Perspectives of Hands-On
David L. Haury and Peter
5. Where do I find resources to develop hands-on
In terms of time investment, it is often most efficient for teachers
to find, tailor, and use existing activities developed by others. In this
section we provide perspectives on where teachers can find activities and
related resource materials. Every classroom is different, and every teacher
has his or her own instructional style, so it is critical to the success
of hands-on approaches to learning that each teacher be a developer
of activities and instructional strategies. A natural feature of hands-on
teaching and learning is that no two teaching situations are exactly alike,
nor will a given instructional activity often be implemented in exactly
the same way in different classrooms.
- In my own experience, I generate lab activities based upon ideas obtained
by four different means. A primary resource for developing hand- on activities
has to be textbooks. I have a tendency to stockpile old physical science
textbooks and peruse them for ideas on labwork. In a similar vein, the
reading of science periodicals and NSTA publications [Science and Children,
Science Scope, and The Science Teacher] will also lead to
generation of hands-on activities.
A second resource I use to develop hands-on activities is other teachers.
Almost all teachers have some original ideas or have read some resource
you have not. Failure to tap into the minds of your peers would have to
be considered one of the original sins of teaching.
A third means of developing lab activities is the use of currently used
activities. I have found far too many lab activities where students only
superficially analyze what they have investigated. In rewriting interpretations
to include more critical thinking skills, students end up hypothesizing
on related questions and topics. Many of these types of questions have
led me to design related labs to an original lab.
A fourth resource I use to develop hands-on activities is the students
themselves. No matter how long you teach, students will continue to ask
questions that you have never been asked before. Since all labwork is based
upon finding answers to questions, students may design labs themselves
based upon these questions. In many instances we have designed labs in
class by collecting data and manipulating variables. Larry Dutcher,
Hixson Middle School, Webster Groves, MO
- First I decide a topic I want to teach students. Then I develop an
outline and look for activities that will make it interesting to students.
I look to NSF curricula such as AIMS, GEMS, TOPS, OBIS, CHEM, CEPUP etc.
Books and magazines I have found useful include CESI sourcebooks, Science
for Children (a topical index put out by the Smithsonian), and Ranger
Rick's Nature Scope magazine.
I attend every state and national science convention I can to help [stay]
abreast of new developments and curricula. I have many binders of activities
collected from CESI make and takes, SEPA Share-A-Thons (Society for Elementary
Presidents Awards) and sessions I have attended. The exhibit area also
has good ideas to be gotten.
Each summer I have taken part in some NSF institute in our state and
out of state. I see these offered in NSF reports or journals. I have attended
institutes on Bottle Biology-Fast Plants, Operation Physics, Particles
and Prairies at Fermi Lab, Astronomy and Fermi to name a few. NSTA's journal
Science and Children is an excellent resource. I also use a laser
disk program (Windows on Science) for technology purposes. I also inquire
into units developed by exampling school districts such as Mesa, AZ and
Schaumbery and Henidel IL. It doesn't happen overnight, but gradually you
will find your resources adequate to meet your needs to teach exciting
science. Bob Burtch (Presidential Award Nominee, grade 5 teacher), J
B Nelson Elementary School, Batavia, IL
- Say you want to teach a life science unit organized around the half
dozen microscopes purchased from last year's special funding. You consult
your TOPS Ideas catalog and find a few related lessons on Light,
but otherwise come up dry. What should you do next?
Because all hands-on activity involves materials, your next step is
to pull together anything related to microscopes (even remotely) and place
it on a designated table. Go on a nature scavenger hunt with your class.
Ask your students to bring small things of interest from home. Add everything
that turns up to your table collection. Then ask each student to focus
on one particular object. Examine it through a microscope, of course. Write
about it. Draw it. Design an activity to teach someone else something new.
This sort of unstructured messing about is not for the uninitiated.
It will generate confusion and noise to be sure. But for you veteran teachers
skilled at pulling order out of chaos, the results are rewarding. Not only
will you foster creativity and problem solving skills, [but] you will also
generate a wealth of microscope activities using materials you already
You can, of course, mess about with your own table full of materials
at home, then bring a collection of more organized activities to school.
(As a curriculum developer, this is what I do all the time.) Either way,
the same important principle holds: assemble materials first. Creative,
inexpensive ideas will follow, more wonderful than you ever thought possible.
Ron Marson, TOPS Learning Systems, Canby, OR
- A hands-on approach requires students to become active participants
instead of passive learners who listen to lectures or watch films. Laboratory
and field activities are traditional methods of giving students hands-on
experiences. With the advent of classroom technology students can now participate
in a non- traditional form of hands-on education through the use of computers.
This technology extends hands-on learning to include minds-on skills. An
example of this hands-on/minds-on learning is the unique MarsLink curriculum
project which provides data to students from the Mars Observer spacecraft.
This program is developed and disseminated by The Planetary Society and
Washington University, St. Louis. Monthly packets and daily electronic
bulletin board activities are designed for students to interpret and analyze
data arriving from the exploration of Mars. Students become partners with
Mars Observer scientists as they work with data and images from a new world.
This partnership brings near "real-time" science to hands-on
learning. With this data students can compare images, features, and interactive
systems on the Red Planet with those on Earth. This aspect of real space
exploration and comparison brings a powerful hands-on opportunity for students
to discover and to understand the formation and evolution of planetary
systems. Carol J. Stadum, The Planetary Society (producers of Marslink
teaching packets), Pasadena, CA
Notes from the literature
- Identify the four to eight major science topics that you teach at a
grade level. Start a filing system of activities based on these major topics
- Conferences can be a great source of teacher tested activities. Donivan
(1993) describes coming back from a National Science Teachers Association
convention: "The six of us returned to school 'bursting' with ideas,
enthusiasm, and lesson plans and resources for hands-on science activities.
The experience was too good to keep to ourselves, so the principal set
a time for us to present a half-day inservice to the rest of the staff"
- NASA frequently publishes educational materials that contain ideas
for developing hands-on activities. In Rockets: A teaching guide for
an elementary unit on rocketry (Vogt, 1991), there is factual information
on rockets followed by ten hands-on activities utilizing inexpensive materials.
Earth's Mysterious Atmosphere. Atlas 1 Teacher's Guide with Activities.
For Use with Middle-School Students (NASA, 1992) is designed as a detective
story to help the reader appreciate some of the many questions currently
studied by scientists around the world regarding changes in the Earth's
atmosphere. The science activities and concepts are designed to complement
middle school curricula. Space Station Freedom. An Activity Book for Elementary
School Students (NASA, 1993) contains activities and illustrations that
are meant to be presented to elementary-level school children by a teacher
or a parent. The activities subject matter include: the space shuttle,
communications, weightlessness, solar energy, hatches and airlocks, and
living and working in outer space. These and other NASA publications are
available free to educators. Contact: (1) NASA Teacher Resource Center;
Mail Stop 8-1; NASA Lewis Research Center; 2100 Brookpark Road; Cleveland,
OH 44135; (2) NASA Teacher Resource Laboratory; Mail Code 130-3; NASA Goddard
Space Flight Center; Greenbelt, MD 20771; or (3) your nearest regional
NASA Teacher Resource Center.
- ERIC can also be a great source for activities and ideas. ERIC is short
for Educational Resources Information Center, a federally funded system
that has developed and maintains the world's largest education-related,
bibliographic database. You can search the database for materials in a
variety of ways, and most of the materials in the database can be obtained
in printed form. For more information, contact a reference librarian or
call 1-800-LET ERIC. If you have access to the Internet, you can also send
an electronic request for assistant directly to the Clearinghouse for Science,
Mathematics, and Environmental Education. The electronic mail address is
- Activities can also be developed from studying proven programs. Promising
and Exemplary Programs and Materials in Elementary and Secondary Schools-Science
lists many activity centered programs (Helgeson, Howe, & Blosser; 1990).
Science Education Programs that Work has compiled a collection of
exemplary hands-on programs. These programs include: "Hands-On Elementary
Science"; "Life Lab Science Program"; "Starwalk";
"Stones and Bones: A Laboratory Approach to the Study of Biology,
Modern Science, and Anthropology"; "Wildlife Inquiry Through
Zoo Education (WIZE)"; and "Jeffco Life Science Program"
(Sivertsen, 1990). Teachers can read the descriptions of programs and materials
and evaluate their appropriateness for their classes. Activities can be
modified to meet their students' needs.
- Journals for teachers can be an excellent source for ideas and resources
in the development of science activities. For example, from an analysis
of a sample of ERIC abstracts Rillero and Roempler (1993) found that in
the NSTA publication Science and Children 76.5% of its abstracted
feature articles discussed science activities.
- J. Peter O'Neil, a Wisconsin science teacher, has created a Macintosh-based
collection of science activities on Microsoft Works and MacPaint
files that are accessed with Hypercard (Bruder, 1993). A CD-ROM
version with over 1,000 files of science activities will be released this
- "A resource book of activities that have been tried and found
successful, perhaps modified many times from experience, can be a wonderful
thing to have on hand. Good sourcebooks do, in fact, enable most of us
in teaching to pinpoint relevant exercises quickly, to challenge individuals
or groups of students more engagingly, and offer us useful primary or supplementary
learning experiences. Often they provide relief from the constant drain
of inner resources, and at other times, good sourcebooks stir our own creative
powers to invent, with a particular idea or child in mind" (Pines
& Pines, 1981). Pines and Pines go on to say, however, that there are
dangers inherent in over-reliance and improper use of sourcebooks. Many
valuable sourcebooks and activity guides are available from the National
Science Teachers Association and the ERIC Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics,
and Environmental Education.
- A particularly useful sourcebook for identifying human resources is
the Sourcebook for Science, Mathematics & Technology Education,
which is revised annually and published by the American Association for
the Advancement of Science. The authors say, "We want the Sourcebook
... to be the first place you look when you need information about science,
mathematics, and technology education" (Calinger & Walthall, 1990).
The book includes over 2,000 entries regarding specific programs, publications,
and organizations, including the coordinators for the Dwight D. Eisenhower
Science and Mathematics Education Program.
- Guidelines can be used to help new teachers select appropriate activities
and to tailor activities to their curricula, students, and situations.
Rillero, Brownstein, and Feldkamp-Kemp (1994) provide guidelines for choosing
effective activities in their Science Activity Filter (see figure 1). When
problems with activities are found they can be modified for a particular
group of students or situation.
Figure 1. The guidelines of the Science Activity Filter.
The order of the guidelines presents a useful protocol for evaluating science
activities for potential use in a classroom.
- Martinez and Haertel (1991) researched features of science experiments
that made them interesting to seventh grade students. Their sample of students
first generated lists of features they thought made science experiments
interesting. Then the students sorted the combined class lists into three
groups. The factors that create interest grouped into three groups or clusters:
cognitive, mastery, and social. In the cognitive cluster were the following
factors: you learn more, you discover new things, you do something different,
you don't know how it will turn out, you feel challenged, and you see changes
in what you are doing. In the mastery cluster are the following items:
you get to make things, you can take things apart, you can put things together,
and you get to use equipment. In the social cluster were the factors: you
can work with a friend and you get to talk about your ideas. Martinez and
Haertel advise teachers and curriculum developers to arrange instructional
materials and procedures to enhance the components of interest.
There are many sources of science activities and countless resources
that can be used for developing activities. Textbooks do provide activity
ideas, but teachers should also see each other as sources of ideas for
activities. Many teachers participate in conferences, workshops, institutes,
and other events where ideas can be gained and exchanged. The periodicals
and publications of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) are
other places to search for ideas; schools may want to consider subsidizing
memberships in NSTA for lead teachers, curriculum specialists, and department
chairs in science.
Many sources of activities and resource materials are listed in Appendix
B of this guide. Resources such as the ERIC database and other CD-ROM products
also greatly facilitate access to information about activities for a wide
variety of instructional situations and student populations. Here are four
specific places to seek help in locating activities and materials: (a)
send an electronic request for help to firstname.lastname@example.org,
(b) send an electronic mail message to email@example.com,
(c) connect to http://www.ericse.org/,
or (d) dial 1-800-LET-ERIC and have them direct you to additional resources.
In choosing or developing activities, however, the focus should be on
specific learning outcomes for specific students. The value of hands-on
learning is greatly diminished if there is no sense of purpose in doing
a particular activity. In every classroom where hands-on learning occurs,
the vital connection is the one between the desired student understanding
or set of skills and the experiential base from which meaning is being
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