As an educator, you know when your lesson is really being absorbed by your students. They’re engaged, they’re excited: you can see the wheels turning in their minds! But it can be hard to define what makes a hands-on, minds-on lesson so successful. Here are some helpful words of advice for what makes a lesson hands-on and minds-on, and why these types of science lessons are such a great way to help students and learners of all ages absorb the information.
Okay, I know hands-on. What’s ‘minds-on?’
Every teacher’s goal for students at every level of education is to be as involved as possible in the learning process, both cognitively and physically. It’s no secret that a learner who is passively taking notes, listening to a lecture, and maybe answering an occasional question isn’t at their most engaged.
When instructors get their students to do something during the learning process that lets them actively engage all of their senses, it activates the learning centers of their brains. All of this active participation adds up to a potent mix that significantly improves learning.
Teachers can use kits, lab equipment, and immersive technology to improve the experience and increase student involvement. Other ideas include science fairs, experiments, and learning about experiment variables, i.e., independent, dependent, and controlled variables.
When doing hands-on activities, the learner learns by doing. When doing minds-on learning, however, the learner thinks about what she or he is learning AND doing. In contrast to the hands-on activity, a “minds-on” scientific exercise requires higher-level thinking, such as solving a problem. So, students should be physically and mentally involved in activities that force them to ask questions and come up with short-term answers.
Why does it work?
Hands-on, minds-on learning accomplishes is significantly more successful than traditional learning techniques. Why? Because students’ capacity to learn any material presented to them is substantially boosted by getting up close and personal.
This is especially true for more difficult disciplines like science, which frequently include complicated and abstract notions. Science is notoriously hard for kids to wrap their heads around, so incorporating hands-on, mind-on learning into the classroom greatly increases their chances of success.
Even though having the right tools is important, studies have shown that they work best when used in a way that gets students fully interested and involved in the science learning process, like by using games and other types of exercises. Studies show that these kinds of activities help children make connections in their brains that help them learn and remember more.
So, how do I know if my lesson is hands-on AND minds-on?
While hands-on experiences are often fun and engaging, they don’t always convey a deeper understanding of the topic you’re trying to teach. Here are a few ways to know your lesson has those minds switched on.
Is it tied to specific standards?
For example, if your students are creating a model, what is it teaching them? Are they learning about force and angles, or are they just making something fun? If you apply specific standards, you can assess the lesson. Students can use self-assessment and self-reflection as well.
Are they thinking critically?
Critical thinking is a way of thinking about any topic, content, or problem in which the thinker enhances the level of his or her reasoning by skillfully analyzing, evaluating, and reassembling it. Critical thinking is a way of thinking that is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-correcting.
Are they thinking creatively?
Chris Lehmann, an author and editor, says this about projects: “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project. That’s a recipe.”
To expand on that, you will want to create your scientific experiences in a way that allows your students to go in many different directions with your instructions.
Are they having in-depth conversations during the experience?
The best hands-on learning includes conversations between students that help them make sense of what they are learning. There are natural opportunities for students to think about and talk about ideas.
Hands-on, minds-on in action!
With the STEAM solution lesson Seasonal Stars, students gain understanding of how the seasons affect the appearance of stars in the night sky. Students integrate and exhibit learning by creating a system to simulate the constellation of Orion and how it changes appearance according to seasonal variation. Not only are they building, but they are questioning, assessing, adapting and thinking deeply!
Shaunda Douglas is a former educator with over 15 years of experience in all levels of education. In her free time, she reads, plays with her dogs, watches baseball, and loves a good nap.