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November 03, 2015

MacKenzie Masten

The Importance of Hands-On Learning

Topics: Learning Through Play, STEM

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Our education system is constantly adapting, but is it changing for the better?

The History of Hands-on Learning 

Think back to when you were in school - you might've taken classes such as home-economics, sewing, or even auto-mechanics. Or maybe your schedule featured music, painting or photography. Now look at the schedule of a child today—music is an extra curricular, sewing is no longer offered, and auto-mechanics classes are found in trade schools. Students now complete handouts and sit through lectures, taking endless notes and reading through expensive textbooks.  The hands-on experience that was once thought of as key to building a well rounded student has now disappeared from the classroom.

Hands-on Learning isn't just for sewing, cooking or painting; it can be a part of any subject. It's the common name for Experiential Learning, which is the philosophical term behind the idea of immersing oneself in a subject in order to learn. Experiential Learning has been around since 350 BCE, when Aristotle wrote, "for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them". This idea ultimately became popular in the early 1950's and thanks to the backing of famous psychologists such as Jean Piaget, Kurt Lewin and John Dewey, Experiential Learning quickly became a staple in American education. 

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Hands-on Learning Today

Fast forward to the early 2000's, and increasing pressure for drastic improvements on national test scores led to a nationwide shift in education. Schools were faced with the challenge of improving test scores while also staying under budget. They were ultimately forced to cut programs like sewing and home economics, and focus their attention on creating a more lecture based curriculum geared towards improving test scores and decreasing spending. Later, after STEM classes were deemed more desirable and ultimately affordable, arts programs, once part of schools' core class offerings, were cut. Despite the increase in the number of STEM classes offered in American schools, there has still been a steady decline in the amount of time a student spends interacting with his or her subjects. 

Valuable Asset to Classrooms

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Being hands-on is especially important in the classroom because it allows students to engage in kinesthetic learning. Studies have shown that kinesthetic learning, where a student carries out physical activities rather than listening to a lecture, is the most popular type of learning with students - 'doing' helps them to gain a better understanding of the material. It allows students to experiment with trial and error, learn from their mistakes, and understand the potential gaps between theory and practice. And most important, it provides educators with a unique opportunity to enrich the minds of their students in new and engaging ways. 

The Rise of Hands-on Learning After School

Parents, frustrated with the decline of experiential learning in schools, have taken the problem into their own hands (pun intended), and toy and game manufacturers have reacted to the trend. These toys and games have given families the ability to teach their children critical skills through play whenever and wherever they want. 

After school programs have also caught on and are working to meet the growing demand for kinesthetic learning activities. Many after school programs primarily focus on the concept of learning through play and provide children with excellent opportunities to engage with school subjects in new and exciting ways. After school programs are also wonderful environments for children to learn about things that they would not normally be exposed to in a classroom. Lately, Maker Faires have begun popping up around the country, encouraging children and their families to experience a world of creativity and learning outside the classroom.

Barnes & Noble Maker Faire

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Barnes & Noble is supporting the hands-on movement with their own Mini Maker Faire. They have teamed up with over 1,000 makers, inventors, and pioneers of kinesthetic learning to create a one-of-a-kind event where children and their families will have the opportunity to imagine and create, and to meet the minds behind some of the most famous Maker Concepts.

The Mini Maker Faire is broken down into 3 sections designed to provide people with the best hands-on experience. Those sections are: Make, Meet, and Collaborate. In the Make Workspace, Barnes & Noble’s tech-educational expo, they’ll do product demos for 3D printers, drones, robots, coding, programming, and more. You can also meet the leaders of the Maker movement - they'll be visiting your local store to talk about their process, creation and vision. And last, maybe the most exciting part about the Mini Maker Faire, people will have the chance to collaborate with the Makers themselves to get a hands-on experience in designing, creating and constructing their own ideas!

You can join ThinkFun and the hundreds of other Makers on November 6th-8th to get the ultimate hands-on learning experience at the Mini Maker Faire!

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