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A Design Process For Conceptually Based, Counterintuitive Problems

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovations in Mechanical Engineering Education Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.37.1 - 12.37.15



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Paper Authors


Louis Everett University of Texas-El Paso

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Louis J. Everett is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas El Paso. Dr. Everett is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Texas and has research interests in the use of technology in the classroom. His technical research interests include robotics, machine design, dynamics and control systems.

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Arunkumar Pennathur University of Texas-El Paso

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Design Process for Conceptual Based, Counter- Intuitive Problems


In recent work funded by the National Science Foundation (DUE-0411320), significant improvement in student performance and retention in a sophomore dynamics class was obtained using a series of interventions. These improvements and the interventions have been described elsewhere.1, 2

One component of each intervention is the use of a counter-intuitive (CI) problem based classroom activity. The term “counter-intuitive” refers to a problem that appears to have an obvious, simple answer yet displays a behavior opposite to “common sense”. The significance of these counter-intuitive activities was discussed in previous publications and the hypothesis proposed to explain their significance is that they produce learning moments by creating a sense of surprise and excitement in the students.

This paper presents a heuristic that can be used to help create new counter- intuitive learning activities. Although the act of creation can never be automated, it is possible to: (1) establish criteria for a “good” activity, (2) provide resources for identifying underlying concepts, and (3) suggest thought processes to guide in creating the activity.

The process described in this paper was tested in a faculty workshop where faculty worked to prepare learning activities. The workshop included faculty from several Engineering departments and the college of science. Faculty worked in areas they were comfortable teaching. Workshop results suggest that the design process is valid and it is possible to develop counter-intuitive activities for several disciplines.

The processes presented in the paper are based on prior literature that describes what other authors have used successfully. The contributions of the present paper are: (a) to gather these resources together in one location, (b) the establishment of a design procedure for counter-intuitive learning activities, and (c) testing of the design process.

At the present time, only the design process has been tested to demonstrate that it yields new activities. Ultimately, these new activities must be used in a classroom to assess their effect on students. It is possible that the activities are too simple or too complex. If they are too simple, they may not be counter-intuitive to many students. If they are too complex, they may generate high frustration and actually

Everett, L., & Pennathur, A. (2007, June), A Design Process For Conceptually Based, Counterintuitive Problems Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1586

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