I think it’s pretty much a no brainer that hands on learning is important. But do you realize just HOW important it truly is? In this blog series, I’m going to show you how important hands on learning is, and we’re going to explore some ways to make learning hands on in EACH major subject area. For the first post in this series, we’ll explore hands on science….which is one of my favorites!
Learning By Doing Helps Students Perform Better in Science
Research from the University of Chicago showed that students who physically experience scientific concepts understand them more deeply and score better on science tests. Furthermore, 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. WOW! Reading that fact blew me away.
According to The National Assessment of Educational Progress, “Teachers who conduct hands-on learning activities on a weekly basis out-perform their peers by more than 70% of a grade level in math and 40% of a grade level in science.”
Real Benefits of Hands on Learning in Science
According to Dr. Robert Knott of UC Berkeley, hands on science lessons have the following benefits:
- Students have an even playing field on which to participate.
- Students are forced to think by requiring interpretation of the observed events, rather than memorization of correct responses.
- Students learn that they can interpret data, often with various and differing interpretations.
- Students are encouraged to question observed events and the resulting data.
- Students practice cause-and-effect thinking.
- Students rely less on authority and more on practical experience.
STEM Experiences Are Not Just About the Present But About the Future As Well
According to Elizabeth Maricola, Publisher of Science News, “Encouraging students to explore new ideas can lead to increased confidence and competence in the science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) fields. STEM skills remain in high demand in the workforce and are useful in technical and non-technical careers. Nurturing these skills will help today’s students find satisfying careers and solve issues plaguing humanity across generations.”
So how can we as teachers do our best to incorporate hands on experiences in our Science classes no matter which grade we teach?
Provide Opportunities for STEM and STEAM
One way is by providing STEM materials and resources for open ended exploration. Basic supplies like craft sticks, toothpicks, straws, plastic cups, rubber bands, etc. can be a great STEM center for open exploration and experimentation. Directed STEM experiences are also great! Pinterest is full of thousands of fabulous STEM and STEAM ideas and resources, many of which are free. Here are a few of my favorite FREE STEM resources. Click one of the pictures below to visit that site!
Include At Least 1 Hands On Lab Each Week in Science
When you start planning your science lessons for the following week look carefully for one lesson that stands out for a hands on experience. Maybe you’ll choose a tricky concept that students probably won’t master without a hands on experience (like erosion). Or maybe you’ll choose something with shock value to really make the key concepts stick (like dissecting an insect).
For instance, while learning about living and nonliving things this week, I allowed my students to explore and compare gummy worms and earthworms so they could truly understand the difference between living and nonliving. There were tons of squeals and lots of giggles but they were truly engaged. The lab called for lots of observation, data collection, describing, and concluding. I also integrated in things like measuring in inches and centimeters, answering questions on a table, drawing a conclusion and writing to support that conclusion, and using their five senses.
Here are the lab sheets students used to record their data, observations, and conclusions.
I also helped them read these fact sheets about earthworms and gummy worms…complete with fascinating facts and one super gross fact! Gross stuff engages kids EVERY TIME! 😉
Finally students used the ipads in small groups to explore some QR code cards with information, websites, and videos about gummy worms and earthworms.
You can grab all of the materials for this engaging lab experience (minus gummy worms and earthworms, of course!) HERE:
Have a Scientist of the Week
I know a Kindergarten teacher who does this and her students simply LOVE it! She chooses one special scientist each week (or each month) to plan, practice, and prepare an experiment at home. Then, that student brings all of the necessary materials to school and completes the experiment with his or her classmates. The scientists are SO PROUD of themselves and they truly learn more about experimenting in this single experience than in any experiment you could design for them all year long.
If you want to try having a scientist of the week, you can grab some fabulous FREE printables from First Grade OWLS HERE!
Subscribe to a Science Subscription Service
There are lots of fun subscription services your class can subscribe to. You’ll be mailed a monthly package with hands on science experiments and the materials and instructions to complete them. Here are some of my favorite subscriptions:
Steve Spangler Science Club Stem Lab has three subscription options: $9.99 per month for 1 STEM experience, $19.99 for up to 5 STEM experiences, and $29.99 a month for up to 10 STEM experiences. You can check it out HERE.
Tinker Crates by Kiwi Crates is another fun monthly subscription service that encourages STEM and STEAM.
Who doesn’t LOVE Mrs. Frizzle? The Magic School Bus Science Club is another kid and teacher favorite!
So there you have some of my FAVORITE ways to make science hands on, engaging, and memorable. What will YOU change about your science instruction to ensure more hands on learning? Be sure to pin the image below!