Making Early Science Education Hands-On, Heads-On, and Hearts-On

Inan, H. Z., & Inan, T. (2015). 3Hs Education: Examining hands-on, heads-on and hearts-on early childhood science education. International Journal Of Science Education, 37, 1974 - 1991.

Skilled educators know that using a diversity of teaching approaches and strategies can create a more engaging learning environment for students. Science education researchers are interested in exploring the ways in which varied pedagogical approaches might influence science-learning outcomes and documenting those processes in practice. To that end, this paper's authors undertook a qualitative research study examining how science education with early childhood audiences might be more effective when it transcends simple hands-on or activity-based pedagogies. The findings suggest that there are many ways to facilitate and encourage young children's knowledge of, interest in, and experience with science.

Understanding the foundations of the constructivist paradigm is essential to effectively implement hands-on, heads-on, and hearts-on (3Hs) science education. Influential educational theorists, such as John Dewey, Jean Piaget, and Maria Montessori, believed that children actively construct their understanding of the world based on personal experiences. According to constructivists, acknowledging this active participation in their own learning processes is a critical component of facilitating children's education. Teachers who foster a constructivist-based classroom, which invites student engagement on multiple levels, must be prepared to manage what some teachers might consider classroom “chaos” in more traditional perspectives. Constructivist classrooms encourage students to have direct experiences with the subject, and teachers must be prepared to facilitate this inquiry-based process.

The 3Hs take a whole-child perspective to engage students' cognitive, social, communicative, physical, and psycho-emotional skills. Hands-on learning focuses on project-based and active engagement with a subject; heads-on learning encourages student-led inquiry and independent problem-solving processes; and hearts-on learning emphasizes interest in and enjoyment of learning about specific topics. Using the 3Hs, researchers simultaneously view children as independent, competent entities, as well as social beings who work collaboratively. Particularly in early-childhood classrooms, play-based education can be an effective path to integrating the 3Hs into science education.

The researchers conducting this study were primarily interested in addressing the following question: How can teachers integrate the 3Hs into preschool classrooms to improve student learning outcomes and subject engagement? To answer this, the authors studied 70 preschoolers (between the ages of three and six) led by six teachers and three teaching/research assistants at a private Turkish preschool. The authors collected data through classroom observations, interviews with students and teachers, artifact documentation (such as children's drawings and photographs of classroom organization), and field notes.

At this site, preschool teachers offered activity stations throughout the classroom that, ultimately, demonstrated effective integration of the 3Hs in early science education. Within this structure, students moved freely between stations, thereby demonstrating autonomy in their own learning process (hands-on and hearts-on). Activities included experiment stations, such as placing a piece of lettuce in various conditions to evaluate what causes and/ or prevents decomposition; cooking stations, such as using measurements to make cookies; earthworm examination stations; animal heart examination stations; and a station examining food and plants, such as investigating what is inside walnuts. Activity stations integrating hands-on learning allowed students to use their science skills, such as practicing observation. Heads-on learning at stations encouraged students to ask questions, such as, “Does a bag of water burn?” and “What is inside an apple?” Hearts-on learning in stations developed students' love of and interest in science through activities such as pretending to be animals, listening to animal sounds, and play-acting science scenarios.

This study highlights principles of a whole-child approach to science and environmental education. Perhaps more importantly, however, this study demonstrates that teachers must not only provide opportunities for learning, but also actively facilitate learning. Even if a teacher provides activity stations and multiple ways of engaging with science in the classroom, it is important to scaffold children's learning. By providing multiple activities and ways for students to engage with science, teachers enable students to choose which learning approaches may be engaging for them. The authors conclude that using the 3Hs as guidance allows educators to develop activities that appeal to different aspects of student learning.

The Bottom Line

<p>Integrating hands-on, heads-on, hearts-on learning (the 3Hs) can be an effective way to teach early science education. By being given the agency to choose from a variety of activity stations, children can guide their own learning and develop a deeper, intrinsically motivated understanding of science. When integrating the 3Hs, teachers continue to provide guided scaffolding and serve as facilitators of scientific knowledge, inquiry, and appreciation.</p>