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."