Learn to swim by getting into the water

By: Mirza Hassan

Learning is an unceasing process. It occurs as we use our five senses. It’s intentional as well as unintentional. It is fun as well as fatiguing. The experts say that it becomes funny and cheerful when it happens as a result of the one’s own experiments and observations. The learning remains long lasting and fruitful when relates with the personal experience and involves the active senses. In this paper, I am going to present the views of the educational experts on the impacts of hands on activities on students’ learning and understanding of a theoretical subject of mathematics at the initial level like ECD. The literature review revolves around the definition of the word hands-on activities followed by my personal perspectives and an attempt is made to elaborate the impacts and importance of hands-on activities on students’ learning and their motivation towards learning mathematics.

The word hands-on contains two words “hands” and “On”. Hands generally refer to working and manipulating the materials (Oxford Dictionaries). However, Haury & Rillero (1994) define hands- on activities are not simply manipulating things. It is engaging in in-depth investigations with objects, materials, phenomena, and ideas and drawing meaning and understanding from those experiences. In the classroom context hands-on activities can be categorized as the activities which are carried out by experiencing things or using materials. Haury & Rillero (1994) in the same article define hands-on activities as doing something by using the hands and operating the psychomotor domains.

Haury & Rillero conducted a studies and got the responses of teachers about what they thought hand-on activities are, the responses they got mostly define hands-on activities as “learning by doing”. The participants’ responses further elaborate hands -on activities as involving children in a practical learning to experience things.  The research study tells that these activities enhance students’ abilities to think critically.

Hands-on activities and manipulatives contribute towards meaningful learning. In this regards may research studies have been conducted. The researchers like Clements & Battista, (1997), Baroody, (1998) and Shaw (2002) have found the impacts of hands-on activities on students learning. The concept which is common among all the researchers is that they all are of the view, if abstract concepts are taught through the involvement of students with materials and solid objects, the learning experiences become interesting and motivating for the students. As a result of it, students understand the mathematical concepts in a concrete manner and in relationship with the materials which help them to learn mathematics easily.

Clements & Battista (1997) assert that manipulatives and hands-on teaching enhance the conceptual development and the problem solving skills of students. They further explain that teaching mathematics through images; posters and resources make it more easy and understandable for the students at the lower classes.

Fielder (1989) writes the evaluation of a developmental project which was started and funded by the state of Georgia from 1985-87.  The project was focused on using hands –on activities in the classroom.  The report reveals that hands-on activities help students to enjoy mathematics rather than taking it as boring and abstract subject. The report further elaborates that the project schools reported as the students enjoy mathematics more than ever after using hands-on teaching in the classroom, students experienced more success in mathematics which improved their self-concept and children learnt thing differently. This way helped the slow learners and enriched the high achievers.

Shaw (2002) describes that using mathematics’ manipulatives and models offer many benefits. Just as a picture can be worth a thousand words, manipulatives can provide visual representations of ideas, helping students to know and to understand mathematics in the context. He maintain that “manipulatives enhance the abilities of students at all levels to reason and communicate (p.3).” if students improve their reasoning skill, their critical lenses and asking questions from the situation get started. This questioning is truly necessary for mental development and critical understanding of mathematics.

In the same pattern Rillero (1994) quotes regarding the teaching of science that “A child best learns to swim by getting into water; likewise, a child best learns science by doing science” (p.1).  It is also true with mathematics and other subjects as well that students learn them better when they do. But Shaw identifies time as a challenge to carry out the activities.

Manipulatives can be real as well as virtual like the videos, models, documentary films etc. Because, the inventions of modern era have contributed much in facilitating the teaching and learning process. So, virtual manipulatives can be used in the classroom to clarify an abstract concept. In this scenario Durmus & Karakirik (2006) conducted a study on virtual manipulatives in mathematics like computers and other electronic accessories. The study came up with interesting findings  and they claim  that  usage of manipulatives not only increase students conceptual understanding and problem solving skills but also promote their positive attitude towards mathematics since they are supposedly provide ‘concrete experiences” that focus attention and increase motivation.

In the light of above studies the things which felt lacking and seemed gap in, are the contexts of the studies. We need to carry out smaller studies at school and classroom levels, which will be helpful in teachers as well as students’ development.  Secondly, we need to understand the context and need to align the SLOs with the contextual realities so that it should match with the indigenous experiences of the students.

In conclusion it can be said that hands-on activities and using of manipulatives in the classroom for teaching mathematics increase concrete conceptual development, promote critical thinking, enhance students’ motivation and creativity, and provide experiential learning opportunities for students.  Moreover, hands-on activities make mathematics a fun and enjoying subject not as a boring and abstract thing.

The contributor is Principal Learning Resource High School Thingai, Ghizar.


Haury, D. L., & Rillero , P. (1994). Perspectives of hands-on science teaching. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved from http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/cntareas/science/eric/eric-1.htm

Results for definition of Hands-on activities in other resources – Oxford Dictionaries Online. Retrieved  on 15th of April 2013 from https://oxforddictionaries.com/search/words/?multi=1&q=definition+of+Hands-on+activities

Shaw , J. M. (2002). Manipulatives enhance the Learning Of Mathematics. Houghton Mufflin Mathematics

Fielder, D. R. (1989). Project Hands-on Math: Making a Difference in K-2 classrooms. National Council Of Teachers of Mathematics, 36(8), 14-16. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41193663

Clements, D. H., & Battista, M. T. (1997). Development of students’ spatial thinking in a unit on geometric motions and area. Elementary School Journal, 98(2), 171.

Rillero, P. (1994). Doing science with your children. East Lansing, MI: National Center for

Research on Teacher Learning (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 372


Baroody, A. J. (1998). Fostering children’s mathematical Power: An investigating approach to K-8 Mathematics instruction. Lawrence Erlbaum associates. USA

Durmuş, S., & Karakirik, E. (2006). Virtual manipulatives in mathematics education: a theoretical framework. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 5(1), 117-123.

Chien, C. W., Brown, T. T., & McDonald, R. R. (2009). A framework of children’s hand skills for assessment and intervention. Child: Care, Health & Development, 35(6), 873-884. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2214.2009.01002.x

McLaughlin, C. (2012). Science: core connections homage to Mrs. Jennings. Children’s Technology & Engineering, 17(2), 18-21.

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