Friday, April 5, 2013

Hands-on, Hands-Down

As a student, I remember sitting in my desk all day long. The only time we were allowed to get out of our desks was lunch, bathroom break, and recess. Pencils had to be sharpened before school, and there were no interruptions in the classroom. We used paper and pencil and nothing else. Working in groups or with a partner was unheard of because we might get off-task. It was pretty monotonous.

Fast-forward to my fourth grade year. I actually got to complete a hands-on home, not at school, but it was still a hands-on project. My parents and I had the most fun with school work that I had ever had. Ever! My assignment was to build a replica of a volcano. I did this with the help of my parents, and I had a blast. I remember everything about volcanoes because of this assignment. Who knew they could be so fascinating because when we learned about them in class, they seems pretty boring sitting on the page in the textbook.

There has been so many studies about methods of teaching students over the past several years. The one study that I believe is accurate is the one that promotes hands-on learning in the classroom. Students who are afforded opportunities for hands-on learning are required to actively participate and they are "learning by doing." I believe hands-on learning also fosters a sense of independence in a student because the student takes ownership of his/her learning, thus creating the opportunity for the teacher to serve as a facilitator and guide the students.

There are some concepts that simply cannot be taught without some form of hands-on activity. For example, learning to play basketball would not be possible if you could not actively participate in a hands-on way. Sure, you could be taught the rules, procedures, and plays on paper, but you would not have a good grasp how to dribble, pass, shoot, and score without actually going to a basketball court and holding that basketball. This is the same for students. Some students cannot learn without seeing it, feeling it, or doing it.

In my language arts class, we are reading a book about the collapse of the world. Instead of simply asking the students to tell me what they would do if the world suddenly ended and they were left to survive, I had them work in collaborative groups to make a survival guide. The students loved it! Not only did the students love this activity, but I was also given another opportunity to learn more about my students. (I learn more and more everyday!) In their survival guide, they had to develop a list of items they would need to survive, sketch and explain how they would construct their shelter, develop a plan to survive the four seasons, and create a time capsule of ten items with pictures. They did a wonderful job!

Here are some of the pages of their survival guides:

The students still used paper and pencil to complete this activity, but it was completed in collaborative groups, discussed, and I completely served as a facilitator. 

Anytime I plan my lessons, I try to think back to my fourth grade volcano experience. Am I able to plan something hands-on with every lesson? No, but I do try to make those hands-on experiences meaningful for the students and ones that they will remember. I believe the best teaching is that where traditional teaching and hands-on learning work together. 

What are some examples of hands-on learning that work well with concepts you have taught? 


  1. You are singing my song :) The more hands-on stuff the better. We've designed parties for leprechauns, built perimeter farms and Roman garrison towns, made fraction bracelets, made a 4 foot by 4 foot diorama of Tenochtitlan with miniature houses, temple, people and even little pots, built a full-size Aztec house (got used as a reading corner for the term), made papier mache simile snakes, a giant fishbowl populated with measurement goldfish - if there's any way at all to make it hands-on I try to find it :)

    I'm curious - what's the book you read? There's a great book called "The Girl who Owned a City" about surviving the collapse of the world but it's too difficult for my third graders. Just wondered what text you used :)


    Fun in the Fours

    1. It is called "The Eleventh Plague", but these are actually an advanced content class of 7th graders. I had to get it approved because there of the content. But I am definitely going to be searching for a book to read with a group of 5th graders next year. I may have to check out the book you mentioned.

  2. Andrea,
    Great [ost. Some of my fondest school memories involve hands-on projects. As a final exam in college one of our professors brought in school-type supplies and we had to create bridges that would connect tables. Later on he told us it was more of a metaphor for life that includes working together to complete goals. IT WAS AWESOME.

    I do a much shorter version like this with my kids and it's is always funny how "alive" the kids become. I also see that some haven't really gotten to experience learning like this too.

    Thanks for rekindling memories,
    Digital: Divide & Conquer

    1. Your professor sounds very fun! I know, I love to see the students having fun and learning at the same time. Thank you for reading!

  3. I agree--I am constantly reworking lesson plans to include as many hands-on activities as possible. Thanks for the share!

    1. Thank you for reading! I know my students remember more if they are able to "do" something. :)

  4. I couldn't agree with you more! Thanks for sharing a wonderful post! :)

  5. Agreed 1000 times! Engagement is so key--and I'm sure the students had a BLAST! I think we need to get better as teachers at reading our students' faces . . . if they are not "with us", we better figure out why not!


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