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Hands-On Learning vs. Lecturing


A new study by Purdue University has shed some light on how to most effectively engage students in technology and engineering at a young age.

The study took five classes of 8th graders in a rural Indiana school and taught them about human impacts on water and water quality through a traditional textbook and lecture method and then compared their comprehension of those subjects to another five classes of 8th graders from that school who learned about water quality through engineering design modules. The students in the latter group were asked to build a water purification device as a way of learning the concepts.

The researchers found that students who built the hands-on water purification system had "a deeper understanding" of the concepts than the students who had lecture-based lessons, especially in students for whom English was not their first language. Both groups—a total of 126 students—were tested before they took the lessons and after they completed the unit.

I found this study to be interesting not only because it supports the idea that hands-on learning is more likely to engage students, but also that it can actually boost comprehension in certain subjects. As the researchers in the study point out, some teachers shy away from project-based or hands-on learning because of the extra time and preparation required to set those lessons up.

"Further study is needed, but this is an exciting first step in proving the value of engineering/technology design modules in the classroom," [Melissa] Dark, [one of the leaders of the study] said. "As a nation, we want to increase engineering and technology education in K-12 and also improve students' critical thinking skills, which we showed can be done though creative, hands-on design projects."

I agree with this completely. Students who are in lecture based classrooms are not able to see how things work, or the affects they actually have on things. I also like the base of technolgy that is dealt with in the research done by Purdue. It isn't necessarily computers, but it is integrating hands on experiments into the classroom and I am happy this is being recognized as important in the younger grades. In my college classes I have had a wonderful opportunity to learn from hands on experiments, using high-tech equipment and research discoveries that previously were not used. I have learned a great deal from my hands-on learning, more then I ever could from a lecture or video. I hope that technology continues to increase and allow for alternative ways of learning in the K-12 classroom.

I couldn't agree more. Going into the field of education, with a major in Science, I feel as though hands-on learning and experimenting is the key to a students success. As mentioned in this blog, hands-on learning can be extremely beneficial in certain subject areas, science being the biggest, and in my opinion the most important to have hands-on learning. There will always be a debate of whether hands-on learning is actually beneficial, but it's studies like this that help support our argument that project-based learning is beneficial to students. Integrating these sorts of activities in the K-12 classrooms will ultimately be beneficial for any students comprehension and understanding of the presented material. Hopefully studies like the one Purdue has produced will continue to take place!! =]

I couldn’t agree more. I think this is a perfect example of why students are not fully comprehending lecture lessons. I think that is sick to think that the reason why teachers aren’t doing more hands on learning is because of the "extra-time and preparation" to me that is just a lazy teacher who doesn't really care about the growth of their students. As future educators we need to be willing to put in that extra time and preparation for the well being of our students. No matter what it takes from us as educators we should be willing to do whatever it takes to see our students succeed. Although I do see an importance of some lecturing (so the students are given all the information) I also think it is important for the teacher to make sure they are comprehending all that is being taught, and if that takes a different teaching style all educators should be willing to do so.

I agree, i think this just proves to us teachers (or future teachers) that most students learn better through hands on learning rather than just lectures. By doing something hands-on the student has to apply what they know to what they are doing in an experiment, or in this case to building a water purification device. The student can't just do as he/she may do in a lectureand zone out and just be in the class physically but not mentally. When you use a hands on technique of teaching the student has to actually actively participate which i feel will help the student learn, comprehend, and remember what they are learning better. Although this is just one simple research example, i think hands on teaching is effective and needs to be implemented into the K-12 classroom more often. Implementing this into classrooms early on will help our youth to learn better and be better prepared for their future endevors.I hope to read about more studies such as this one so I can see if the results are consistently showing that students comprehend better through hands on. And if so when i become a teacher look forward to actively involving my students in my lessons and not just have them sit at their desks passively and listen to my lectures.

It's good to see research regarding hands-on learning. It is true that project assessment is more time consuming for the teacher, and that many prefer traditional assessments because they are easier and quicker to grade. To the future teacher posters: be careful about applying the word "lazy" to your future colleagues. "Lazy" can easily become an adjective too often used to describe your future students, especially the ones with learning differences. It's a good idea to remove it from your lexicon.
And speaking of LD students. Most LD students have some sort of language processing disorder at the root of their learning issues. They can learn better in a hands-on environment, (think 'manipulatives), but the trick is providing enough repetition of the hands-on, paired with the language that defines what they're learning, for the target content to cement itself in their brains. This is an interesting dilemma in a differentiated classroom.
Marian Congdon, resource teacher

With the No Child Left Behind movement, Hands-On Learning seems to have been pushed aside in favor of rote memorization. The swing back to textbooks rather than projects has resulted in children who are not only having a difficult time thinking creatively but are disruptive due to boredom.

Your studies in Hands-On Learning may help to create the political environment to allow teachers to spend time actually teaching children rather than testing.

I began teaching first in a Montessori Classroom where learning is hands-on; concrete learning is the foundation for abstraction. Now that I am moving into the public school system, I am amazed how my Montessori training for making materials (we made our "works" for the students) is needed for engaging the students for connecting the abstractions into meaning.

The student also needs to work with materials in order to have brain-based learning: this includes work with pencils and paper!

(We need to bring back the pencils, paper, chalk and chalkboards for the kinesthetic drag for the brain to feel the language kinesthetic connections too, but that's for another conversation.)

I am aware of the limits of time to teach lessons in the NCLB classroom and that can impede the hands on learning, however with creative timing, incentive building, workstations, and teamwork with co-teachers--we can work together to bring hands-on learning and discovery to our students.

Duh--remember the old "outcomes based learning" that the 'right wing' effectively stopped? When children can participate and understand the outcome, they better learn....


I agree. I am doing my high school graduation research paper on hands on learning. I will volunteer at a hands-on museum. This is very interesting. I believe that even I, will learn more than I know in a hands-on experience.

I agree. I am doing my high school graduation research paper on hands on learning. I will volunteer at a hands-on museum. This is very interesting. I believe that even I, will learn more than I know in a hands-on experience.

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