Perspectives of Hands-On
David L. Haury and Peter
3. How does a hands-on science approach fit into
a textbook-centered science program?
Many schools and advocates of hands-on learning seek to do away with
textbooks or downplay their value, particularly in the elementary grades.
The forces for keeping textbooks are undoubtedly strong; the dominance
of the textbook in defining the curriculum has marked American education
since its inception. Some schools have decided to keep textbooks and use
hands-on science activities to supplement a text-based approach to teaching
science. The following responses address the issue of how teachers can
use hands-on activities along with a textbook in science teaching and learning.
- The science textbook serves as a springboard for instruction and learning
in my sixth grade classroom. Hands-on learning activities are used to reinforce
and extend what my students have read in the text and what they have learned
through class discussions. To foster curiosity and create motivation I
might introduce a new unit by using a hands-on learning activity. At the
completion of a chapter or unit these activities are useful in helping
students establish the relationship of concepts and synthesize their knowledge.
The teaching of lab skills, problem- solving strategies and group learning
skills can be easily incorporated into the learning activity.
Hands-on learning activities offer opportunities for active participation
and concrete learning experiences which support the learning styles of
early adolescents. The enthusiasm for lab days in my classroom has a positive
effect on the attitudes my students have for science. The ability for me
to interact with individual students during the hands-on learning activity
enhances my effectiveness as a teacher. I feel using the textbook in conjunction
with the hands-on learning approach provides a successful learning environment
in my classroom. Lynn Reid, 6th grade science teacher, Sells Middle
School, Dublin, OH
- Hands-on science may allow a child to network many possibilities, while
the text can anchor an experiment in theory or provide a reference for
a different strand of thought. At the start of a unit, an activity related
to the topic in the text acts as a catalyst setting the mind and the body
into the inquiry mode. Linda Lash, Grade 5 Classroom Teacher, Butler
School, Lowell, MA
- Science textbooks (including workbooks) are basically worthless unless
they are used in conjunction with hands-on activities. Teachers who use
only textbooks often wonder why their students lack the motivation to learn,
as well as why their students often have difficulty learning facts for
chapter tests. Teachers who provide appropriate materials for children
to interact within the discovery process find their students have a much
higher level of both motivation and understanding. Lou Ann Anderson,
The Ohio State University Lima branch, Lima,OH
- Hands-on science activities should be used in at least three different
ways if used in conjunction with a textbook program. Firstly, materials
should be supplied to students before they begin a new topic. Students
should be given the opportunity to explore freely activities and materials
to generate interest and prompt questions related to the topic. Secondly,
hands-on activities should be used to enable students to observe directly
phenomena that are presented in their textbooks. Finally, students should
be given an opportunity to design new experiments based on the knowledge
they have acquired. Furthermore, separate hands-on units can be developed,
or existing hands-on science programs purchased, to complement a textbook-centered
program. Mathew Bacon, Delta Education (publisher of SCIS 3, Delta Science
Modules, ESS, OBIS), Hudson, NH
- A major issue here, and perhaps the most important issue, is not about
the compatibility of hands-on- and textbook-centered curricula; but the
compatibility of resources with teachers' paradigms, especially student-
and subject-centered paradigms, which guild the establishment of learning
environments. Contemporary education is structured primarily from a history
of valuing subject-centered, transmission of knowledge approaches. As a
result textbooks are the dominant learning resources and hands-on science
curricula have often been used to do textbook science, only with materials.
This simply does not produce significant results in learning.
When we value and incorporate student-centered, constructivist perspectives
into our thinking, a larger understanding of what learning should be about
emerges; and also a better understanding of the different and unique roles
of hand-on materials and textbooks in learning. If a teacher's learning
paradigms are constructivist and student-centered, a hands-on curricula
will be one important element for learning. Other resources will take on
new meanings such as textbooks becoming sources for interesting ideas and
reference, rather than words to be memorized. Hands-on curricula will be
used to put students more in control of their learning by encouraging individual
student inquiry into a thinking about relevant phenomena. This can lead
to students more effectively incorporating new ideas into their existing
knowledge. Additionally learning resources will be utilized to help remove
teachers from transfer of information approaches to becoming effective
"learning coaches" for creative and critical thinking. This can
reduce the often felt teacher's need to impose specific thoughts and ways
of thinking on students. The results should be to better help students'
thinking grow in very unique ways, often with very unexpected, yet profound,
Thus, since the teacher is the most significant influence for establishing
the classroom learning environment, I believe that ultimately, the compatibility
of resources for learning will be controlled by the compatibility of resources
with the learning paradigms of the individual teacher. To most effectively
utilize resources, teachers must continually evaluate and grow their paradigms
for learning based on experience as reflective practitioners and review
of current learning research. They should recognize that their values enable
reform of teaching practice. Are your primary values textbook-centered,
subject-centered, material- centered, teacher-centered, student-centered,
or what? Bill Schmitt, Content Director, Galaxy Classroom, Los Angeles,
- Hands-on science, when defined as inquiry, cannot easily fit into a
textbook-centered science program. At best, textbook programs incorporate
some activities with materials as supplements to or illustrations of material
covered in a particular chapter. These activities tend to be very directed,
"cookbook" in nature, and children do them to confirm what they've
been told, not inquire into the materials or phenomena. Textbooks also
cover a great deal of content, leaving little time for in-depth hands-on
Fundamentally, textbook programs and hands-on programs represent very
different beliefs about how children learn, what is important to learn,
and how learning should take place in the classrooms. They are, therefore,
incompatible as programs.
There are, however, ways in which texts can be used in a hands-on program.
Textbook material, if accurate, can serve as reference for students. Having
engaged in a hands-on study, chapters in a textbook may be useful to read
as summaries. At times, given time constraints, a hands-on program might
include (along with a series of in-depth studies) brief reading on a topic
that can't be studied in depth or for which a hands-on approach is not
As students become older - middle and high school level - texts can
play a larger role. However, they must be balanced with significant inquiry,
laboratory experience and the use of a wide array of resources must become
less encyclopedic and deeper in what they include, and must be written
from a conceptual perspective rather than an informational one. Karen
Worth, Education Development Center, Inc. (Developers of Insights: A1),
- The text exists to provide background information for use before and
after hands-on activities .... The good teacher seeks out activities to
complement the text and more fully illustrate the concepts, to give local
examples of the big picture, and to keep students interested in the subject.
Text teaching is easy, organized, and disciplined, with predictable results
(boredom and test anxiety). Teaching with hands-on activities is demanding,
hectic, noisy, and sometimes unpredictable, but everyone is involved, eager,
and active, and participants remember what they have done. Activities energize,
localize, and dramatize science. I never saw a textbook do that. Rosanne
W. Fortner, The Ohio State University School of Natural Resources, producer
of Ohio Sea Grant Education materials and Project JASON curriculum activities
- The SWOOPE (Students Watching Over Our Planet Earth) Program is based
on the discovery and exploration approach to learning. Students take measurements
on the environment and send data to a database. Textbooks can be used for
reference along with other materials. Dianne K. Hyer and Roger C. Eckhardt,
Students Watching Over Our Planet (SWOOPE ), Los Alamos National Laboratory
Notes from the literature
- Over 80% of first through sixth grade elementary teachers from a national
sample reported using hands-on instruction in their classrooms. Ninety
percent of teachers in grades 4, 5, and 6 reported using a textbook for
science instruction. For grades 1 to 3 the average approximate percentage
of teachers who used a textbook ranged from 45 to 79 (Teters & Gabel,
1984). Clearly there is a large percentage of teachers who use a textbook
and a hands-on approach together.
- Science instruction in grades 6-8 have been strongly influenced by
the high school textbook approach (Padilla, 1981). However, "traditional
textbook science programs must not be the only source of classroom learning.
For a good balance between structure and flexibility, reading and doing,
discussing and experimenting, teachers must identify appropriate activities
and integrate them into the textbook" (Padilla, 1981, p. 38). Teachers
should list the objectives of a unit and look for activities that correspond
to the content and objectives. If there are no activities or very few for
a particular unit, Padilla advises that the teacher should question the
appropriateness of the unit for middle/junior high school students.
- A textbook-centered program can be augmented with a hands-on component
to integrate right brain and left brain functioning in improving
achievement and attitude (Hider & Rice, 1986).
- Lack of time to teach hands-on science is a frequently mentioned obstacle
(Morey, 1990; Tilgner, 1990). This is compounded by the tendency for teachers
to want to "cover the textbook." According to a district science
supervisor, "In all elementary schools, once you buy a text, it doesn't
matter what the state or the district says" about what is actually
required; teachers try to cover the entire book (Martens, 1992, p. 154).
To create time for hands-on instruction it is important for teachers to
decide the major concepts to be taught and use hands-on activities to help
achieve these goals.
- Penick and Yager (1993) observed that exemplary elementary school science
programs, almost without exception, "have developed their own curricula,
usually based on ESS materials or the Science Curriculum Improvement Study
(SCIS). In almost all instances, textbooks were not in a central position.
Teachers saw the locally developed curriculum as more appropriate cognitively,
relevant, responsive, and reliable. In fact, many teachers spoke of textbooks
as 'supplementing the curriculum.' When asked, 'What would cause your program
to fail?', the most common answer was, 'adopting a textbook for science.'
This doesn't mean they use no printed materials. Instead, they either wrote
their own or used carefully selected portions of commercial materials"
- Stefanich (1992) sees a trend to increase the use of textbooks. "There
is a growing concern on the part of some educators and citizens that knowledge
objectives have been deemphasized too much. As a result, the trend is toward
more content through utilization of textbook-based materials. Elementary
teachers appreciate the clarity of content and convenience for yearly planning
afforded by the scope and sequence outlines offered in the textbook series.
They feel greater confidence that students are acquiring a core of essential
knowledge and appreciate the clarity of content and convenience for yearly
planning afforded by the scope and sequence outlines offered in the textbook
series" (p. 14).
- In order to adopt more of a hands-on approach, teachers need to be
free of influences that promote the exclusive use of the textbook. "If
a school district is promoting hands-on science but has always required
the use of a textbook, textbook use must become optional so that participants
do not face contradictions between what they are being asked to do and
school district policies. In addition, teachers must not be held accountable
for test score results during the change from traditional to hands-on science.
Scores are likely to fall during the transition period" (Foster &
Dirks, 1993, p. 15).
- "Most school districts simply adopt a textbook series, provide
three and a half hours of inservice education, and call the result a science
program. Needless to say, this strategy does not serve the best interests
of our nation or provide the best education for our children. Science educators
should not assume that a textbook series or a packaged program will be
the solution to their school district's needs. Rather, textbooks and other
programs must serve as points at which to begin the process of developing
science programs" (Orlich, 1983, p. 10).
- Textbooks may be improving their incorporation of hands-on science
learning. During the 1970s several publishers produced "hybrid"
materials which combined textbooks with aspects of hands- on learning.
These hybrid materials were closer in emphasis to the NSF project materials
than to textbooks of the 1950s (Helgeson, Blosser, & Howe, 1977). The
emphasis on process skill objectives and the resultant materials-centered
activities (also called manipulative, practical, or hands-on) were extended
with many textbook series and textbook/kit programs. Pratt (1981) prepared
the elementary school report in Project Synthesis. He analyzed three groups
of textbooks: four popular textbooks that were used by an estimated 22%
of elementary classrooms; three texts associated with ESS, SCIS, and SAPA
(8% of classrooms); and four "new generation" textbooks. The
frequently used textbooks were rated poorly for "First Hand Experience"
and "Involved in Data Gathering." The NSF and new generation
texts were rated high to good for these categories. From responses to a
survey asking how much hands-on materials or models influence their textbook
selection, 69% of grades K-2 teachers and 72% of grades 3-5 teachers indicated
that this was considered often, considered extensively, or it was the main
factor in their textbook selection (Harty, Kloosterman, & Matkin, 1989).
- "No other subject area has a set of programs for which student
performance is so demonstrably superior to traditional programs. Textbook
publishers have borrowed many of the ideas from these investigative curricula
[ESS, SAPA, and SCIS], but have not adopted the instructional philosophy
that is key to their success" (Atwood & Howard, 1990, p. 858).
- In an analysis of science textbooks for junior high/middle school students,
Shepardson (1993) found the activities tended to stress lower level skills
such as information gathering, remembering, and organizing rather than
higher level skills such as classifying, inferring, theorizing, generalizing,
hypothesizing, and predicting.
- "A hands-on methodology elicits a 'minds-on' response from students.
The relevance of the topics, the students' understanding of and interest
in science, and reading skills can all be increased with the introduction
of tradebooks. Tradebooks are commercially available publications that
can be uses as supplements to your classroom text" (Kralina, 1993).
- Charron and De Onis (1993) describe the approach of two elementary
school teachers, Tess and Maria, in combining reading and science. Tess
used a reading strategy with her students that consisted of four steps.
Step One: Students brainstorm and record what the already know
about a topic.
Step Two: Students list what they want to learn.
Step Three: Students investigate the topic by reading about it.
Step Four: Students summarize what was learned.
Tess and Maria then decided to adapt the approach for science instruction
by adding hands-on activities to the reading activity in step three"
(Charron & De Onis, 1993, p. 15). After reviewing the district science
framework, they found activities from sourcebooks and Maria's files. The
entire unit, incorporating textbook, tradebooks, and hands-on science activities,
took two weeks. "The teaching of science in the elementary classroom
is sometimes characterized as either 'reading about science' or 'doing
science.' Elementary students may benefit most, however, when curricular
areas are combined. By gauging what their third graders already know about
plant growth and what they would like to explore further, then developing
a lesson series that combined reading, discussion, and laboratory activities,
Tess and Maria provided their students with an understanding of both plant
growth and scientific process that is superior to that acquired from either
a textbook or a hands-on activity alone" (Charron & De Onis, 1993,
The cry to "throw the textbooks away" is in part a backlash
against the dominating influence of textbooks on science curricula and
instruction. However, the textbook has withstood the test of time in conveying
basic information, outlasting even the use of chalk and chalkboards. A
large percentage of teachers are able to combine hands-on learning and
text-based instruction. The responses of teachers presented in this section
indicate that hands-on learning and science textbooks need not be incompatible.
Textbooks can provide springboards to discussion or instruction, serve
as references for students, provide background information, or supply examples
and applications of key ideas in science.
It seems critical, however, that the goals of instruction be clear and
that learning be based squarely on direct experiences when inquiry is the
focus. We hope that textbook publishers and curriculum specialists will
consider the importance of providing quality hands-on activities to enrich
textbook programs. Even better would be an orientation that views textbooks
as useful supplements to hands-on learning, providing information and resources
to extend learning beyond what has been constructed from direct experience.
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