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How Hands-On Experience Impacts STEM Learning

Educator Insights

When it comes to providing the highest quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education for our innovators of tomorrow, embracing hands-on lessons and activities is essential. Grounded in the effectiveness of experiential learning, the process through which students learn from direct experiences outside of traditional academic settings, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) believes that the most effective way to learn is by doing.

Read below for three key reasons why hands-on STEM learning is so effective, and how you can incorporate these themes within your classroom.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyre players by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book II

Retention and Active Learning

There is only so much a student can learn by reading a book or attending a lecture. These types of passive learning techniques have been shown to be far less effective at promoting retention than active learning strategies, which embrace activities as a way to encourage classroom engagement. Educators are best served by taking theoretical concepts and principles and transforming them into real-word examples. For instance, teaching the property of volume by using an equation becomes much more relatable when the lesson is accompanied by an activity where students use balls to fill a container and explore what the concept means in the real world.

The Importance of Agency

A major reason why hands-on learning is so effective is because this type of education promotes student agency. Instead of leading your class along a predetermined path meant to reach an expected outcome, allow your students to take control of their learning. Because we are naturally more enthusiastic in topics and projects that interest us, it only makes sense for educators to use this excitement to their advantage. For those who have access to a makerspace, give your students the opportunity to work on a longer project where they have control over the outcome of what they produce. This increased feeling of ownership that children often develop when working on a self-directed activity has the ability to boost their interest and help them develop passions that last long after the school day has ended.

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

In her groundbreaking book, “Mindset,” Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck promotes the difference between a fixed and growth mindset. Those who have a fixed mindset believe their abilities are unchanging and will not improve. People who have a growth mindset on the other hand, believe their capabilities can develop and improve over time. As our world continues to change and evolve at an ever-increasing rate, those who can adapt will have a big advantage over those reluctant to change. A hands-on approach to STEM education is a perfect way to develop a growth mindset because it allows students to see firsthand that the only limits that exist are the ones they place on themselves.

Learn More About NIHF’s Hands-On Education Programs

At NIHF, we pride ourselves on offering innovative, hands-on STEM education programs for K-12 students across the country. For more information, we encourage you to visit our website.  

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