Hands-On Science Education: Basic Requirements

There are three basic requirements for designing and implementing an excellent elementary science program. These are:

  1. It should be cross-curricular, so that it is relevant and doesn’t subtract from time devoted to other important academic domains.
  2. It should be organized into thematic concepts, so that hands-on activities lead students to conclude fundamental scientific truths.
  3. It should be hands-on, so students enjoy it and benefit from the cognitive advantages of this form of science instruction.

I have discussed these in some detail in previous blogs as indicated in the links above. Today, we’ll start to take a look at the resources teachers need in order to offer science programs that meet these requirements.

Science Education Materials

shutterstock_102981962 [Converted]For students to do hands-on science, they need something to put their hands on. Elementary classrooms need basic scientific equipment. I am not referring to plastic cups, empty soda bottles, half-filled science kits, and miscellaneous (and often broken) hand-me-downs from the high school. Too often, hands-on science is limited to activities like combining ingredients to make cookies or planting a bean in a plastic cup to watch it sprout simply because no other experiments are possible with the materials that are available. For hands-on science activities to be effective, students need equipment that can capture accurate data. If students cannot measure the results of their experiments, they will have a difficult time drawing scientific conclusions – an aquarium of tropical fish or a hamster in the back of the classroom will teach very few basic science concepts on their own.

An examination of almost any state science standards will demonstrate that in order to learn the expected concepts through hands-on methods, young students need the following types of science equipment:

  1. Meter sticks, rulers, and tape measures to accurately determine length and distance.
  2. Graduated (metric calibrated) vessels such as cylinders, flasks, pitchers, and beakers to accurately measure volume, store, and transfer materials.
  3. Spring scales and balances to determine the mass and weight of materials.
  4. Hot plates to heat materials. Avoid candles, alcohol lamps, or any other open flames.
  5. Accurate thermometers to determine temperature.
  6. Clocks, watches, or timers to accurately measure time.
  7. Microscopes – enough for students to work in pairs. All microscopes should be identical for ease of instruction and achieve a final magnification ranging from approximately 40X to 400X with a bright, clear image.
  8. Large, flat, sturdy tables or benches to work at.
  9. Models (e.g. human skeleton/torso, solar system, globes) and charts (e.g. periodic table, digestive system, animal and plant cell) to illustrate structures and principles not easily approached through hands-on methods.
  10. Data recording materials including graph paper, drawing paper, colored pencils, protractors, and compasses, or equivalent software programs for computerized data collection, analysis, and reporting.


You will find that the words highlighted in bold text occur over and over again in almost every area of science. Length, distance, volume, mass, weight, heat, temperature, time, magnification, and data are fundamental to the learning and understanding of science. Hands-on science instruction can allow students to study all of these key phenomena, but only if they have the proper tools.

sm_toon scientistIt is important to note that the materials listed above are reusable. They are not restricted to one particular topic, but can be used in all sorts of experiments over and over again. In addition, they are all real science materials. There is no substantive difference between the importance of a meter stick, triple-beam balance, hot plate, or thermometer for use in the elementary classroom than at higher levels of science instruction. Most of these materials will be used in elementary school, middle school, high school, college laboratories, or even in a research laboratory for that matter. Thus, using these tools early in their education will give students valuable experience that will be directly applicable in later grades. Further, knowing that these materials can be combined in various ways to ask and answer an endless number of questions empowers both teacher and student to transfer their knowledge to new situations and encourage scientific creativity. They will be free to digest new science concepts, while the procedures of laboratory science become second nature to them.

Experimentation requires measurement. If our students are to get the most from their science classes, they must have the chance to conduct proper experiments with tools that provide them clear, quantitative measurements. Schools wishing to offer a first-rate science education must make acquiring and maintaining those tools a priority

2 thoughts on “Hands-On Science Education: Basic Requirements

  1. Jennifer Armstrong

    I have not been able to bring up the video for electricity and magnetism. Can you help me?

  2. Neville de Silva

    Jenniffer, I have developed for Primary Schools in Swaziland, a “Hands On” Science Investigation kit , inclusive of ALL materials, charts (26) & Chemicals, needed to start from Grade 1-7, in their primary years….No matter the curriculum is US, UK, European, Asian or African in origin!! The basic scientific concepts are introduced and met at the correct cognitive level.

    The close study and analysis of the Swaziland Primary School Science Curriculum, led the way to designing of a full “Hands On” science investigation and materials kit of 98 items. It is being used over 90 Primary schools in Swaziland.

    I have taken the challenge to produce videos in real classroom situations from the start of the new academic year in 2018.

    The Swaziland Primary School New Science Curriculum befits the educational foundations in sciences of any developed and developing country.

    If educators, designers are interested in furthering on this development the author is available for a chat on Whatts app number : +268 7863 8166.

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