Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup

Private Universe Project in Science

Workshop Three: "Hands-On/Minds-On Learning"

Section 1 - About Workshop Three:
"Hands-On/Minds-On Learning"


Error - unable to load content - Flash

What is the theme of this workshop?
The theme of Workshop Three is "a teacher changing."

Whom do we see in the video?
Jim Carter is a veteran high school physics teacher in suburban Boston with over 20 years of experience in the classroom. Even with his high degree of skill, Jim feels the need to be more effective.

What happens in the video?
Jim is astonished to see that many students misinterpret his well-planned lab activities, failing to grasp some of the fundamental ideas. Working with teacher/researcher Jim Minstrell, Jim Carter defines a new role for himself as a teacher. Much to his surprise, his students like the "new Jim Carter" and seem to learn in more depth.

What problem does this workshop address?
The principles of a simple electrical circuit formed with a battery, wire, and bulb are commonly taught in grade 3, forming the foundation for ideas about electricity taught throughout high school. Why is it, then, that even some Harvard and MIT graduates find a simple circuit so difficult?

What teaching strategy does this workshop offer?
Both teachers and learners are encouraged to develop new metaphors for their roles in the classroom. Students are urged to see themselves as something other than "sponges" soaking up the teacher's information.



Section 2 - "Hands-On/Minds-On Learning"

A. The Goals for Workshop Three

"Hands-On/Minds-On Learning" is for any teacher interested in trying new approaches to help students learn more effectively. Even though this video focuses on a high school physics teacher and his class, the approaches it depicts are useful for teachers of all subjects and all grade levels.


Workshop Activity

After viewing the Harvard and MIT graduates, discuss the following question:
The graduates are having a difficult time lighting the bulb. What might this say
about science learning?


B. Challenges

Typically, one of our interviews with a student might last 45 minutes or more. Because the workshop can show only a small part of the interviews, you may often assume that the interviewer has forced or led the student to produce an answer that does not really reflect the student's thinking. But you will be wrong.


Workshop Discussion

  1. Despite hands-on activities and demonstrations, the student did not seem to believe her own conclusions. What does this result tell us about science learning? About the value of hands-on learning?
  3. Given your understanding of constructivism, how does the constructivist approach to teaching differ from the more traditional one generally practiced? What are the trade-offs in addressing science concepts and science learning in the constructivist approach?
Constructivism is discussed briefly in Workshop One.



Workshop Pre-Activity

Conduct an interview that will identify what a student knows. Is the response an indication of what he/she understands?
Conduct an interview with at small group of students. Does the interview provide insight into what your students know and don't know?



Section 3 - Exercises

A. Exercises: Responding to Workshop Three


Workshop Activity

(See Section 5A) Write a brief description of the metaphors that come to mind when you think of your relationship as a teacher with your students. (For example, are you like a policeman? a counselor? an entertainer? a shepherd?) Explain how and in what situations these metaphors apply.
Include the metaphors in your journal. Do you metaphors change with time? How? Why? What do such changes tell you about yourself as a teacher or about the profession of teaching in general?
Based on the ideas that you have seen in this video, if you were in charge of in-service/pre-service teacher education, what would you consider your highest priorities?



B. Exercise: Preparing for Workshop Three

You will get the greatest benefit from Workshop Four if you complete the following exercise first. Please do your best to gather the information.


Pre-Workshop Activity for Workshop Four

Ask your class, colleagues, neighbors, and friends the following question: What is
air made of? What would it look like if we could see it? If they mention that air is made of "particles" or similar terms (such as pieces, atoms, molecules, etc.) ask them what is in between the particles.
Write down all the different answers you receive on the board or a large pad. Ask the students to vote on which idea they agree with.
What is the earliest appropriate grade for teaching abstract concepts like the
particle model of matter? Discuss with your colleagues the reason(s) behind your answer.


Section 4 - Educational Strategy

A. Metaphors: A personal narrative

A metaphor for teaching is as unique as the individual who creates it. Literally, metaphors are lies. Theoretically, however, they are self-constructed truths. My metaphors for teaching have changed a great deal over the years. When I began my career as a teacher years ago, I thought of myself as a recorder of facts-a compendium of truths to be conveyed to my students just as tape recorder relays past sounds and ideas to its listeners. This was a powerful metaphor that met my needs for a while. However, over time, I realized that I could not teach anything unless the material was carefully "recorded on my tape." In short, this meant that I could teach very little: the limitations of my knowledge and the immensity of the things my students wanted to know were often out of sync.

Curiously, during a lesson on blood typing I was hit by a sudden insight. My students knew things that they could apply to new situations, that they could use to figure out answers to some of their own questions. I remember the instant that this awareness came to me. From then on, the metaphor I used shifted and changed. Now I was a prompter in the theater. When the students recited the proper line, I allowed them to continue; when they faltered, I provided them with a cue that moved them in the direction I wanted them to go.

As time went on, the metaphor changed again. I became "a tour guide/pathfinder." However, soon I realized that all students were not traveling the same path, and my metaphor as a tour guide/pathfinder was not effective for everyone. My students' side trips, which I had construed as time-wasters, were indeed quite necessary for their travels..

Many years later, I modified the metaphor again. Today the metaphor has evolved into a mirror-a reflector of ideas. With constructivism and the realization that knowledge grows as individuals confront their ways for making meaning of new knowledge, this mirror has become a most powerful image for me. When I stand before a class or work with small groups of individuals, I capture the thought or idea coming from students and reflect it back to them for further consideration, perusal, analysis, or synthesis. I may ask them to reconsider their ideas when they are able to see them in a different light, hear them out loud, or perhaps compare them with the ideas and evidence of others. The knowledge is theirs to construct. As a teacher, I provide them with the time, patience, and guidance to re-evaluate and reconstruct their understandings.

All in all, metaphors often blend together and often no one metaphor is totally adequate. The wisdom in teaching often comes from knowing the differences between metaphors, and accepting the insufficiency of each (and the power of all of them) while having the ability to know when each one will be most effective.

Using metaphors to analyze one's teaching style requires an introspective look at ones' own thinking. I came up with my metaphors after some genuine reflection on exactly what I do when I teach. I searched my mind for an object that had similar properties. I chose the mirror, the tape recorder, and the theater prompter because they all had a relationship or parallel to my teaching behavior along the way that coincided with my interpretation of the object. I gained insight from the projection of my personal values and ideas onto the object and vice versa. The metaphor can also be a person. One friend of mine sees herself as a midwife helping students give birth to their ideas. By modeling the image of a midwife, she coaches and encourages her students when it is time for them to push and birth their new understandings.

After choosing a metaphor, you can search for more attributes and try them on for size. Perhaps you will be happy with your metaphor and merely fine-tune the pieces; or you may find that a different metaphor will be more suitable. There is always the possibility of using several metaphors for different situations.

The fun is in the search.

Dr. Richard Konicek, Amherst, 1994.



Section 5 - Resources for Workshop Three


Companies, publications, and organizations named in this guide represent a cross-section of such entities. We do not endorse any companies, publications, or organizations, nor should any endorsement be inferred from a listing in this guide. Descriptions of such entities are for reference purposes only. We have provided this information to help locate materials and information.


A. Materials for the Classroom

For more information on materials that might be helpful in the classroom, contact the following sources:

Osborne, Jonathan, P. Black, Smith and M. Meadows. 1991. Electricity. Primary Space Project Research Report, Liverpool University Press.

Burston Distribution Service
Unit 2A
Newbridge Trading Estate
Newbridge Close
Off Whitby Road
Bristol BS44AX
Tel: 011-441-272-7242-48
Fax: 011-441-272-7110-56

NSRC, (1991). Electrical Circuits, National Science Resources Center, Smithsonian Institution, and National Academy of Science, Arts, and Industries Building, Room 1201, Washington DC 20560.

This is one unit produced by the NSRC for the elementary level. It is based on research on children's thinking and on successful classroom experiences.

Carolina Biological Supply Co.
2700 York Road
Burlington, NC 27215

Batteries and Bulbs, publications available from Delta Education in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Delta Education
12 Simon Street
Nashua, NH 03060-3009
fax: 800-282-9560

Electricity, TOPS Learning Systems

TOPS Learning Systems
10970 South Mulino Road
Canby, OR 97013

Electrical Connections. AIMS Foundation, Fresno Pacific College, Fresno, CA

AIMS Foundation
PO Box 8120
Fresno, CA 93747

Thinking Physics in Gedanken Physics. Lewis Carroll Epstein, City College of San Francisco, Insight Press, 1979.

Insight Press
614 Vermont St.
San Francisco, CA 94107


B. Further Reading

Arons, A. 1990. A Guide to Introductory Physics Teaching. John Wiley and Sons. (This is written for teachers and is based on research on learning and teaching and classroom experience.)

Shepardson, Daniel. 1994. The nature of fourth graders' understandings of electric circuits. Science Education 78(5): 489-514 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Wandersee, James H., Joel J. Mintzes, and Joseph D. Novak. 1994. Research on Alternative Conceptions in Science. Dorothy L. Gabel, ed. In Handbook of Research on Science Teaching and Learning, New York: Macmillan.


C. Bibliography on Circuits

Baumann, R. And S. Adams. 1990. Misunderstandings of electrical current. Physics Teacher 28: 334.

Black, D and J. Solomon. 1987. Can pupils use taught analogies for electrical current? School of Science Review 68: 249-254.

Cohen, R., B. Eylon, and M. Ganiel. 1983. Potential difference and current in simple electric circuits: A study of students' concepts. American Journal of Physics 51: 407-412.

Fredette, N. and J. Clement. 1981. Student misconceptions of an electric current: What do they mean? Journal of College Science Teaching 10: 280-285.

Joshua, S. 1984. Students' interpretation of simple electrical diagrams. European Journal of Science Education 6(3): 271-275.

Osborne, R. 1981. Children's ideas about electric current. New Zealand Science Teacher 29: 12-19.

Osborne, R. 1983. Towards modifying children's ideas about electric current. Research in Teaching and Technological Education 1:73-82.

Peters, P. 1982. Even honors students have conceptual difficulties with physics. American Journal of Physics 50: 501-508.

Shipstone, D. 1984. A study of children's understanding of electricity in simple DC circuits. European Journal of Science Education 6: 185-198.


© President and Fellows of Harvard College

« Workshop 2  |  Home  |  Workshop 4 »

© Annenberg Foundation 2014. All rights reserved. Legal Policy