The Power of Physics

physics: transforming lives

There is a preponderance of evidence which shows that hands on learning for students always results in peak performance, both on assessments and in the classroom.  Although physics is typically taught within a textbook driven atmosphere, many schools are experimenting with the notion of “learning by doing”.

Recent studies conducted by the University of Chicago revealed that students who were met with a hands-on approach to physics “had activation in sensory and motor-related parts of the brain when they later thought about concepts such as angular momentum and torque” (Ingmire, 2015).  This belief was reified by the outcome of quiz performances; college physics students who elected to be part of the study tended to do better than those who were taught in a traditional learning environment.   Additional research related to this subject has proven that, without a doubt, college level physics teaching styles have massive implications for student preparedness and success.

This is great news for college students who enjoy the benefits of exploratory physics, but what about performance in the early years?

In 2008, Brian J. Foley of California State University and Cameron McPhee of McPhee Consulting (2008) endeavored to investigate this very notion.  Considering elementary school student attitudes and predispositions toward science, Foley and McPhee evaluated the benefits and drawbacks of hands-on versus textbook based curriculum.  In his findings, they concluded that, while hands-on curriculum might not always result in “science learning gains”, it is correlated with student interest; “the motivational aspect of hands-on curriculum may be an important component in increasing the number of students who study science in high school and college” (Foley & McPhee, 2008).

Despite Foley and McPhee’s assertion that hands-on learning may not be precisely correlated with student achievement in science (relative to the early years), the very idea that traditional learning does not foster student interest is enough to lend credence to the claim that there is immense value found in hands-on learning.  While any style of teaching may help to elicit correct responses to grade appropriate material, perhaps hands-on learning truly provides the power, inspiring a student to pursue a science-focused lifelong path or career.

Earlier this month, PCS released the Discover Robotics & Physics material, which engages students in their process of learning about anything from pneumatics to advanced designs using multiple variables.  While there is a variety of 2D physics learning products available to educators, PCS offers a unique model that provides a comprehensive 3D experience, which adds tremendous value to the classroom experience.  Concepts like real energy transfer may seem abstract or unimportant to some students, but when presented with the opportunity to build robots or manipulatives as vehicles to knowledge application, those same students may take a new interest in physics.  This may be just the encouragement a student needs to consider a future in STEM!


Ingmire, J. (2015, April 29). Learning by doing helps students perform better in science. Retrieved October 28, 2015, from

Foley, B.J. & McPhee, C. (2008). Students’ attitudes towards science in classes using hands-on or textbook based curriculum. AERA.


By: Lindsay Reeves

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