston

Math and Language Cognition

Language and math are important tools that allow humans to better understand the world around them, and communicate with one another. Some cognitive scientists are interested in learning more about how children develop language skills and conceptions about basic math principles, and how the development of math and language skills in early childhood might be interrelated.

3D Geometry

Can children reason about three-dimensional geometry?

This study explores children’s representation and reasoning about three-dimensional (3D) geometric features. We want to understand children’s capacity to identify 3D objects by using information such as angle, length and perspective.

In this study, children - ages 5 to 7- play a computer game with an experimenter. During the game, children are presented with an animal that hides in a specific ‘corner’. Then, children are shown pictures of four different corners. One of the pictures is of the original corner, but shown from a new perspective. The other three pictures show corners that are different from the original corner in angle or length. The children are then asked to find the hidden animal by identifying the original corner.

Previous studies have shown that both infants and children can distinguish between different angles in two-dimensional (2D) situations. This study explores why children have difficulty performing the same task when they are presented with three-dimensional (3D) shapes. We predict that this difficulty stems from the fact that 3D shapes may look different, when viewed from different perspectives.

Learn about other research related to Math and Language Cognition.

This research is conducted by the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University

Try it at the Museum

Shapes and Puzzles!

Shape Challenge! Investigate the two-dimensional cards and three-dimensional figures in the “Shapes” Toddler Box located in the Children’s Gallery, and challenge your child to match the figures to the cards. Watch how s/he manipulates the three-dimensional figure until s/he is viewing it from a familiar perspective, and can match it with the correct card. Can s/he match a figure to the correct card if you present the figure upside-down?

Puzzle Challenge! Set up the three-dimensional pieces of the shapes puzzle so that it is not obvious what each shape is. For example, stand the moon and stars upright, so that your child views them from an unfamiliar perspective. Watch how s/he reorients the 3D shapes to place them in the puzzle.

Try it at Home

Shoebox Perspectives

Find an empty shoebox, and have your child watch you put a household item into one of the box’s corners. Ask her to try and remember in which corner the item was placed. Then remove the object and flip the box on one of its sides, so that the open side is still facing your child. However, she should now be viewing the four corners from a new perspective. Now ask her to identify which corner you originally placed the object in. Try switching roles, with your child placing the object in the box and you trying to identify the original corner in the rotated box!