Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 12, Issue 1, Article 6 (Jun., 2011)
Effectiveness of hands-on and minds-on activities on studentsí achievement and attitudes towards physics

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Science begins for children when they realize that they can learn about the world and construct their own interpretations of events through their actions and experience. “A child best learns to swim by getting into water; likewise, a child best learns science by doing science” (Rillero, 1994, p.1). Doing science, as opposed to simply hearing or reading about it, engages students and allows them to test their own ideas and build their own understanding (Ewers, 2001). Therefore, it is difficult to imagine a science-teaching program without doing science experiences.

Hands-on science is defined mainly as any instructional approach involving activity and direct experience with natural phenomena or any educational experience that actively involve students in manipulating objects to gain knowledge or understanding (Haury & Rillero, 1994). Some terms such as materials-centered science and activity-centered science are used synonymous with hands-on science or terms such as materials-centered activities, manipulative activities and practical activities are used synonymous with hands-on activities (Doran, 1990; Hein, 1987). Unlike the laboratory works, hands-on activities do not necessarily need some special equipments and special medium. According to Jodl and Eckert (1998), hands-on activities are based on the use of everyday gadgets, simple set-ups or low-cost items that can be found and assembled very easily. McGervey (1995) states that “some hands-on activities can be done for less than a dollar per hand, a few have zero cost. Thus, it will be no disaster if a piece breaks or disappears” (p. 238).

Hands-on activities were perceived as an enjoyable and effective form of learning of almost all the major U.S science curriculum reforms of the late 1960s and early 1970s (Hodson, 1990). For example in physics, Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) was formed and published its textbook and lab manual. In biology and chemistry, Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS) and Chemical Education Materials Study (CHEMS) were developed, respectively. For the elementary school level, particularly three major curriculum programs such as Science-A Process Approach (SAPA), Elementary Science Study (ESS), and Science Curriculum Improvement Study (SCIS) began to be used in classrooms during those times. Although these programs (ESS, SCIS, SAPA) differed in their organization and style, they were synonymous with the spirit of the elementary school curriculum innovations of 1960s and 1970s by their hands-on and activity-based strategies emphasizing problem solving, process skills, and creativity (Shymansky, 1989; Stohr-Hunt, 1996).

Several studies in the literature show that hands-on activities help students to outperform students who follow traditional, text-based programs (Bredderman, 1985; Freedman, 1997; Glasson, 1989; Shymansky, 1989; Staver & Small, 1990; Stohr-Hunt, 1996; Turpin, 2000), to enhance their understanding and replace their misconceptions with the scientific ones (Coştu, Ünal & Ayas 2007; Ünal, 2008), to develop attitudes toward science positively (Bilgin, 2006; Bredderman, 1983; Bristow, 2000; Jaus, 1977; Kyle, Bonnstetter, & Gadsten, 1988; Schibeci & Riley, 1986), and to encourage their creativity in problem solving, promote student independence, improves skills such as specifically reading, arithmetic computation, and communication (Haury & Rillero, 1994; Staver & Small, 1990). Lebuffe (1994) emphasizes that children learn better when they can touch, feel, measure, manipulate, draw, make charts, record data and when they find answers for themselves rather than being given the answer in a textbook or lecture.

For students to truly learn science concepts, they both need practical opportunities to apply knowledge and also need help in integrating or exchanging the knowledge they gain. According to the U.S. National Science Education Standards (1995), students should have minds-on and/or heads-on experiences during hands-on activities. While doing hands-on activity, the learner is learning by doing but while minds-on learning, the learner is thinking about what she or he is learning and doing. Hofstein and Lunetta (1982) state that a minds-on science activity includes the use of higher order thinking, such as problem solving compared to the hands-on activity. Therefore, students should be both physically and mentally engaged in activities that encourage learners to question and devise temporarily satisfactory answers to their questions (Victor & Kellough, 1997).

As collection of the most popular methods, interactive engagement methods also give emphasis to hands-on activities (usually) as well as minds-on activities (always), which provide immediate feedback through discussion with peers and/or instructors (Hake, 1998). He suggest that students in physics courses that make use of interactive engagement or active learning methods retain knowledge of physics concepts better than students in traditional lecture and lab courses (Hake, 1998).

This study claims that hands-on and minds-on activities without requiring specific expensive materials can be one of the interactive engagement methods. Therefore, the main purpose of this study is to develop hands-on/minds-on activities and to investigate the relative effectiveness of instruction with those activities and traditional method on ninth grade students’ achievement in and attitudes towards simple electric circuits. The results of this study are very important especially for developing countries that can not use expensive materials to make students mentally and physically active.


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