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The Importance of Hands-on Learning in STEM Education

The Importance of Hands-on Learning in STEM Education

The popularity of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) has been on the rise for years. Now, it’s more relevant than ever. More and more jobs are emerging that require skills gained through STEM subjects, meaning that our innovators of the future have a lot to gain from getting a headstart early on. And what better way to approach this than through the introduction of hands-on lessons and activities? 

Research suggests that students who learn through direct experiences, rather than some of the traditional strategies typically employed in the classroom, will achieve much more meaningful learning outcomes. After all, the best way to learn is by doing. So, what are some of the main benefits that interactive, hands-on learning can provide? 

Improved retention through engagement 

For many students, reading a book or listening to a teacher spiel out instructions can only do so much. Passive learning strategies such as these have proven to be much less effective at instilling retention than active learning techniques, which harness activities as a means of encouraging classroom engagement. Once an educator is able to take a theoretical concept and give it real-world, contextual significance, they’ll experience the most success. 

For example, instead of being taught measurements through presentation slides, it would be much more valuable to give students measuring implements and tell them to measure real-world objects, then record their results. This will give them a tangible understanding of the learning objective through a realistic lens. 

Student ownership and autonomy 

One of the primary reasons hands-on learning is so effective is through the promotion of student autonomy. Some teachers may dictate the direction of the learning entirely, working toward a predetermined outcome. However, it’s important to give students an element of control over their learning. Naturally, children will be more engaged and enthusiastic in topics that are of particular interest to them, so it makes sense for teachers to leverage this excitement. 

For example, by incorporating technologies such as robots from Wonder Workshop, students are given the opportunity to get hands-on and independently create their own outcomes. With self-directed activities such as this, children’s interest and connection to their learning journey will be strengthened, and they could even develop passions that persist beyond school.

Hands-on learning encourages a growth mindset 

The concept of a ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ mindset was first popularised by Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck in her book ‘Mindset’. In a nutshell, those who possess a fixed mindset are certain that their abilities are incapable of change, and that they have no chance of improving. On the other hand, those who have a growth mindset believe that they can develop and improve in the face of adversity. 

Through hands-on, practical activities, children are shown that the most significant boundaries are those they impose on themselves. When challenges appear in subjects such as robotics, students will be much more likely to seek solutions and overcome hurdles due to their investment in the practical subject.

Hands-on learning engages different areas of the brain

When considering early childhood in particular, the brain is developing at a fast rate. In fact, the first six years are recognised to be an extremely important period for development. The brain is split into two sides, with each hemisphere responsible for certain skills, as well as general movement of the body. The right side, particularly active throughout early childhood, is stimulated by visual activities, alongside anything related to imagination and creativity. 

The left side is more analytical, dealing with logical skills, however it typically doesn’t begin to develop until the age of ten or eleven. When children are introduced to hands-on activities at a young age, involving tasks that require a combination of talking, listening, and using hands to create something, more areas of the brain are activated. As a result, recollection and retainment of information is greatly improved.

Practice makes perfect 

Beyond improved engagement and the development of valuable skills, hands-on learning encourages students to practise skills that they’ve already learned. It’s no secret that with any skill, the more practice you have, the better you will be. This is the same with learned information; the more practice you undertake, the easier it’ll be to retain that information. 

Once a student has learned something, it will benefit them to continue practising in order to master it. This is evident in science classes, which is the subject that’s known for combining traditional study with practical learning concepts. While students may learn a new concept in the classroom, they don’t benefit from the full experience until they actively partake in interactive experiments. 

Hands-on learning encourages creativity 

Creativity should be seen as a muscle. The more it’s used, the more it will grow, and a lack of exercise will cause it to lose its potency. Hands-on learning gives students more of a chance to exercise their creative skills. Now, creativity isn’t solely about subjects such as music or art, though it’s common for people to make this connection. While these are still important subjects that should be included in any curriculum, they’re not the only way for a child to express their creativity. 

For example, activities provided by Lego Education are perfect for fostering creativity in a hands-on manner. One of the key ways that Lego Education fosters creativity is through its emphasis on project-based learning. This approach encourages students to work together to design and build their own creations, rather than simply following instructions or completing predetermined activities. By giving students the freedom to explore their own ideas and interests, Lego Education allows them to tap into their innate creativity and develop their own unique solutions to problems.

Practical learning is pivotal 

Ultimately, hands-on learning should be considered by any educator looking to provide innovative solutions to their classroom. Children experience improved retention, gain a sense of ownership and autonomy, learn the value of a growth mindset, and are able to build upon their creative abilities. All of these skills are vital for the overall development of any student, so finding new, exciting ways to account for this demonstrates the traits of an effective teacher.

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