Friday, August 05, 2005

Engaging hands-on learning activities

A potentially helpful provision in NCLB is government-funded after-school tutoring. But how much real learning can take place if tutoring becomes more fun and games? I've tutored middle grades math and saw that students can made progress when they put in the effort and try to understand math concepts and work out problems with explanations, modeling and guidance provided by the teacher/tutor as needed. In other words, engagement with the subject matter.

I saw this ad for tutors that makes me worry that constructivism is once again rearing its ugly head in an area that could otherwise be an alternative to the usual practices.

Brain Hurricane is an approved Supplemental Educational Service (SES) provider. We are looking to hire instructors to tutor small groups (5 students at a time) of students in an after-school program. Tutors would go to a school during after-school hours and spend two hours per day working with a group.

Our tutoring program uses fun and engaging hands-on learning activities. Students enjoy working with their hands, interacting with teammates, and learning important math and reading skills in a way that is very different from the normal school day.
Constructivists believe that students learn by "working with their hands". For some subjects like math they must also be working with their brains. Not all academic subject matter is reducible to working with one's hands. For example, can you learn history solely through "fun and engaging hands-on learning activities" or would you have to pick up a book at some time?

See here for more on the hands-on mania. and here for a superb article on trivial activities.


Mrs. Ris said...

I've come to the conclusion, too, that all the cutesy projects we use to do kept us from the real, focused, intensive learning so necessary for my students. As "challenged learners", we don't have any time to waste on silly gluing projects or coloring sheets.

So no more doing projects for projects sake.

But MATH GAMES have been a real life saver for me. (and my students). Yesterday I went to an inservice on teaching math in the primary classroom, and the games and hands-on activities we learned inspired LOTS of actual thinking, adding, subtracting, dividing, comparing, know, real learning.

So it's not the activity level itself that's to be avoided. Instead, teachers have to use their heads, practice discretion, and plan for mastery.

Instructivist said...

"But MATH GAMES have been a real life saver for me. (and my students)."

Could you offer a few specifics about grade levels and name of these games?

Mrs. Ris said...

Hi, I just saw your response... yes, I'll pull the info together tomorrow and do some posting. You're right, specific examples can be very helpful!!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to be interested to see Mrs. Ris's examples. Anne Dwyer had a lot of success with math games this summer. (IIRC, she listed some of them on her page at Kitchen Table Math.)

I have a question: what age children are we talking about here?

Remember, Carolyn found a study saying that middle schoolers benefit from manipulatives, and the Illinois Loop people turned me on to the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN study saying that manipulatives are difficult for young children.

I don't know what to make of this ad. I agree with you, though; the wording sets off alarm bells.