Hands-on Learning

What is hands-on learning?

Hands-on learning is also known as 21st century learning and is focused on students learning through doing. This approach allows students to learn with the lesson rather than sitting through a lecture and listening to the curriculum. This interaction with the lesson results in better comprehension and retention of the material and, in turn, improves students test scores.  

University of Chicago study:

Hands-on learning has been proven to be effective in all subjects and can help students become more successful students and lifelong learners. An article published in the UChicago News cites that hands-on learning helps students to become better in STEM subjects.  

“Brain scans showed that students who took a hands-on approach to learning had activation in sensory and motor-related parts of the brain when they later thought about concepts such as angular momentum and torque. Activation of these brain areas was associated with better quiz performance by college physics students who participated in the research,” said UChicago News journalist Jann Ingmire

These results were found through a UChicago led study in April of 2015. The study tracked which areas of the brain were used when a student took part in active learning in a science lab. Through all age ranges, the results found that students who participated throughout this learning process had better comprehension of the curriculum and, therefore, scored better on tests and quizzes. 

Study director Professor Sian Beilock emphasized the importance of incorporating hands-on learning into lessons, especially in science and math. She said that the study stresses the need to have physically engaging lessons in the classroom that push students to engage in the whole learning process. 

Purdue University study:

Similar findings were found in a Purdue University study that focused on how hands-on learning can increase student interest in engineering and technology concepts. The study found that creating interactive lessons instead of focusing heavily on textbook lessons can increase engagement and make students want to continue learning about these two topics. 

The study included 126 diverse 8th grade students from 10 different science classrooms across Indiana. Of the 10 classrooms, 5 were taught with traditional learning methods such as textbooks, lectures, tests and small projects. The other 5 classrooms were taught using 21st century learning methods that focused heavily on interactive projects.

The students were tasked with learning about water purification systems. The results found that students who built the water purification system had higher test scores and an overall higher comprehension of the engineering process.  

So what now?

The studies conducted by the University of Chicago and Purdue University are only two of the many that have found evidence of the effectiveness of 21st century learning styles. In a word of constant screens and stimulation, people’s attention spans are shrinking to new lows. According to a study conducted by Microsoft Corp., people begin to lose focus in eight seconds, which is one second sooner than a goldfish. 

This sad and shocking fact just emphasizes the need for students to be actively engaged in their curriculum. During a lecture, students minds may come and go. This can drastically decrease their subject comprehension and have negative effects on their ability to recall the information later for tests, future classes or at work. 

How to implement hands-on learning:

Despite evidence pointing to its effectiveness, it can be hard for educators to find ways to make their curriculum hands-on. This can be especially difficult at schools with strict curriculum plans and smaller classroom budgets. 

Below is a compiling of possible ways to slowly introduce this learning method into your classroom while still meeting requirements and staying fiscally responsible. 

  1. Switch lesson style every 10-15 minutes to keep students engaged.
  2. Look for websites, such as Teachers Pay Teachers, that offer free or low cost hands-on curriculum that can be easily implemented in the classroom. 
  3. Prepare the classroom in advance for the lessons so that once students are involved in the activity it can run smoothly with little distraction. 
  4. Utilize classroom technology.
  5. Ask for student feedback about the hands-on lesson. This can allow for improvement in the future, which will allow for more hands-on lessons in the future.  

Click this link to watch a short video that walks through ways to implement active learning into your classroom today!

STEM Sports® is doing our part:

All of the STEM Sports® curricula are focused around the hands-on approach to learning. In each of our sports kits, equipped with all of the sport and science supplies called for in the curriculum, students are active parts of each module and the learning process. Students have the opportunity to learn the curriculum at their own speed and through a trial-and-error approach. By utilizing the engineering design process (EDP), our students are able to understand the material on a deeper level that allows them to effectively use it in the future. 

Moving forward, schools need to adapt to the changing times and teach students in new and effective ways. The workforce is constantly changing and, because of that, so does the way students are taught. As educators, it is our job to prepare our students to succeed in their future classes and jobs. Hands-on learning is a great way to help them reach their goals and become lifelong learners.