Recently, I read a blog at www.huffingtonpost.com. The simplicity of the title and it's author are what most intrigued me. 'The Importance of Hands-On Learning" by Temple Grandin. For those of you who might not be familiar with Temple Grandin, Ph.D., she is an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a leading consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, as well as accomplished author and spokesperson. She has lived her life with Autism and now champions for awareness and education. My children and I first learned of her incredible life story through the HBO biopic, starring Clare Danes.
In any case, Temple Grandin is also a very perceptive individual, and she makes a poignant argument for the importance of preserving the element of hands-on learning in our schools based on some of her own childhood experiences. However — and unfortunately — the present educational paradigm seems to be slowly eradicating those experiential programs, classes, and activities from the school day in favor of more didactic methods for teaching and learning.
I must agree with Temple Grandin that this is a mistake. But just what makes hands-on learning so important? And why is doing away with it in the modern classroom such a travesty for our children?
1. Busy Hands = Working Brain
Most importantly, hands that are active are a sign that the brain is engaged and learning. When children use their hands, not only do they accomplish a task, but they construct meaning throughout the process. "Kids learn through all their senses," says Ben Mardell, Ph.D., a researcher with Project Zero at Harvard University, "and they like to touch and manipulate things." What research has shown us is that beyond handling and moving materials, hands-on projects fundamentally activate a child's brain to make sense of the experience and categorically store the information for later.
2. Greater Retention of Information
During the 1960s, famous American educator, Edgar Dale theorized that learners retain more information based on what they 'do' as opposed to what they 'read,' 'hear,' or 'observe.' His research led to concrete conclusions and his modifications to the 'Cone of Experience,' initially developed in 1946 as a way to describe various learning experiences. Upon completion of his extensive educational research, Dale was able to assign actual percentages to each of the learning experiences listed on the Cone of Experience. Dale proved that comprehension of what a learner does with his or her hands has a 90% rate of retention as compared with only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 30% of what they observe. With a better rate of retention, hands-on learning provides children with a more concrete foundation of necessary conceptual and abstract facts on which they can build their base of knowledge.
3. Using Creativity and Critical Thinking Skills
Hands-on learning encourages children to use their base of knowledge in combination with their creativity and critical thinking skills. They become comfortable in making on-the-spot resolutions which they understand to affect the desired outcome. Many times a hands-on project will require that a child take raw materials (some familiar and some unfamiliar) and come up with their individual and ingenious solution for the learning experience — whether it be guided or unguided, this is an esteem-building process.
4. Building Educational Self-Esteem
Hands-on learning is a win-win as it offers fabulous opportunities to highlight and swoon over a child's unique creativity and critical thinking skills; while for the child, performing a project successfully from start to finish gives them an essential sense of achievement. Hands-On Learning is the best way to build educational self-esteem in children and inspire them to love learning — not to mention that it's fun!
5. And It Is Fun!
As Temple Grandin was quick to point out on her blog, it was the hands-on activities that made some of the other less-fun aspects of school, at least tolerable. A vast majority of students share the same complaint about school classrooms; that it is very tedious just to sit around and listen to a very long lecture, perhaps do a little notetaking. On the other hand (pun intended), with hands-on learning, the students can participate in the activities, which in turn increases motivation. Children will typically become more enthusiastic about the information being taught, which once again leads to a love of learning as well as improved educational results.
I don't propose that everything be taught exclusively 'hands-on.' Even Dr. Dale, advocate for the cause of hands-on learning, never intended that his interpretation of his 'Cone of Experience' depict a value judgment of the learning styles; in other words, his argument was not that one learning experience should be chosen over the others. Dale believed that any and all of the approaches could and should be used, depending on the needs of the learner and the materials being taught. For instance, it might be somewhat challenging to explain algebraic equations using a hands-on method; however, hands-on techniques and experiments are crucial when teaching scientific concepts. I'll even go as far as to say, "Some things can only be learned by doing." Can you imagine what an exercise in futility it would be to learn to ride a bike by listening to a lecture or reading a book?
To Dr. Dale's point, it's crucial to incorporate all learning styles into education. To Dr. Grandin's point, let's not overlook incorporating as many hands-on learning opportunities as possible — because they are effective and fun! To my point, if you're a parent, supplement with as many hands-on learning opportunities in the home as you possibly can because it's quite likely that you'll find too few in your child's classroom.
At Homespun and Hands-On® although we like to emphasize the 'hands-on' fun in each of our specially designed Hands-On Kits 'n' Kaboodles™, they always include visual, auditory, and read/write elements as well as the kinesthetic activity. It's a total educational experience for children in one cool little box! We think Dr. Dale and Dr. Grandin would approve!
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