A post in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education Newsletter summarizes a teaching conference session that demonstrated the power of the “Naive Task,” an exercise assigned, often at the beginning of a class, before any principles, theories or facts have been covered. The reasoning is that students will pay more attention to what the professor has to say about the subject if they’ve already tried to puzzle out an answer with their peers. You can read the account here: The Power of the ‘Naïve-Task’
You may find this paper on team-based learning, published in the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, useful for planning this kind of activity.
An experiential exercise in my Interpersonal Communication Class on the ideal problem-solving group size, which is a kind of naive task, does engage students on more than one level. I plan to try this approach in other classes this fall. If you already throw students in at the deep end, and have observed the results, please share your experience!