Hands-On Learning!

How does incorporating inquiry-based strategies help with classroom management and eventual learning in the classroom?

One of my foundational quotations comes from an earlier UoPx text, “Students who are succeeding rarely misbehave.” Inquiry-based teaching strategies help with classroom management by reducing the pressures that create the need for “management.” By engaging students in novel, relevant, hands-on activities, they become fully engaged in the learning. When this happens, the need to “manage” their behavior all but evaporates. I saw this in my lesson in our last (History & Social Studies) class. With Google Maps on the Smart Board, there was ZERO misbehavior. Even with Star Wars or a similar movie showing, there is a certain amount of boredom and acting out. But movies, however riveting the first time, lose their power over time and, more importantly for this discussion, do not involve hands on activities. However engaging a movie, it is passive. Active lessons with interesting content fully engage the learner and eliminate misbehavior.

This leads to the answer to the second part of the question. Engaged learners are effective learners. How is it that a child who can’t remember how to remember the first three Presidents of the United States can remember the entire starting lineup of the Los Angeles Dodgers and their batting averages? Relevance! The students have constructed meaning for the baseball players, but apparently not for the dead Presidents. Inquiry-based education allows, encourages, and even demands that students construct their own meaning. In this way, the learning persists and provides an effective base for future equilibration. In addition, direct contact with the learning situation raises the probability of “perturbation.” The more the activity is student-constructed and open-ended, the greater the chance of creative, problem-solving experiences. Not only is this effective in sticking knowledge into context and long-term memory, it also teaches problem solving itself. This is almost certainly an even greater gift than the knowledge of a particular aspect of math or science. High school teachers may correctly assume the students remember nothing from middle school but the problem solving techniques, confidence, and mentality that the students internalize will serve them forever.



Lang, H. R., & Evans, D. N. (2006). Models, Strategies, and Methods for Effective Teaching. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.




Landspeeder Math

In a prior post, I advocated using movies to connect students to their studies.

For me, history comes alive in fiction. When I’ve read a story or seen a movie about a past time, somehow the factual material becomes connected and relevant. I know that’s how it works for my daughter too. She has American Girl dolls and each one comes from a particular period in American history. There are also novels about those girls in that era, based on diaries of real historical girls. She can tell you about living in the Blitz in London or what ocean liner travel was like in 1912. Now she says to me, “Daddy, I want to read more history.” This from a 1st grader.

On a related subject, there is a lot of enthusiasm in a classroom that usually goes untapped. I know Star Wars is huge amongst the boys of my daughter’s class. It seems to me that hooking lessons and rewards into the Star Wars universe would be hugely enrolling and captivating for those boys. Yet I’ve never seen it done. “If Luke Skywalker is racing his landspeeder against five of his friends, how many Tatooine landspeeders are in the race altogether?”

This one is trickier but, with no encouragement at all, many of the boys in her class (like, I think, most boys everywhere) love to draw battle scenes when they have free time. Those battle scenes are usually complex and frequently nuanced. I know the implied violence bugs a lot of teachers, but it is fantasy violence, not rehearsal of real warmaking. And it is a vast supply of energy and opportunity discarded in most classrooms today.

Little Johnny, Again


I know that a good answer to “why should I care?” is important in keeping me focused. In addition, being a conceptual learner, knowing the big picture of “what’s the point?” helps me pay attention. Being a boy, I’d much rather be watching or chasing moving objects than studying, so I particularly need a good reason to force myself to concentrate. It goes back to my post about “Little Johnny could care less.” I think teachers all too often do not allow themselves to acknowledge how little their students want to be students. Most little boys, for sure, would much rather be elsewhere (and many big boys too, mostly). Many girls are bored stiff as well. Their higher oxytocin levels helps them pay attention, but only because they want to stay in relationship with their teacher. This may fool the teachers into believing that what they are doing is interesting (and that it is the boys who are the problem) but, all too often, that is not true. Sadly, contraproductively, and frequently, most students would prefer to be somewhere else, doing something else.

I am thinking more and more, that creating a context for the students is essential. A new subject should start with the very big picture of why the students should care. Then we can focus in on how this subject hooks into other things the students already know. Then we can move on to what the students are expected to learn from the experience, making sure the learning objectives are clear to them. Only then can it move into force feeding, err, teaching them the actual subject. Oh, and all this relevance and usefulness should be recapped at the end, after the assessment, in the debrief.

Once again, respect leads to the right choice. It is disrespectful, bordering on insulting, not to acknowledge that the students are not necessarily where the system wants them to be in terms of excitement about learning. The truth is it is a kid’s job to be thinking about anything but school. We know it individually, from our own experience. We do know it collectively, from our literature. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, etc, etc. It is our well-understood American cultural heritage. Ironically, teachers teach that literature, but that particular message is ignored or dismissed.

I am going to honor my students by acknowledging their reality. Then I will build a case for why they should care. Then I will make the experience as relevant, immersive, entertaining, and successful.