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8.3 Teaching Through Hands on Activities

“Hands-on activities mean students have objects (both living and inanimate) directly available for investigation.”

“Hands-on quite literally means having students ‘manipulate’ the things they are studying – plants, rocks, insects, water, magnetic fields – and ‘handle’ scientific instruments – rulers, balances, test tubes, thermometers, microscopes, telescopes, cameras, meters, calculators. In a more general sense, it seems to mean learning by experience.”

Hands-on activities are materials-centered activities, manipulative activities, and practical activities. According to Hein (1987), materials-centered science is synonymous with hands-on science and activity-centered science. The term hands-on is also related to the use of manipulative materials. Elementary school mathematics teachers have long been interested in the use of manipulatives to provide concrete learning experiences. The Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors defines manipulative materials as instructional materials that are designed to be touched or handled by students and which develop their muscles, perceptual skills, psychomotor skills, etc.”

The concept of hands-on science is predicated on the belief that a science program for elementary children should be based on the method children instinctively employ to make sense of the world around them. Science must be experienced to be understood. These experiences should allow students to be actively engaged in the manipulation of everyday objects and materials from the real world. Children are by nature observers and explorers, and the most effective approach to learning should capitalize on these intrinsic abilities.”

“Hands-on science is defined as any science lab activity that allows the student to handle, manipulate or observe a scientific process”. Hands-on teaching can be differentiated from lectures and demonstrations by the central criterion that students interact with materials to make observations, but the approach involves more than mere activity. The assumption is that direct experiences with natural phenomena will provoke curiosity and thinking, so, “recently, a new twist has been added, and the topic is called Hands-on/Minds-on science.”

“Teachers are now seeking to understand what students are learning as a result of busy hands. This need is being expressed through the introduction of new terms such as minds-on and heads-on science.”

“The one metaphor that has become a password for good science teaching is that science teaching should be hands-on. In recent years, however, this metaphor has been enriched and expanded with the use of the phrase ‘minds on science””. Despite the simplicity and logic of using this approach, research indicates that the recitation (discussion) is the most common method of teaching science.

Different Dimensions of Hand on Learning

Hands-on learning can be thought of as comprising three different dimensions: the inquiry dimension, the structure dimension, and the experimental dimension. In inquiry learning, the student uses activities to make discoveries. The structure dimension refers to the amount of guidance given to the student. If each step is detailed, this is known as a cookbook style lab. These types of activities do not increase a student’s problem-solving abilities. The third dimension is the experimental dimension which involves the aspect of proving a discovery, usually through the use of a controlled experiment.

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