Research from cognitive science and geoscience education has shown that sketching can improve spatial thinking skills and facilitate solving spatially complex problems. Yet sketching is rarely implemented in introductory geosciences courses, due to time needed to grade sketches and lack of materials that incorporate cognitive science research. Here, we report a design-centered, collaborative effort, between geoscientists, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, to characterize spatial learning challenges in geoscience and to design sketch activities that use a sketch-understanding program, CogSketch. We developed 26 CogSketch worksheets that use cognitive science–based principles to scaffold problem solving of spatially complex geoscience problems and report observations of an implementation in an introductory geoscience course where students used CogSketch or human-graded paper worksheets. Overall, this research highlights the principles of interdisciplinary design between cognitive scientists, geoscientists, and AI researchers that can inform the collaborative design process for others aiming to develop effective educational materials.