Groundhogs & Hands-On Learning: A Study of Two Shadows

A few days ago, Groundhog Day was celebrated in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where people gathered in Gobbler’s Knob, awaiting Punxsutawney Phil’s weather prediction. Whether our furry friend knows when spring will be here or not remains to be seen. One thing we can be certain of is the value of hands-on learning, which may leave you wondering how that relates to groundhogs!


Groundhog Job Shadow Day

Another lesser-known holiday occurred a few days ago as well: Groundhog Job Shadow Day. “The Day enables students across the nation to get an up-close look at the specifics of an actual job and how the skills they learn in school can be put into effective action, in line with the jobs. On this day, students from across the country shadow scientists, firefighters, mechanics, doctors, teachers, and every other type of profession” (National Today). Generally, job shadowing is reserved for high school and college students, but younger students also benefit from the knowledge and skills gained through experiencing a job hands-on. Job shadowing gives students an opportunity to see what a job is like and the skills that are needed. It helps students to see the importance of what they are learning in school and shows them how their education is applicable to their future careers. Junior Achievement runs a job shadowing program and has found that students often drop out of school due to an unclear picture of how their education relates to their future. They reference the findings of a survey report, The Silent Epidemic, commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “Sixty-nine percent - or 7 in 10 - of the respondents, who included nearly 500 ethnically and racially diverse students from cities, suburbs and rural areas, reported they simply were not motivated. Four out of five (81 percent) of students who participated in the Gates Foundation survey said there should be a stronger connection between school and work and that there should be more opportunities for real-world, experiential learning. These survey results constitute a loud wakeup call for an innovative approach to education that demonstrates relevancy to contemporary life.” It is becoming increasingly clear that students of every age benefit from hands-on learning! The old model of learning is outdated and not the best option for the 21st century. It is time to step out of the box and approach learning in a whole new light, which is what past generations knew all along…the tremendous value of learning skills through hands-on applications. Aristotle understood the intrinsic value when he said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”

Job Shadowing


What is Hands-On Learning?

Hands-on learning can be defined as follows, “Hands-on learning is another term for experiential learning, where individuals immerse themselves in a subject to learn. Students learn from partaking in activities rather than passively reading a book or attending a lecture. Some examples include completing lab experiments in a chemistry class or writing a poem in an English class. This type of learning can lead to increased retention of the material and is a way for students to practice developing their problem-solving skills” (Top Hat). 

Project-based learning is defined by PBL Works, “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. Students demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience. Project Based Learning is a more rigorous and extensive way to learn compared to a typical “project” or “hands-on activity” that adults may remember from school. In PBL, the project is not just a lesson or an activity done after a unit of instruction; it is the unit.” 

Project-based learning takes hands-on learning to a greater depth, such as job shadowing offers. This blog will focus more on hands-on learning, but there will be project-based information presented that is especially applicable to kinesthetic learning, which is a need for right-brained dominant learners. For a large number of students, doing is far more advantageous than listening alone.

Job Shadowing Hands-On Learning


Benefits of Hands-On Learning

Hands-on learning is incredibly powerful and beneficial to all learning styles; there are so many positive aspects of being able to put knowledge into practice. Here are a few:

  • Increases Understanding & Retention: When students are able to integrate real-world applicable skills to the information that is being taught, it becomes more than just a concept to memorize. Studies have shown that active learning makes the difference between memorization and retention. Memory can be short-term, while retention is long-term. How many people “cram” for a test, memorizing the information needed to pass a test only to forget the information soon after? For information to be retained, something needs to make it stick. According to The Thinking Kid, “Hands-on learning better engages both the left and right sides of the brain. On the left side of the brain, listening and analyzing processes occur. The right side handles visual and spatial processes. By using multiple styles of learning, the brain creates better connections and can store more relevant information. Brain scans also indicate increased activity in motor-related and sensory parts of the brain when thinking about concepts they learned through hands-on experience.”

  • Improved Test Scores & Stronger Relationships: When teachers facilitate hands-on activities, it gives them greater opportunities to connect with their students in a way that traditional models of teaching do not afford. Building partnerships in the learning journey forges a positive and collaborative learning environment. This environment and learning model has been shown to improve test scores significantly, as well as attendance and engagement. (Destination Imagination)

  • Increases Attention & Curiosity: With hands-on learning, students are actively participating in their learning rather than passively being taught materials that may or may not stick. With this active engagement, attention increases as students’ minds and bodies are interacting with the concepts they are learning. This active involvement sparks their curiosity and fuels their passion to ask more questions and find more answers.

  • Builds Teamwork, Problem Solving, & Critical thinking: Some of the biggest achievements, discoveries, and inventions happened by studying a subject through investigation and hands-on trial and error. Reading alone does not always spark the process as effectively as putting that knowledge into action. Allowing students to work together, as most adults are able to do in the workplace, strengthens their skills at working with others and bringing individual skills together for the betterment of the whole. Improved problem-solving and critical thinking skills are a natural outcome of allowing students to investigate and discover answers through doing.

  • Instills Ownership & Management Skills: As students are given a project to work on and allowed to have some autonomy in how they complete it, they learn the art of having ownership in something. With this sense of ownership, they can take pride in their work and develop the skills necessary to manage the completion of the project. Kathleen McClaskey provides great insight, “Ownership to learning means that a learner is motivated, engaged and self-directed. It means they can monitor their own progress and are able to reflect on their learning based on mastery of content. In addition, the learner has the skills, knowledge and dispositions to independently direct and design their own learning experiences and is skilled in selecting and using tools, resources, strategies and a Personal Learning Networks (PLN) to support their learning.”

  • It’s Fun, Creative, & Engaging: In an article on eSchool News, Pat Dickerson says, “Imagine 30 sixth-graders racing to your classroom every day, so excited about learning that they are willing to think critically and problem-solve for the next 49 minutes. This is my world every day. I’ve been teaching for more than 30 years, and this is the most excited I’ve ever seen students.” Working with real-world applications in a setting that allows for curiosity, while supporting students’ inquisitive natures lends to creativity that abounds. Students and teachers alike will naturally be engaged as learning happens in a fun way! 


Benefits of Hands-On Learning

How to Incorporate Hands-On Learning

Incorporating hands-on learning in the classroom is one of the best steps you can take to help your students thrive! Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Use Child1st learning resources: hands-on learning is integrated into every lesson. There are even some great free resources you can start using today!

  • Preschool: Hands On as We Grow provides some great activities for math and science that will engage your young students. They will be having so much fun they may not even realize they are learning.

  • Promote pride of ownership: A great example of this comes from Mrs. Montville, a teacher in Massachusetts, “Promoting pride of ownership and encouraging students to maintain a clean and safe classroom will help encourage responsibility. Empowering students by providing them with a vacuum cleaner, Swiffer, Lysol wipes, and gloves will make our classroom the best it can be and is a great step towards fostering this sense of pride and responsibility.”

  • Hands-On Lesson Plans: Ditch That Textbook hosted a Twitter chat, asking for successful hands-on teaching lessons. Users shared a lot of great ways to get students connected to learning in ways that stick! Try some or all of their strategies or create some of your own.

  • Go on field trips: Schedule time for students to visit places where they will encounter real-world jobs and have a chance to learn some of the skills required. Being able to see first-hand what adults do every day when they go to work provides valuable learning opportunities. Students are able to see how what they are learning in the classroom relates to life after school is completed.

  • Job shadowing: As students get older, arrange for opportunities to job shadow in different industries. Being able to get a clearer picture of what a job entails helps students learn what jobs they may or may not like. This can direct their studies and help them understand what they need to do to get into their career of choice.

  • Other Ideas: You could also take this opportunity to learn about Groundhog Day, Groundhogs, Hibernation, Shadows, Weather, etc.


Hands-on learning is a vital component to students’ success in school and in life. There are numerous ways to blend activities into the classroom without creating a heavier workload for teachers. The benefits you will reap are far greater than the work it takes. Try it today and witness your students’ joy and success!

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