what they know and what they are experiencing. Similarly, instructors can help students become active learners by motivating them with open-ended questions, puzzles, and paradoxes. What happens when. . . ? Why does that happen? But how can that be, when we know that. . . ?
Thinking Aloud Pair Problem Solving (TAPPS)
A technique called "thinking aloud pair problem solving" (TAPPS) can help students apply difficult concepts. One student of the pair attempts to solve a problem while the other listens and tries to clarify what is being said. Thinking aloud works because it makes students aware of their thought processes as they solve problems; it also helps them quickly see when they make errors or turn into blind alleys (Whimbey, 1986).
Full integration of new knowledge is enhanced by time to reflect. Reflection is especially beneficial immediately following the presentation of new, challenging material. One effective method (Rowe, 1974) is to provide, after ten minutes of lecturing, short periods (a minute or two) for students to think. The necessary structure can be provided by a pertinent question.
Posing Questions about Reading Assignments
Many introductory science texts contain discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Some faculty ask students to consider these questions while they read the chapter, rather than when they have finished it, in order to focus on key ideas. Although some of the questions simply require students to locate factual information, those which go beyond basic definitions (e.g., "Where do you run into this term in your everyday experience?") or which ask the student to think critically about the factual information (e.g., "What does it mean to say the periodic table was useful because it 'worked'? How does this relate to the scientific method?") are better suited for use as the student reads the chapter.
Questions: Trefil and Hazen, 1995.
An alternative to asking questions is to ask students to summarize some important ideas from a previous discussion or the reading assignment. This focuses their attention and gives the teacher an opportunity to assess their level of understanding. Because students' disposition to learn can be influenced by the knowledge or mental frameworks they bring to class, assessing for prior knowledge is an essential component of teaching for active learning. As we shall see in the next chapter, students often approach learning situations with misconceptions or with prior knowledge that actually impedes learning. Students are most likely to change their beliefs if they first develop dissatisfaction with those beliefs and recognize possible alternatives as they prepare themselves to adopt a new, more acceptable view (Anderson and Roth, 1992; Minstrell, 1989; Posner et al., 1982; West and Pines, 1985). Stepans (1994) has summarized major physical science misconceptions and developed a suggested teaching sequence based on Posner's research for helping students con front these ideas. His model of teaching is parallel to the way scientists conduct research and how they resolve discrepancies between their current views and new information they are encountering.
Just as a scientist explores various possibilities for resolving differences between the current view of a subject and new and contradictory information, so too does a teacher have to provide students with a chance to explore their ideas. This could be a laboratory experiment that helps students take the first step in finding answers to the questions posed in lecture or in class. Informal investigation, whether it occurs in the laboratory, in small group discussion sessions, or during a search of the World Wide Web, gives students firsthand exposure to inquiry.
Students need to talk with peers and their teacher in order to articulate what they have experienced during these explorations. Talking helps students work through their preliminary thoughts about a concept. Some structure and guidelines can help students find a forum to discuss and clarify their thinking. You might ask students to form small groups in order to work on problems and discuss major concepts, for example, those which relate to the lab experiment.