Hands-on Teaching in Action
By Shannon Cirricione
“Tap… tap… tap…”
How long can we expect students to sit and listen to a teacher lecture? How long are we able to hold their attention before they’re asking, “When’s lunch?” And how in the world do we keep them from tapping their villainous pencils on the desk?
Today’s students are such a new breed that some teachers are at a loss for how to captivate their minds and teach them to love learning. It’s not the teachers fault, it’s simply the rapid change in this demographic that leaves them befuddled. We, as teachers and parents, have to understand the demographic and how it has changed in order to cater to this newly developed learning style.
It is increasingly believed that our student’s absolute obsession with the constant use of technology is altering the way their brains work and develop. Many scholars believe that it is, in fact, reducing their attention spans. In a New York Times article on the matter, one high school student was quoted (on the topic of YouTube), “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.” That turns us as teachers and parents into the equivalent of a YouTube star or a well-known singer. We are now required to be entertainers. “Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.”
So how do we engage today’s students? Easy — we get their hands dirty (and, inevitably, their shirts – sorry about that).
Simply put, busy hands equate to busy brains.
At Monarch Christian School, hands-on learning is an integral part of our philosophy of education. “Students experience learning through a hands-on, comprehensive approach as they view curriculum and learning through a Christ-centered, Biblical worldview. The creativity demonstrated in teaching and in the learning process makes education memorable and meaningful. Because teaching is child-centered and learning is guided by the teacher, learning transforms the minds and lives of students.”
Hands-on activities that involve movement, language, and dexterity activate multiple parts of the brain. Not only that, but often these activates cater to multiple preferred learning styles at once (kinesthetic, linguistic, spatial, etc.). “Hands-on projects obviously engage kids who are tactile or kinesthetic learners, who need movement to learn best. They also engage students who are auditory learners, who talk about what they’re doing, and visual learners, who have the opportunity to see what everyone else is creating. For social learners, the time spent in small group conversation will strengthen their knowledge.” (Scholastic)
Here are some examples of successful hands-on activities that have been tried and true for Monarch Teachers:
Math: Students have built “tiny-houses” and have calculated the area and perimeter of items located in the house, as well as the house itself! Fun and relevant!
Science: Students have recreated the rock cycle using starbursts! These starburst “rocks” take on different forms as they are smashed, melted, cooled, and more! This activity makes science absolutely delicious!
Social Studies: As students learn about the Californios and how important trade was to the start of California, they participate in an activity known as, “barter bags.” Each student has multiple items in their bag. Using one-to-one trades, each student must end up having one of each item before the time runs out! This hands-on activity is highly motivating because if the task is completed, each student gets to keep their bag!
Reading: While reading the novel, James and the Giant Peach, our fourth graders love creating peach recipes like peach cobbler, peach tarts, peach smoothies, and more! As they use their five senses, they are able to better apply their senses while reading to help them make mental images!
Hands-on activities bring our curriculum to life, allowing our students to truly experience what it is they are learning. After all, I think we can all pretty much agree that it would be very difficult to learn to ride a bike simply by reading a book.
About the Author
Growing up Shannon was always told she was going to be a teacher. This, of course, caused her to rebel and get a degree in Consumer Affairs with an emphasis in Public Relations. After college, God made it abundantly clear that the classroom was her calling, so she returned to school to earn her multiple subject credential. Her background in marketing and PR has allowed her to find new ways to market her curriculum to her target demographic – her students. Shannon is now in her fourth year at Monarch and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.