I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand
- Chinese Proverb
Have you ever stopped to consider all the things you do in a day and how you learned to do them? For example, think about tying your shoes. Did someone simply repeat the same instructions to you over and over, or did you have to practice the skill in order to master it? Chances are someone explained how to tie your shoes, but it was the doing that allowed you to master the skill. This is just one example of hands-on learning.
Now, imagine you are walking into a standard elementary school classroom. What do you see? Are students moving around, asking questions, and experimenting to find answers? Or are they seated quietly while a teacher explains a particular concept? In most situations, students are expected to learn through lecture and testing. For most students, memorization and abstract thought are restrictive, resulting in greater disengagement from the classroom. But hands-on learning encourages children to question what they observe, to use cause-and-effect thinking, and to rely on their own abilities more than they rely on the help of others. This is one way students can build on their understanding of different concepts and to become independent learners.
Hands-on learning looks different in every classroom, and can include inquiry, experimentation, and construction. In a chemistry class it might include conducting experiments, while in a math class students might be observed solving puzzles or using Soma Cubes. Whatever it looks like, students are active and engaged in their learning. Hands-on activities help students to focus on the world around them, ignite their curiosity, and guide them through engaging experiences—all while meeting the expected learning outcomes. In a classroom where students are taught using hands-on learning methods, the teacher will act as the facilitator, observing students’ work and asking questions, all the while it is apparent the students are learning by all they are doing.
Somewhere between kindergarten and graduation, students often lose their love of learning. Their desire to learn is replaced by apathy and disaffection. But igniting a student’s curiosity can be as simple as allowing the student to explore, inquire, and help solve real-world problems. Hands-on learning can ultimately help spark a child’s curiosity and keep it alive.
Students in an afterschool, weekend or summer class at Saturday Academy are rarely sitting quietly for long. After learning basic concepts you’ll often find students building collaborative projects in all corners of the classroom and beyond.
Learning by doing is at the heart of Saturday Academy’s mission.
Heidi Venneri, M.A.
School-Based Program Manager