Most people learn more by doing things rather than by just reading, watching or hearing about it. As such, providing hands-on learning can have a profound effect on learning in schools, particularly on science teaching.
Why Hands-On Science
Contrary to what most people believe, hands-on learning is not a fad. In fact, it has been going on for quite some time now. In the simplest sense, hands-on learning is learning by doing. It involves teaching the students how to observe everything around them, plan a process to test their hypothesis, put the process into motion and drive it to successful completion. In the end, they should be able to explain the results they have obtained from the process.
The Benefits of Hands-On Learning in Science
Experts believe that by involving students in a total learning experience (i.e. learning by doing), their ability to think critically is significantly enhanced. It teaches them to rely more on evidence (observed data), encourages them to think independently, and reduces their dependence on authority.
In addition, numerous studies indicate that it increases the students' motivation to learn and enhances their perception, creativity, and logic. As a result, they are not only able to apply what they have learned inside the classroom in their everyday lives – they can also apply the whole learning experience to various life situations.
However, this does not imply that we should do away with textbooks. They have already proven their worth in providing basic information and can serve as excellent reference materials for students. Hands-on learning and text-based instruction can be successfully combined but it would be better if publishers would consider providing quality hands-on activities and additional resources to further enrich their textbook programs.
How Can Teachers Gain Experience with the Hands-On Methods?
It cannot be denied that while some teachers support the concept, there are also those who express their concern about their ability to teach using hands-on methods due to their limited science background. Here are some suggestions to overcome these limitations.
- Attend workshops, consider peer coaching and visit museums.
- Attend state, regional and national conferences to increase exposure to methods, materials, and a wider community of peers.
- School administrators should encourage teachers to participate in some of the available programs and prepare classroom activities. They should also be provided with all the resources they need, and enough time to adjust to the new teaching method.
- Start using hands-on methods inside the classroom. Teachers also learn best by doing so don't be afraid to roll up your sleeves, dig in, and enjoy the experience.
Resources in Developing Hands-On Science Activities
Here are some of the best resources that you may want to consider when looking for hands-on science activities that you would like to present to your class.
- Textbooks, science periodicals and NSTA publications – Use these excellent reference materials to help you develop ideas for hands-on activities. For best results, consider using the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC), a federally funded system that maintains the world's largest education-related, bibliographic database.
- Proven programs – Discover appropriate activities by studying proven programs. To make this task easier, refer to "Promising and Exemplary Programs and Materials in Elementary and Secondary Schools-Science" and "Science Education Programs that Work" for a comprehensive list of excellent hands-on science activities.
- Conferences – You can come up with a wealth of ideas just by attending these events.
- Co-teachers – You can learn a lot from tapping the minds of your peers who are currently practicing hands-on teaching methods.
- Past activities – Revisit past activities and encourage students to further analyze their observations. Aside from honing the students' critical thinking skills, they would most likely come up with related questions that can help you design new activities for the class.