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The Power of Hands-On Science Education

February 05, 2024
By Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor

Research shows that hands-on learning is extremely effective for students of all ages, particularly when it comes to science education. Waldorf Education employs an experiential approach in all subjects, especially in science. Students learn through observation and experimentation, rather than just memorizing formulas. This engages the senses and encourages critical thinking and problem-solving, which fosters wonder, curiosity, and a deeper understanding of scientific phenomena.

Learning about science through listening to lectures and reading about it, though valuable, isn’t always enough to truly engage students. Learning by doing science through hands-on science activities and experiments lets students see what they’ve learned in action and develop a deeper understanding of the subject. Hands-on learning is just another way to refer to learning by doing. Allowing students to discover more about scientific concepts through hands-on science activities, experiments, and projects is a proven way to increase engagement and academic achievement.

A study done by the Canadian Center of Science and Education found that children can learn mathematics and sciences effectively even before being exposed to formal school curriculum if basic mathematics and science concepts are communicated to them early using activity-oriented (hands-on) methods of teaching. Mathematics and science are practical and activity oriented and can best be learned through inquiry (Okebukola in Mandor, 2002) and through intelligent manipulation of objects and symbols (Ekwueme, 2007). The study looked at the impact of a hands-on approach on students’ academic performance and the students’ opinion about this activity-based methodology and showed positive improvement in both the students’ performance and participation in mathematics and basic science activities and willingness on the part of the teachers to use hands-on approaches in communicating mathematical and scientific concepts to their students.  

What Is Hands-On Science?
Hands-on science can be defined as students getting their hands on materials, performing experiments, exploring phenomena, and trying out ideas. According to research, hands-on science usually involves “physical materials to give students first-hand experience in scientific methodologies” but can also include virtual labs. Labs, experiments, and projects are all potential hands-on science activities.

Why Hands-On Learning Is Important in Science
Hands-on learning is more than just a way to get students to experiment with science equipment or be immersed in a virtual world. Also, hands-on learning does more than bring fun to learning. This approach is proven to increase student engagement and understanding of scientific concepts.

Hands-on learning can also connect to inquiry-based learning in science, another teaching approach that’s proven to increase student engagement. Inquiry-based science instruction encourages students to ask questions they are interested in and investigate those questions. Hands-on science is one of many ways students can explore inquiries, whether the procedure is designed by the teacher or student. Let’s delve into the additional benefits of hands-on learning in science.

Benefits of Hands-On Learning in Science
Increases Retention: Active learning, such as through hands-on activities, has been proven to be effective at promoting retention. When students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom through hands-on science experiments and activities, students can better understand concepts.

  • Improves Performance on Assessments: Research from the University of Chicago shows that hands-on science can improve student outcomes. Participating in the learning process through learning by doing helps students forge a deeper understanding of the scientific concepts taught in class.
  • Provides a Sense of Accomplishment: Teachers have recognized that hands-on science provides students with a sense of accomplishment. At the end of a hands-on activity or experiment, students can see the immediate results of their learning. Learning new ideas can take a long time, but when the learning is hands-on, students reach a clear stopping point and can look back at what they did.
  • Supports Students with Learning Barriers: Hands-on learning is a proven way to support students with learning barriers, such as multilingual learners and students with autism. Research has shown that students who are just beginning to learn English can benefit from visual resources and hands-on activities that help them understand new words and concepts in English. Additionally, research has shown that hands-on learning can enhance the learning process for students with autism.
  • Develops Critical Thinking Skills: Overall, hands-on learning develops students’ critical thinking skills. Through doing hands-on activities and experiments, students have the chance to connect to and apply what they’ve learned in class to complete their projects.
HS Periodic Table Mosaic Designed and Built by Students

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