a new idea. It has been used in teaching for ages. However, it can be “discovered” as new by successive generations of teachers. In the preface of The Feynman Lectures on Physics, published in 1963, Richard Feynman discussed his experiences teaching introductory physics at the California Institute of Technology (Feynman et al., 1963). He taught 180 students in a large lecture hall. He struggled with how to reach students of varied backgrounds and abilities with the low level of feedback a faculty member receives from students in a large lecture. He concluded,
there isn’t any solution to this problem of education other than to realize that the best teaching can only be done when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher—a situation in which the student discusses the ideas, thinks about things, and talks about the things. It’s impossible to learn very much simply by sitting in a lecture, or even by simply doing the problems that are assigned. But in our modern times we have so many students to teach that we have to try to find some substitute for the ideal.
Drawing from Feynman’s observations, this report attempts to provide guidance on more than just what “things” to think about and talk about, but also how to encourage students to do that thinking and talking and learning.
A study sponsored by the National Institute for Science Education in Madison, Wisconsin, found small group cooperative learning had a large positive effect on students’ comprehension (O’Donnell et al., 1997). A 1995 convocation held by the NSF and the NRC, From Analysis to Action (NRC, 1996), stressed the need for inquiry-based approaches to the teaching of introductory science courses. In 1998, the Boyer Commission released a report, Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities (Kenny and Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, 1998), which looked at all disciplines, not just the sciences. Their recommendations focused on making learning more research-focused, creating opportunities for interdisciplinary learning, and providing capstone experiences for seniors to help them integrate the knowledge they have gained throughout their college career. The NRC report Transforming Undergraduate Education suggests that these kinds of courses can also be very useful in the early years of college to help students see the relationships between different sets of knowledge so that