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Summary of definition of Hands on Science North Central Regional Education Laboratory

  • There are a variety of ideas about what constitutes hands-on learning. We have compiled views from teachers, curriculum developers, and other writers to arrive at a general notion of hands-on learning in science which encompasses its use in school classrooms, museums, and other learning environments. From the collected responses and writings, we have come to consider hands-on learning in science to be any educational experience that actively involves people in manipulating objects to gain knowledge or understanding.
  • An emphasis on actively involving students in learning has influenced American schools since the 1860s. However, the term hands-on learning seems to have emerged during the 1960s and may eventually fall into disuse. However, the activity-based approach to learning implicit in the phrase has long been important in science education and will likely continue to be held in high esteem by science educators who hold a constructivist view of learning.

From Perspectives of Hands-On Science Teaching by David L. Haury and Peter Rillero, 1994

Summary of Benefits of Hands on Science North Central Regional Education Laboratory

There are a plethora of benefits that teachers and curriculum developers adduce to hands-on learning to justify the approach in science. Benefits for students are believed to include increased learning; increased motivation to learn; increased enjoyment of learning; increased skill proficiency, including communication skills; increased independent thinking and decision making based on direct evidence and experiences; and increased perception and creativity. Research supports many of these claims by providing evidence that the learning of various skills, science content, and mathematics are enhanced through hands-on science programs. Students in activity-based programs have exhibited increases in creativity, positive attitudes toward science, perception, logic development, communication skills, and reading readiness. These benefits seem more than sufficient justification for promoting hands-on learning. However, Jeff Brodie provided an important addition - it makes science fun for both the student and teacher. Given the recent concerns about science anxiety and avoidance, enjoyment of science learning seems a worthy goal to be considered in choosing instructional approaches in science.

From Perspectives of Hands-On Science Teaching by David L. Haury and Peter Rillero, 1994

Edutopia defines hands on as: 

“a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small collaborative groups. It is filled with active and engaged learning, it inspires students to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying. Research also indicates that students are more likely to retain the knowledge gained through this approach far more readily than through traditional textbook-centered learning. In addition, students develop confidence and self-direction as the move through both team-based and independent work.”

“Hands-on learning means many different things to different people. It has become a slogan and is often used to describe any activities in classrooms that use materials. As a slogan, it can easily become a fad. Hands-on learning, however, is not simply manipulating things. It is engaging in in-depth investigations with objects, materials, phenomena, and ideas and drawing meaning and understanding from those experiences. Other terms for this are inquiry learning, hands-on, and minds-on learning.”   

Karen Worth, Education Development Center Inc., Newton, MA


If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.

Chinese proverb



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