According to the 2024 Gitnux MarketData Report, hands-on learning in high school nets a higher return on the investment that educators, students and parents make.

Ninety percent of students polled believe they learn better with hands-on learning methods, and 62% of teachers believe when hands-on learning is combined with digital tools, students learn better. About 70% of all learning happens when it involves hands-on learning.

In this article, we’ll explore these questions:

  1. What does hands-on learning in high school look like?
  2. How does Learnwell use hands-on learning in its high school curriculum?
  3. What do current high school students believe is helpful about the hands-on learning they take part in?
  4. What are the overall goals that guide a Learnwell high school education?

What Does Hands-on Learning in High School Look Like?

If you have an elementary school student, it’s usually pretty easy to envision what hands-on learning looks like. Students in K-5th grade have ample opportunities to learn experientially through touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound. However, as students get older, experiential learning tends to fade to the tune of academic research, memorization of facts, and essays.

But hands-on learning in high school is an effective tool for synthesis of information, so students thrive on it. This can be in the form of real-world application, experiential learning through exploration, and project-based learning that requires them to engage in the deeper study of a particular concept.

How Do Learnwell Students Experience Hands-on Learning?

Learnwell high school students get to experience learning in a variety of hands-on ways:

  • Learning how to shoot and edit video in the Learnwell Storylab video production suite
  • Taking part in 9th grade job shadowing experiences with career mentors throughout the school year
  • Participating in leadership opportunities to share discipleship values with younger students through hands-on models
  • Fusing information they’ve learned in their book with exploration of these concepts in the Learnwell science lab for subjects such as biology and physical science
  • Testing theories by trying them out in class
  • Deepening their understanding of a concept by creating a piece of art that shows the concepts at work in fields of art, technology, engineering or science
  • Obtaining real-world knowledge of career opportunities through internships in 10th and 11th grade
  • Visiting college campuses in 9th and 10th grade to see what types of universities are like at varying sizes and with differing fields of study and concentration
  • Project-based learning that allows them to understand how to problem solve, work with others, and reflect on what they’ve learned in meaningful ways

One of the stories our founder and principal, Dr. Melissa Shipman, tells is about her experience as a former high school guidance counselor. Before she started Learnwell, Dr. Shipman would meet with 11th graders as their school guidance counselor to help them forge a path for their future.

She would have multiple students sit in her office who were what she called “good at school,” but they had no idea how God had gifted them, what their talents were, or what they were passionate about in life. While they were wired to do school well, they were not taught how to reflect on what they learned and how those concepts intersected with their passions, interests and talents.

Yes, high school students at Learnwell still need the right credits to meet Georgia state standards, and they will graduate with the requirements set forth by the Georgia Board of Regents. But they will also graduate with so much more than what’s required to “do school well.”

Our goal is that they graduate with a teen level of understanding about how God designed them uniquely and intentionally, giving them strengths, challenges, passions, talents and gifts. As they discover who they are in Him and how His design intersects with their talents and interests, they’re much more prepared to go into the real world with confidence about themselves and their future.

The high school teachers and counselors at Learnwell consider it a privilege to journey alongside students as they discover these things about themselves.

What Learnwell Students Are Saying about Hands-on Learning in High School

Students at Learnwell have given feedback about how they’re learning and why hands-on learning in high school makes a difference to them. One student shared that with texbooks, it’s easier to zone out but hands-on learning has helped her understand how things work — which helps her remember the concepts more.

Another student shared about specific project-based learning that allowed him to recall the information and apply it to his own life. He said, “In Health, I did a project on sleep. I put a lot of creative effort into it and the hands-on aspect of the project helped cement everything I learned about the pros and cons of sleep, how to use sleep to your advantage, how to sleep healthily, and some additional tips and facts.”

What one student shared about a civics project is one of the reasons many educators get into the field of education — to impact not just a few years of a student’s life but the entirety of it. That civics project was an assignment where students created and designed a visual represenation to display a personal mission statement for their life.

The student shared, “Making my personal mission statement for life really helped me understand more about who I am and who God has wired me to be. Spending time and effort personalizing our creative representations of ourselves and our mission statements, that’s when it sticks. It sticks when it hits home, when you care about it, can make a personal connection, and are genuinely engaged in it.”

Indeed, that is the highest level of learning according to Bloom’s Taxonomy — the ability to evaluate what you’ve learned in the context of your personal beliefs and opinions.

(Photo attribution: Center for Teaching Vanderbilt University)

What Are the Overall Goals that Guide a Learnwell High School Education?

Throughout their high school career, students at Learnwell will have given presentations or led other students in group projects at least 30 times, and this doesn’t include what they do in their job shadowing, career internships, and the businesses or services they’ll create as student entrepreneurs their senior year.

Why is this significant?

Real-world learning means that students get to practice what it’s like when they get into their careers or post-high school fields of study. They’re equipped to speak publicly, share information concisely yet clearly, and they understand how to combine their knowledge and interests with that of others to accomplish a common goal.

These skills contribute to the overall goals we have for all Learnwell graduates. We want students to graduate with confidence about how they learn and what tools work well for them to manage their own lives and studies. Another goal is for a Learnwell graduate to be hopeful about their future. This kind of hope comes from exploring and identifying some of the gifts, talents and passions God has given them.

Image by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

We also want Learnwell graduates to be empathetic and kind friends. This comes from learning how to work with different personalities, growing in their journey of faith, and learning how God may want to speak to them personally about who they are and how HIs desires are hard-wired into their hearts. Learnwell graduates are also effective communicators, both publicly and interpersonally, because they’ve had enough hands-on learning in high school to merit both styles of communication.

Some examples of how they’ve learned how to communicate include

  • Public speeches – One example is the welcome speech that ninth graders make at eighth-grade graduation to welcome their peers into Learnwell’s high school.
  • Presentations – Students regularly present to their peers and other grade levels about what they are learning. One example is when the ninth graders presented to the entire elementary school their end-of-year discipleship projects.
  • Project-Based Assignments – All high school students receive group work, which helps them learn how to communicate with other students and work toward a common goal. They also have additional opportunities to work together through the Storylab Fellows program and extracurricular activities such as the yearbook staff.
  • Leadership Opportunities – Students in high school have opportunities to lead their peers and participate in how programming is shaped from year to year. For example, the ninth graders worked with the 8th-grade class last year to come up with themes for Spirit Week that the entire school could celebrate.
  • Real-World Career Exploration – Whether it’s a job shadow experience in 9th grade, an internship in 10th or 11th grade, or presentation about the business they’ve begun in 12th grade, students at Learnwell are required to work alongside and with professionals in real-world settings. This requires learning how to be effective communicators.
  • Classroom Discussions – Because Learnwell has smaller class sizes, sitting around a table across from the teacher and other students isn’t uncommon. Students learn how to have lively debates about current issues in civics or ask good questions about what they’re learning in English/Language Arts or Discipleship.

Finally, we want graduates to develop a love for reading that lasts a lifetime. By exposing them to the classics and modern works, students get to read a variety of literature throughout their high school career. They also participate in lively discussions about their opinions on what they’re reading inside and outside the classroom. A love of reading will follow students into all fields of study and careers because they are equipped to research, syntehsize what they read, and recognize what’s important to them in life.