Strategies for Encouraging Students to Make New Connections

When students make connections between facts, ideas, pathways, processes, styles, fields of study or problems, they are more likely to:
remember what they’ve thought about in making that connection;
be engaged by the process and think some more;
seek further information or connections.
I don’t have evidence for this beyond personal experience as a teacher and a learner.  But truly, it makes sense.

There are 3 sections here taken from newsletters about helping students make connections.
The first, Encouraging Connections,  has some basic ideas for encouraging students to make connections and opening that possibility within the classroom.
The second, Integrated Learning, was written with a focus on connections that cross fields of study.  This post was accompanied by an activity that encourages students to solve physiological problems using information, ideas and solutions from other classes, experiences or fields of study.  That exercise, Creatively Solving the Body’s Problems, can be found at this link:

The third, Change the Way You Ask Questions suggests that wording, thinking and environment can help open the brain to new connections.


1) Encouraging Connections

Basically anything that encourages students to think less linearly; to associate things both within the field and between fields; to match, compare, contrast may help them make more memorable, thought provoking connections.  Here are a few ideas related to A&P.

· Pull out the flash cards and see who can make the most associations between 2 random cards.  Anything goes!

· Ascribe colors to body parts or processes and tell why you chose that color

· Name bones / hormones / cell types… after characters from movies or novels, share how you made your choices

· Decide what anatomic parts look like and try to associate their name with what it reminds you of.

· Develop hand signals to represent things.  A participant at a HAPS workshop I presented suggested the victory sign made with both hands and the v’s pointed towards each other simulating the phospholipid bilayer.  Her students made the sign at each other in the hallway.  Solidarity!

· Make ink blots and then have students say what is the first A&P related item or pathway the ink blot makes them think of.  Explore why.

2) Integrated Learning:

Although you alone can not develop an integrated learning program at your college or university wherein subjects are intentionally mixed or cross-taught (compiling principles, facts and activities between subjects), you can introduce this idea to your classroom and to your students.  Students who can see relationships between fields of study and even within the language of the classes they take are more likely to be interested, to ask questions and to remember what they think about.

Encourage students to compare what they learn in A&P to other classes, no matter the subject.  Is there any overlap in vocabulary, mechanics or ideas?  Can they find any similarities between principles, ideas or facts taught in different classes?  Do the same historical figures appear in different contexts?  Does a picture, idea, process or word remind them of something from another field?

Here is how to further encourage students to allow their thoughts, and their learning to cross subject barriers.
A) Be an example!  Share your own cross-subject musings / analyses and comparisons in lecture and lab.  There are lots of opportunities for mechanical comparisons with plumbing, and machinery in the human body.  See what other fields you can incorporate, or other comparisons you can make with your subject.

B) Encourage students to share their own cross-subject musings / analysis and comparisons in lecture and lab – or if there is no time, on a section of BlackBoard.  Have a contest to name the section.

C) Another way to think about it is to encourage metaphorical thinking.  Never belittle student metaphors – even if you think them silly, or non-scientific.  A metaphor, or comparison is active, engaged thinking that is much more likely to be remembered than memorizing a ‘fact,’ especially by a student who finds the fact dull.

D) While there are right answers for questions such as what kind of muscle tissue is found in the heart, there are not right answers for comparisons that engage student thinking, or for solutions to physiological or structural injuries or problems.

Hey – if Lady GaGa can make a dress, boots and hat out of raw meat, then surely we can come up with some interesting references, comparisons, or even models of the human body.

#3) Change the Way You Ask Questions
“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different”  – Nobel Prize winning physician, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Change the way you ask questions to garner more answers.

In the case of solving physiological or structural problems with the body there are potentially many answers that could be ‘right’ or helpful.   Roger Von Oech, PhD, encourages us to generate and allow ‘second right answers’ and states the following in his book, A Whack on the Side of the Head: How to Unlock Your Mind for Innovation, “One technique for finding the second right answer is to change the questions you use to probe a problem.  For example, how many times have you heard someone say, ‘What is the answer?’ or ‘What is the meaning?’ or ‘What is the result?’  These people are looking for the answer, and the meaning, and the result.  If you train yourself to ask, ‘What are the answers?’ and ‘What are the meanings?’ and ‘What are the results,’ you will find that people will think a little more deeply and offer more than one idea.”

When the host of the party is willing to hear more than one thought from more than one person, the conversation can become more dynamic, interesting and MEMORABLE!  You, the professor, are the host of the conversation in your classroom.  Allow deeper, fuller participation by allowing the broad range of experience and ideas in your students to surface, be shared and explored.