Hands-On Investigation

Learning Science by Doing Science

It is widely accepted that children learn science concepts best by doing science. Hands-on activities are motivating for students, and they stimulate inquiry and curiosity. For these reasons FOSS is committed to providing the best possible materials and the most effective procedures for getting students deep into scientific concepts. FOSS students investigate, experiment, gather data, organize results, and develop conclusions based on their own actions. The information gathered in such activities enhances the development of scientific ways of thinking.

FOSS investigations use age-appropriate objects, organisms, and materials to encourage first-hand experiences with the natural and designed worlds. Every investigation undergoes rigorous classroom testing to ensure that facilitation guidance and activity materials provide an optimal experience for teachers and students.


FOSS investigations are guided by questions. The overarching questions of science are "What's in this world?", and "How does it work?" In FOSS we break them down into discrete subquestions as scientists must, that can be explored effectively. In pursuing answers, students usually start with free exploration of materials, followed by a discussion of their discoveries. Often new questions arise while students seek answers, leading to additional student-motivated inquiries with materials to reinforce and extend concepts.

Multisensory Methods

students work with FOSS balance

Observing is often equated with seeing, but in the FOSS program all five senses are used to promote greater understanding. FOSS evolved from pioneering work done in the 1970s with students with physical disabilities. The legacy of that work is that FOSS investigations naturally use multisensory methods, not only to accommodate students with physical and learning disabilities, but also to maximize information gathering for all students. A number of tools used in the FOSS program, such as the FOSS balance, were originally designed to serve the needs of students with disabilities.

Student-to-Student Interaction

Collaboration is central to the enterprise of science. In FOSS investigations for grades 3-6, students work in groups of four with each member contributing to management, data collection, data analysis, and reporting of results. Individual students' observations and ideas are always incorporated into group decisions. Hands-on science, where students collaborate in planning, action, and information processing, gives students opportunities to develop deep understanding and rich, thoughtful interactions with other points of view.

Students in the early grades are just beginning to work cooperatively toward group goals. They do not always share materials gracefully. We have found that in grades K-2 it is usually best for each student at a table to have his or her own materials to work with. But working in close proximity to other students is important; it allows for easy interchange of ideas and communication of discoveries. We refer to this early-elementary organization as working alone...together.