Archived InformationState of the Art: Science - September 1993
(National Science Resources Center, 1988)Hands-on learning activities used appropriately can transform science learning by engaging the student in the process of science. Unfortunately, these activities are not widely used. It could be because so few teachers have had opportunities to develop skills needed for hands-on instruction. Another factor is that "hands-on learning takes time--and the pressure to get on with the overstuffed curriculum discourages many teachers from taking that time"
All hands-on activities include materials. The student learns by doing, using materials such as plants, batteries and bulbs, or water, or instruments such as the microscope, meter stick, or test tube. But instructional materials must be sequenced to facilitate students' construction of meaning. Giving students sets of activities without connections drawn among them leads to isolated bits of knowledge or skills which do not promote understanding but rather the forming of naive conceptions. Therefore, rather than presenting students with bits and pieces of information and leaving it to them to piece these together, the teacher needs to help students see the interconnections among scientific ideas.
In practice, however, despite the emphasis on "doing science" with the use of instructional materials, textbooks have defined the curriculum. In drawing a comparison one science educator commented: "Teaching with hands-on activities is demanding, but everyone is involved, eager, and active, and participants remember what they have done... I never saw a textbook do that" (Rosanne Fortner, as reported in Haury and Rillero, 1992). While textbooks may have a place in the curriculum as a support to inquiry and experimentation, a more experimental base is needed at all levels involving use of instructional materials and equipment and thought-provoking questions and dialogue.
Other material resources are needed to support students' exploration of scientific ideas. Children's trade books and magazines are valuable resources to engage students and enrich their understanding of the natural world. Many of these resources are reviewed and evaluated periodically and an annotated bibliography is published as a guide for users. Relevant films, videos, and computer resources are also important resources for the classroom. In addition, technical support is needed to supply teachers with science equipment and materials and to maintain and manage these resources.