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Hands-On Science Gets a Thumbs Up From Students

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If students are taught science using hands-on experiments and team problem-solving, they have a better attitude about the subject than if they are lectured and assigned textbook reading, a national poll has found.

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Indeed, more than three in five students ages 10 to 17 say that they would be "a lot more psyched" about science if they could do more experiments themselves in class and use a computer to go on-line to communicate with scientists and other students.

The survey, released last week in Washington, was sponsored by the Bayer Corp. of Pittsburgh. The nationally representative telephone survey of 1,016 youths was conducted last month by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and includes interviews with 217 elementary, 364 middle school, and 412 high school students. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

According to the poll, about half of the students learn about science mainly by the traditional means of listening to the teacher lecture or reading from a textbook. The other half learn through such methods as conducting experiments or discussing problems.

Across the board, students exposed to a hands-on approach express a more positive attitude and have a better impression of science than those taught the typical way.

Better Liked

For 54 percent of the students using more action-oriented methods, science is at, or near, the top of the list of subjects they like, compared with 45 percent of the students in traditional classes. Forty percent of those in the hands-on classes consider themselves to be excellent or very good science students vs. 32 percent of the students in traditional classes.

The pedagogy also seems to affect student understanding. Nearly one-fourth of the students in the traditional classes feel that science is the most difficult subject to understand, while 18 percent of the students using performance-based strategies say so.

"A more widespread use of hands-on inquiry methods in the science classroom may be a useful step toward improving students' feelings toward science," the study says. Earlier Bayer surveys on science education showed that teachers agreed with that sentiment, according to the new study.

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Web Resources
  • The National Science Teachers' Association Web page provides experiments and lesson plans from its National Science Education Standards.

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