In the Age of Technology, Is Touch Obsolete?

Thoughts on Hands-on Aids in Teaching

Clearly technology is marvelous! It connects us to all knowledge all the time. Push a button, and any question is answered. Every structure is pictured; every process is animated. So perhaps tactile learning and kinesthetic learning are now outmoded! But wait. Ask a child. Ask a parent. Ask a lover. Best of all, ask a teacher!

Photo: Baby exploring tree with touch
Babies arrive at birth with an already well-developed sense of touch that continues to inform their perceptions of the world throughout their lives. Above, a 4 1/2 month-old baby, touching the bark of a spruce tree.

Teachers know classrooms are still full of diverse learners. Multiple intelligences and many varied learning modalities still exist. Kids need to move, and they need to use manipulatives. They need the teaching strategies that address these diverse learning styles.   Holding an object in your hand is an intimate act, and it gives possession to the holder. It connects us to the object itself and to the concept it represents. Teachers know how vital it is!

And of course, there is brain research. Marcia Tate and Warren Phillips, writing in their excellent “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites” series, list manipulatives, experiments, labs and models, as well as movement, as essential teaching strategies that address brain-based learning. Tate’s and Phillips’ books cite and quote research rationales from experts in the field. (You can watch Marcia Tate here)

Speaking of touch, many excellent manipulatives are out there. Let students handle a model of a five-pound chunk of human body fat (Life/Form), available at, and they won’t forget your discussion of lipid molecules! Get students at the board, assembling a lipid (triglyceride) molecule from Speak Easies’ Macromolecules Board Kit, holding the pieces and mulling over their placement and function, and the intimacy of touch will facilitate connection, understanding and retention!

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