Teachers who embrace hands-on learning in science seem to recognize certain desirable outcomes and endorse student-centred instructional approaches.
Research has confirmed many of the seemingly intuitive benefits of hands-on learning and has also documented a variety of unanticipated benefits. But what effects of hands-on learning are seen by advocates as most important or valuable?
- Students in a hands-on science program will remember the material better, feel a sense of accomplishment when the task is completed, and be able to transfer that experience easier to other learning situations. When more than one method of learning is accessed as in hands-on learning, the information has a better chance of being stored in the memory for useful retrieval. Students who have difficulty in the learning arena for reasons of ESL barriers, auditory deficiencies, or behavioural interference can be found to be on task more often because they are part of the learning process and not just spectators.
- Justifying why you would use hands-on science is based on all the research and methods studies that are current. They support the notion of multi-faceted bombardment of information and experiences so that the retention level is improved. Students who are involved in labs and activities are empowered in their own learning process.
- The benefits of hands-on-learning in my school revolves around those children who are either not as academically "talented" or have not shown "interest" in school. This method tends to stimulate these type [of] students into participating and eventually absorbing information that we believe they would not get from "normal" show-me - tell-me methods.
- The most important benefit to student is that although it requires a great deal of preparation time, once a system is developed, hands-on teaching makes teaching fun.
- I hear and I forget
- I see and I remember
- I do and I understand
Without this approach students must rely on memory and abstract thought, two methods which restrict learning in most students. By actually doing and experiencing science, students develop their critical thinking skills as well as discover scientific concepts. This self discovery stays with students throughout their lifetimes while memory fades.
- If students are not doing hands-on science, they are not doing science. Science is a process and if students are not actively engaged in the process, they are not doing science. Most science classes in elementary school teach the vocabulary of science and nothing else.
Study after study has shown the value of hands-on learning. Students are motivated, they learn more, even their reading skills improve.
- Learning by well-planned activities and experiences in a well engineered program is a quality instructional approach. It:
- causes students to rely on the evidence instead of upon authority (encyclopaedia, minister, doctor, text, teacher, parent). Most students live in an authoritarian world with little or no opportunity to practice decision-making because nearly everyone tells students what to do and when to do it. We continually graduate students who do not yet have the ability to set up a simple experiment with controlled variables, collect and interpret evidence, or make correct interpretations based upon that evidence.
- provides students with a similar set of experiences so everyone can participate in discussions on a level playing field regardless of their socio-economic status. In this way, special benefits are not awarded to those who, by virtue of their wealth or background, have a greater number of experiences under their belts.
- forces student thinking by requiring interpretation of the observed events, rather than memorization of correct responses.
- When a text or teacher tells students that plants need light to grow (an untruth) students simply memorize this without question and are hampered by the falsehood for a lifetime. However, when a student personally germinates seeds in the dark and finds that they grow taller than seeds grown in the light, it has irrefutable evidence from a personal experience that plants do not need light to grow. Because he now has evidence that light inhibits growth (which it does) he now has a chance of figuring out why plants in a house grow toward the light (cell growth of the lighted side of the stem is repressed while the unlighted side grows more, thus causing the stem to grow in such a manner as to aim the upper part of the plant toward the light which is necessary for growth after the stored food energy is used up.) This information seldom comes from texts or teachers , yet is a logical interpretation by 10 year old students if they conduct the experiments. It:
- encourages questioning of the observed events and the resulting data. When students carry out their own experiments, they become very familiar with the events and the variables involved.
- promotes cause and effect thinking.
- reduces dependence upon authority. Practical experiences in generating hypotheses and planning experiments now, will make the students more independent later when they no longer have authorities standing by at every turn of their lives.
- The importance of providing children with direct experiences with materials, objects, and phenomena is supported by experience and understanding of how learning takes place. While information can be remembered if taught through books and lectures, true understanding and the ability to use knowledge in new situations requires learning in which children study concepts in-depth, and over time and learning that is founded in direct experience. Therefore, the justification for hands-on learning is that it allows students to build understanding that is functional and to develop the ability to inquire themselves, in other words, to become independent learners.