As in any other area of knowledge, the amount of new available information increases daily at a dramatic pace. One of the tasks teachers must perform is to identify those tools which are available and may benefit learning, introducing new materials, methods and topics in the classroom so that the students can be familiarized with new situations realistically. In the case of Hands-on Learning Activities (HLAs) there exist many resources which can be applied directly in master classes, in proposals for autonomous work, in small groups or in collective works. All they are oriented towards action and aim clearly to the acquisition of skills and to the increase in the degree of compromise with the subjects. This diversity of strategies is a way of providing an answer to the different motivations and interests of the students. It is clear that they alone cannot contribute to the advancement of the learning process. To be effective, the objectives, the interests and the possible results must be clearly defined. They also need to be explained and applied by the teachers properly.
We can document their use in at least the following modalities:
Demonstrative HLAs. Traditionally HLAs involve a demonstration in a contact class to help the student to confirm or refute previous ideas, to obtain useful information of different kinds and to propose new conclusions. Teachers, on their part, must delimit and organize the material that is presented and must relate old and new knowledge. In many cases they are short demonstrations that do not interfere with the development of the subject and increase the interaction with the students. Thus, the content acquires a new dimension and becomes an opportunity to motivate and generate a guided discussion in a class. One of the consequences, among others, is that these demonstrations prompt the observation and even the manipulation of activities that due to their danger, cost or delicate nature the students would never do in their regular practices in the lab: specific pieces of equipment (tools) of a research lab, high voltage equipment, equipment that presents results in a simple way, but that is complex to use, reproduction of historical experiments and so on.
Interactive HLAs. HLAs can become more effective in master classes by increasing their interactivity. There the students are challenged to make predictions on the expected result. Once a HLA has been done the students discuss with their closest companions what has taken place and the teacher conducts the resulting debate. This process prompts the conceptual comprehension by means of pair discussion. For that purpose, the students can write down a document accounting for and relating the expected results, using individual response cards or one of the commercially available electronic student response systems.
HLAs Mini-proyects. In a Project-Based Learning Context a task involving a challenge where, working in small groups, they must create, document (linking with other content and providing complementary information) and present a HLA once the necessary resources have been found and used. Much of this new material must incorporate image, sound, videos, text and elements such as interactive web pages or online virtual simulation tools. During these mini-projects the students under the supervision of a teacher build up a model, make measurements, create hypotheses, estimate, discuss and suggest. This requires an additional intellectual effort and offers view of the practical component that is more creative and contextualized than the one offered by routine work in the lab.
Collective HLAs. With the result of the work done by students in their mini-projects, the cloning of a small scientific and technological museum can be effected in the school. It is a collective and cooperative activity in which the students share its design, staging and monitoring within a framework of explanation by peers or equals. This design and interactive work with the students brings about as a consequence the fulfillment of important learning goals related with the skills and abilities that are specific of activities of this kind and also the consolidation of different basic transversal competences. One the space is staged it can be visited by the students of the same school or of other invited centers. Each module can be accompanied with a self-explanatory panel that, under an attractive heading, displays some brief audiovisual information and some challenging questions for the visitors. Rather than to learn, when visiting the students are invited to examine and develop a situation they explore by themselves in their own way so that they feel the motivation of doing similar activities on their own. The visitors are accompanied by the students who have been appointed as guides or mediators to provide methodological guidelines to communicate with the visitors promote alternatives to their spontaneous activities or make the necessary adjustments when required. These students have been previously instructed to provide accessible scientific explanations.
Corridors HLAs. A selection of those HLAs designed by the teachers or by the same students can be distributed throughout the buildingsduring the academic year. The selected modules constitute a permanent exhibition which facilitates the students’ voluntary interaction at all times. Their organized use can be fomented by organizing a contest among the center community in which the participants must solve simple challenges related with the concepts underlying in each of the HLAs shown to win a prize.