Lessons beyond the classroom

Lessons beyond the classroom

active mode

Lessons beyond the classroom

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” This quote by  renowned philosopher Aristotle tells us that the new-age technique of hands-on learning is actually quite ancient in its origin. Today, educationists all over the world agree that any pedagogy will be incomplete without structuring hands-on activities within the process of learning.

Our country has also recognised the need of hands-on learning in the mainstream education and has recently introduced the concept of Tinkering Labs (Atal Tinkering Laboratories by NITI Aayog) in middle and high schools for fostering creativity and developing state-of-the-art skills in children. Conducting experiments or demonstrations in a classroom, though is very important, is not the same as hands-on learning. 

What is a ‘hands-on’ activity?
Any activity where a child interacts with real world objects or situations and learns to work with his or her hands and mind can be called as a hands-on learning activity. It is an active mode of learning and can be applied to most disciplines of learning. Science, Mathematics and Social Sciences are most suited for hands-on learning. Making a water rocket and launching it while learning Newton’s laws, learning about surface area by measuring walls and calculating amount of paint needed to paint the wall, working in groups to build a portable house are some of the examples of effective hands-on activities.

But the most important question here is why do we need hands-on activities in the learning process? The reality is that  hands-on activities are definitely more fun for children. But there are more serious reasons in favour of hands-on learning:
*The real world is infinitely more complex than the various models of the world that we teach children in classrooms. When children participate in hands-on activities, they interact with real world objects and learn the complexities of the world more intuitively.
*About 50% of primary and high school children are kinesthetic learners, but 80% of our pedagogy is auditory. If we are not using hands-on activities in our teaching process, we will be making it very hard for half the children and they will gradually get disengaged from learning.
*When a child builds a model of an airplane using his hands, he learns multiple skills in addition to the intended concepts. Skills are doors to employability. It is hard for graduates to get good jobs if they do not possess basic skills.
As you can see, hands-on learning can teach kids difficult concepts easily and make the entire process more fun and engaging. It’s time to look at exactly how a parent or teacher can bring in such activities into the kid’s life. Don’t assume that this kind of learning is all about getting some toys and leaving the children with them. Hands-on learning is more than kids understanding concepts through models. And the journey isn’t easy too. The difficulties in incorporating hands-on activities either in classrooms or at home are numerous. The three key obstacles are:
*There is not enough time in classrooms for hands-on activities. Syllabus coverage takes all the time. Even at home, children get very less free time after school because they have to attend tuitions, music, art classes etc.
*It is very difficult to find suitable materials for hands-on activities. Even if we find materials, there is a need for guidance while children are engaged in these activities.
Scoring good marks in the examinations is no more a sufficient criteria to get good jobs or perform well at work. We need to think about life and job situations 20 years from now and plan our children’s education accordingly. We need to equip children with 21st century skills along with what they learn in schools.
The ecosystem for hands-on activities is well established in many developed countries. Even in our country, parents, educators, corporations and the government have started thinking in this direction. Many schools have reserved at least one period per week specifically for hands-on activities, thus giving it due importance. Several educational companies are offering DIY kits (Do-it-Yourself kits) and creative educational content for hands-on activities. Schools can utilise these resources to schedule weekly activities.

The intricacies
Now, in order to help you get started, here are some suggestions that can make the whole process a bit easier:
*Allocate at least one period per week for hands-on activities, specifically dedicated to model building. The models children build should give them important skills and integrated learning of different subjects that they are studying. These models can be later displayed in school’s science exhibitions.  
*There are some new age educational companies who help schools in conducting these weekly classes. They also supply materials and know-how for model building. Training for teachers in model building is also available from these vendors if a complete programme is bought from them.
*Schools can also make their talented teachers responsible for hands-on activities. They can use websites like www.arvindguptatoys.com, where ideas on how to build ‘science toys from trash’ are freely available.
*Parents can buy DIY kits online and get their children engaged in hands-on activities at the convenience of home environment and spare the child from travelling long hours on road for the same old rote learning at tuition centres.
*These DIY kits are also accompanied by ‘how-to-build’ videos and e-learning modules of the related concepts. Encouraging children to explore the concepts on their own will get them interested in studies.

Hands-on learning is essential for every child. It enhances concept learning, skill learning and application learning. It is not just a luxury meant only for elite schools. Schools that cater to middle class kids can utilise this ecosystem created by education companies and non-profit organisations to deliver hands-on learning experience to their students at an affordable cost. Let children enjoy while they are learning because they can create a better future for us.

(The author is co-founder, TinkerMaster, Bengaluru)

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