Monday, August 6, 2007 - 3:40 PM

COS 5-7: The efficacy of teaching content knowledge through hands-on activities in high school biology

Lori H. Spindler and Jennifer H. Doherty. University of Pennsylvania

While the potential for hands-on activities to increase students’ learning of content knowledge is well recognized, the actual effect of activities currently being implemented in traditional science classes is still being debated. The data presented here are the results from three different studies that examined whether hands-on activities improved student content knowledge and influenced their attitudes regarding science and science learning.  Students from four high schools performed activities specified within the Philadelphia High School Biology Curriculum where they either collected and analyzed their own data (hands-on) or analyzed data that was given to them. The activities were diverse and included a natural selection simulation game, an exploration of diffusion and an analysis of the substrate specificity of the enzyme lactase. There were school-specific differences in test scores, but in all activities students in the hands-on treatment did not learn any more than students in the worksheet group according to difference scores from pre- and post test assessments.  The influence of hands-on activities was most apparent in the students’ responses to a survey designed to gauge their attitudes on the activity they just completed and science learning in general.  The students in the hands-on activity group felt stronger and more positively about science than the worksheet group, although some of these results differed by the sex of the student.  These results suggest that hands-on activities as used in traditional classrooms are not effective content knowledge teaching tools and that their current usage in curricula need to be reevaluated.