One of the worst feelings for a teacher is looking out on a sea of disinterested faces. You’ve worked hard to plan a lesson that is rigorous and meets the standards, and your students could not care less! As teachers, we want to create engaging, hands-on science activities – but it’s often time-consuming.
Fortunately, there are hands-on science activities out there that don’t take hours to plan and prep for. Let’s talk about how you can reduce the prep time for these engaging activities and how to plan them.
What are Hands-On Activities Important?
Hands-on science activities are crucial to deepen students’ understanding of a topic. It’s simple really! Hands-on science activities increase engagement, which will in turn increase student retention of the content. With better retention, students build skills and can explore content more in-depth.
I would even bet you still remember some science lessons from your days in school. Kids are likely to remember the lessons where they got their hands a little dirty and got involved in learning.
These types of activities also lend themselves well to partner or group work, which promotes teamwork and allows students to practice their interpersonal skills. Plus, we can incorporate real-world learning into these engaging, hands-on science lessons.
How to Plan a Hands-On Science Activity
To make planning a hands-on science activity even easier, I created a Free Experiment + How to Plan for Hands-on Science Guide. You can use the planning sheet as you work through this section!
#1 Decide on the Purpose and Objective
Sure, we want students to be engaged and have fun, but that’s not the ultimate goal of planning a hands-on science activity. You need to have a clear goal for what students need to know and be able to do by the end of the lesson. This is backwards planning or starting with the end in mind.
Once you are clear on your objective, make sure you have a clear purpose for learning. Is this to review? Prepare students for an exam? Introduce them to a new unit? What is the actual purpose of designing this experiment? Having a clear purpose and object makes planning a lot easier.
#2 Create a plan
Once you’ve decided on the objective, begin thinking through the details of the experiment. Make a list of the materials you’ll need, estimate how long the activity will take, and anticipate some questions or misunderstandings students will have. Of course, this is also the stage where you think about how to make the activity hands-on!
Then, actually conduct and test out the experiment yourself! You can write down the step-by-step as you work, or simply check your experiment instructions as you move through it. While this can feel time-consuming, it will allow you to check that your hands-on science activity works and that it aligns with your objective and purpose.
#3 Plan implementation
The last bit of planning requires you to think through how students will work. Plan whether they’ll work with a partner. If so, will the partner be assigned or will you let them choose? Hands-on science activities can be done independently, with a partner, with a table group, or even as a whole class. However, it’s important to decide ahead of time what this will look like, and make sure it matches your purpose for the assignment.
This decision may be dependent on access to and quantity of materials. If you have enough materials for students to work in partners, that’s great! If you don’t, table groups will be wonderful, too. Consider the space they’ll have to work and whether there is enough space for the materials and recording sheets, or if you’d like them to save the recording portion until they’ve completed the experiment.
Ramp Hands-On Science Activity
If you haven’t yet, download Free Experiment + How to Plan for Hands-on Science Guide!
Inside this freebie, you’ll have access to an entire science experiment! This hands-on activity explores the scientific concepts of force and motion, measurement, and gravity.
After discussing ramps as a class, students will build and test their own ramps. This activity is perfect to test various forces. It is designed for students to work in pairs or groups of three. In my experience, it takes about an hour to an hour and a half to complete, so keep this in mind when planning.
One great thing about this hands-on science activity is that if you need it to take longer, you can have students continue to build various iterations of their ramps! Included in my free resource is a list of questions to ask students during the lesson, as well as recording sheets for students, and planning sheets for you.
Want to learn more about preparing hands-on engaging science experiments? Check out my blog post on preparing outstanding science lessons with ease.