The problem I was interested in exploring was the influence
of different kinds of questions on the students’ behaviour.
By carrying out an investigation, I obtained some understanding
of how to encourage students to think critically and ask their
In 2001, I performed two experiments, denoted by S1 and
S2 as described below, to study how students responded when
asked different types of questions. About seventy students
at Level 2 were involved in the two experiments. Since there
are many concepts in physics that are not easy to understand
for students, I selected two such concepts for the two experiments.
The process of the experiments and the results are as follows.
S1 consisted of two steps. First, various aspects of a concept
were explained; most of the students responded by just accepting
what was taught without any queries. Next, the students were
questioned about how the concept taught is possibly related
to other concept(s); the students thought for a while and
a few subsequently offered their answers.
It was observed that most of the students did not find it
easy to grasp the spirit of the concept although they could
repeat most of its properties and relate it to other concept(s).
Upon further analysis, I realised that the students did not
understand why the concept had been introduced, (i.e. the
situation in which the concept had been introduced). Such
knowledge is extremely important for one to understand difficult
concepts. These observations prompted me to conduct the second
S2 consisted of three steps:
- I explained to the students the background knowledge,
in particular, an old theory, which are useful in introducing
- I presented some new phenomena that could not be explained
by the old theory, then, asked the students: “How
would you improve the theory to explain the new phenomena?”
The students responded by giving some suggestions.
- I followed up on the students’ suggestions and
discussed the possible results. Finally, I introduced the
concept. The students responded by raising more suggestions.
Then, some of the students even began asking why some of
the suggestions could not work.
The teaching method used in S2 was successful in arousing
the students’ curiosity about the phenomena surrounding
the concept and helping them to understand why a new concept
had to be introduced in the face of unexplained phenomena.
It is important for students to cultivate such knowledge and
ability if they wish to pursue a career in research. The S2
method also challenges the lecturer: the lecturer must have
wide-ranging knowledge and a strong analytical ability to
cope with the students’ suggestions in Step 3. Note
that the lecturer should not just declare that a student’s
suggestion as unfeasible; instead, he/she must take the time
to explain why it cannot work.
To conclude, I wish to highlight that both S1 and S2 have
their own advantages and one should not simply assume that
S2 is better than S1 by the experiments explained above. S1
may be better for explaining concepts that are not counterintuitive
because it is more systematic than S2 and takes less time.
In contrast, S2 is suitable for explaining concepts that seem
counterintuitive, or not obvious at the first sight.