Jump to Main Content
Decrease font size Reset font size Increase font size
Zachary Hawes

Zachary Hawes
Assistant Professor

email: zack.hawes@utoronto.ca  

Department: Applied Psychology and Human Development

Research Overview

My research lies at the intersection of education, psychology, and neuroscience. I study how people learn and do mathematics, with a particular focus on the role of spatial thinking in mathematics. My approach to research is varied, drawing on both lab- and field-based methodologies, including frequent collaboration with practicing educators. Ultimately, my research aims to build better bridges between cognitive science and education.

Examples of questions my research aims to address:

What are the cognitive and neural underpinnings of mathematical thought?

What role does spatial visualization play in mathematics learning and performance?

How do attitudes towards mathematics (e.g., math anxiety) influence performance in mathematics? How can we foster positive attitudes towards mathematics?

How can we better leverage research in numerical and spatial cognition to inform the teaching and learning of early years mathematics?

How can we create the most optimal teacher professional learning experiences?

To most effectively address these and other related questions I believe in the importance of engaging in interdisciplinary and collaborative research: Research that is problem-driven and actively seeks contributions from a wide assortment of professionals (educators, psychologists, mathematicians, philosophers, neuroscientists, etc.).

Representative Publications

Refereed Journal Publications 

  • Hawes, Z., & Ansari, D. (in press). What explains the relationship between spatial and mathematical skills? A review of evidence from brain and behavior. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
  • Hawes, Z., Sokolowski, H. M., Ononye, C. B., & Ansari, D. (2019). Neural underpinnings of spatial and numerical cognition: An fMRI meta-analysis of brain regions associated with symbolic number, arithmetic, and mental rotation. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews,103,316-336.
  • Hawes, Z., Moss, J., Caswell, B., Seo, J., & Ansari. (2019). Relations between numerical, spatial, and executive function skills and mathematics achievement: A latent-variable approach. Cognitive Psychology,109,68-80. 
  • Sokolowski, H. M., Hawes, Z., & Lyons, I. M. (2019) What explains sex differences in math anxiety? A closer look at the role of spatial processing. Cognition,182, 193-212
  • Hawes, Z., Moss, J., Caswell, B., Seo, J., Thomson, M., Thomson, N., Bailey, C. (2019). Effects of a teacher-designed and teacher-led number board game intervention: A randomized controlled trial with 4- to 6- year-olds. Mind, Brain, and Education.
  • Hawes, Z., Nosworthy, N., Archibald, L., & Ansari, D. (2019). Kindergarten children's symbolic number comparison skills predict 1st grade mathematics achievement: Evidence from a two-minute paper-and-pencil test. Learning and Instruction59, 21-33. 
  • Hawes, Z., Moss, J., Caswell, B., Naqvi, S., & MacKinnon, S. (2017). Enhancing children’s spatial and numerical skills through a dynamic spatial approach to early geometry instruction: Effects of a 32-week intervention. Cognition and Instruction,35(3), 236-264.
  • Bruce, C.D., Davis, B., Sinclair, N., McGarvey, L., Hallowell, D., Drefs, M., Francis, K., Hawes, Z.Moss, J., Mulligan, J. & Okamoto, Y. (2017). Understanding gaps in research networks: Using “spatial reasoning” as a window into the importance of networked educational research. Educational Studies in Mathematics95(2), 143-161.
  • Francis, K., Bruce, C., Davis, B., Drefs, M., Hallowell, D., Hawes, Z., McGarvey, L., Moss, J., Mulligan, J., Okamoto, Y. & Sinclair, N. (2017). Multidisciplinary perspectives on a video case of children designing and coding for robotics. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education17(3), 165-178.  
  • Hawes, Z., Moss, J., Caswell, B., & Poliszczuk, D. (2015). Effects of mental rotation training on children’s spatial and mathematics performance: A randomized controlled study. Trends in Neuroscience and Education,4(3),60-68.
  • Hawes, Z., LeFevre, J., Xu, C., & Bruce, C. (2015). Mental rotation with tangible three-dimensional objects: A new measure sensitive to developmental differences in 4- to 8-year-old children. Mind, Brain, andEducation,9(1), 10-18. 
  • Moss, J., Hawes, Z., Naqvi, S., & Caswell, B. (2015). Adapting Japanese Lesson Study to enhancethe teaching and learning of geometry and spatial reasoning in early years classrooms: A casestudy. ZDM – The International Journal on Mathematics Education47(3), 377-390.
  • Bruce, C. D., & Hawes, Z. (2015). The role of 2D and 3D mental rotation in mathematics for youngchildren: What is it? Why does it matter? And what can we do about it? ZDM – The International Journal onMathematicsEducation47(3). 
  • Hawes, Z.,Moss, J., Finch, H., & Katz, J. (2013). Choreographing patterns and functions. TeachingChildrenMathematics,19(5), 302-309.



  • Moss, J., Bruce, C.D., Caswell, B., Flynn, T. & Hawes, Z. (2016). Taking shape: Classroom activities to improve young children’s geometric and spatial thinking. Toronto, ON: Pearson 
  • Davis, B., & Spatial Reasoning Study Group (2015). Spatial reasoning in the early years: Principles, assertions andspeculations. New York, NY: Routledge


Educational Policy and Government Publications 

  • Hawes, Z., Flynn, T., (co-lead authors) & Ontario Ministry of Education (2014). Paying attention to spatial thinking: Support document for paying attention to mathematical education.Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario. 
  • Hawes, Z. (2013). Capacity Building Series: Inquiry-based learning.Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario. 
  • Hawes, Z., Gibson, A., Mir, S., & Pelletier, J. (2012). Children’s experiences in full-day programs for 4-and 5-year-olds: Play and self-regulation. In Corter, C., Janmohamed, Z., & Pelletier, J. (Eds.), Toronto First Duty Phase 3 Report(pp. 31-55). Toronto, ON: Atkinson Centre for Society andChild Development,OISE/University of Toronto.