Hands On Learning

Teaching strategies come and go, following trends in the education world. Teachers vary in personality and style. Classrooms are well-equipped or sorely short on supplies. Families produce children with differing abilities, cultural practices, and behaviors. The world expects us to perform amazing tasks in the name of education.

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When school starts, the challenge is on. But what are the goals? Is it to control behavior so that the class is quiet and obedient, to have “fun,” to give the teacher a source of income, or to produce learning outcomes? Assuming the best of most teachers, causing learning to occur is the goal. Teaching our students to recognize their strengths and to use them to learn on their own is to prepare them for more than the annual achievement tests. It is to give them foundations for thinking and achievement throughout their lives.

All people have at least one learning style which makes learning easiest for them. A large number of learners have visual strengths as one of their stronger modes. This strength argues in favor of giving learners models to examine, demonstrations to watch, and pictures or representations.

Many learners, especially in the younger grades are kinesthetic and tactile learners meaning that they need to be engaged in tasks that cause them to move and allow them to touch. Classrooms for such learners are supplied with manipulatives and educational toys and tools. Activities for learners are built with the expectation that students will have to move and touch in order to complete the lesson.

Combining visual and kinesthetic/tactile teaching styles will accommodate a majority of students in the typical classroom.  Even learners who learn in other ways will learn in this environment. Doing lesson planning for this kind of learning should be built upon strong objectives that state what the student is to accomplish during the lesson. So, where do ideas for these activities come from and are they “easy” for the teacher?

A teacher might regard hands-on as a noisier and more disorganized way for learning to take place, but in truth, students who are engaged in their learning tend to have fewer behavior problems. They may find the practice and interaction with classmates “fun” while becoming more confident about their skills.

If you like to make teaching aides, consider the value of old-fashioned flash cards for sequencing, sorting, and peer reviewing. They can be made in favorite shapes rather than the more common rectangles or they can be laminated as blanks to allow for the wording to be changed as the year progresses.  Dried beans from the grocery store such as limas can be spray painted on one side to create objects to teach probability. Shake ten of them from a cup to see how many are painted and how many are not. A series of cupfuls, poured out, organized into groups and charted by the student would create data for discussion.  The same beans can be used to create Math family equations, such as 2+3 and 1+4 which, when counted both equal 5. They could also be used to create bar graphs on their desks on a simple mat with a grid printed on it.

In Language Arts instruction, students might forget they are engaged in a learning task if they are using cards such as Pic Wizards to enhance Reading and Language Arts skills (http://store.nrsi.com). In Math, they may find it much easier to understand arrays or regrouping if they use manipulatives such as Unifix Cubes® during a lesson (http://www.didax.com/unifix). A Science lesson on magnetism or erosion is far more interesting and understandable if students have the use of magnets, or a landscape to “flood.” Taking a field trip is of inestimable value. It was always exciting to hear the “Oh, wow” responses from fifth graders after a trip to a small southern plantation (http://south-carolina-plantations.com/spartanburg/walnut-grove.html). They were so full of questions after that day after hiking to an old cemetery and holding or touching many new items and trying to make a water pump work.

Sources of ideas include fellow teachers, tips from parents as to favorites with their children, websites and teacher stores. Kathy Schrock (http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide) has an extensive website full of ideas contributed by many teachers. Even the popular website, Pinterest (http://pinterest.com), has an education section with ideas for many subject areas on many grade levels.

Consider the technology available to you. If you have a teacher friend in another part of the world, could you set up a video conference between your two classes using Skype technology or Facetime? Could they collaborate on a subject across the miles? Perhaps they could read books to each other after some motivated practice time.

Observing the younger generation tells us that iPads are extremely popular. Perhaps your students are good candidates for journaling about a class event, or setting up a zoo or pet hospital (using budgeting of resources and meeting needs of different animals) in apps you could acquire for free.  As schools buy into this technology, more ideas will be shared on websites, such as Kathy Schrock’s or an organization such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE, http://www.iste.org).

Using hands-on teaching takes preparation, but it also frees the teacher to walk around the room observing and assisting during such lessons. Students can each be informally assessed. Collaboration in small groups can enhance the learning and teach interactive skills as well. Giving responsibilities to students to hand out and recollect materials will make activities less teacher-intensive as they mature. This is what many of them will talk about when they go home, so the learning will even be reviewed and the learning will be more lasting. As you see your students working through activities, thinking about what they are learning, you will be so glad you made the effort to use hands-on learning.

 How are you using hands-on learning in your class?  

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Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Spring 2013 edition.  Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.








Connie Collins teaches Elementary Education courses and supervises student teachers at Bob Jones University. She earned her M. Ed in Reading and Early Childhood from the University of South Carolina. Her first teaching job was in the 5th grade at BJES (now BJA) where she developed a true love of children and Christian education. She also spent summers as a member of the BJU Press Elementary curriculum department. She teaches in the Reading and Language Arts, Classroom Management and Instructional Technology areas. She also teaches Freshman Seminar. Christian School and other professional conferences are also a favorite educational pursuit. She just completed her 40th year of teaching. She enjoys children at church and home, especially as a grandma to three little boys so far!