Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Why so serious?" meme - this year's "This is Sparta!"

Last year thousands of students inserted the phrase "This is Sparta!" into their AP essays. It looks like this year the phrase will be "Why so serious?"

What do you all think of this new tradition? It was actually amusing at the AP psych reading last year, but I was a little worried how student would respond this year after succeeding so well last year. How would you react if you knew your students participated? Does this worry or amuse you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

New AP Psychology Course Description

The College Board has just released a new edition of the AP Psychology Course Description, commonly called the "Acorn Book", for the May 2010 and May 2011 exams. This book, written by the AP Psychology Test Development Committee, provides the primary framework of a typical AP Psychology course.

The Test Development Committee has re-designed much of the Acorn Book to include learning objectives for each of the fourteen content areas. This is a "must read" for all AP Psychology teachers this summer.

The new Acorn Book can be found at within the AP Central website or purchased from the College Board store at

A special thanks to Mary Spilis of Charlevoix, MI for providing the genesis for this posting. Please send any ideas you might have for future postings on the Teaching High School Psychology blog to Kent Korek at or any of the other moderators.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wiki Pages

I took a slightly different twist on Wikis than Rob is proposing in the previous posting. When someone mentions wikis most people's thoughts turn to Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia. A wiki, as defined by Wikipedia, is "any website that uses wiki software..." The key to most wikis is the software used and collaborative nature of the work. I wanted to take this concept and apply it to a group project for my AP Psychology students.

For many, many years, just prior to the AP Psychology Exam, I had my students work in groups to create review outlines of the various AP Psychology units. These outlines were then reproduced for everyone to use in their preparations for the exam. Students found the project very useful. For me the activity was, as most group projects are, a bit difficult to grade as you could never tell who was truly responsible for what. In addition, it was very hard to quickly reproduce the needed copies for over 125 students.

This year, rather than create paper reviews outlines, the students created electronic wiki outlines. Wikispaces (one of a number of companies that provides this service) at provides free wiki space for teachers. Students worked on their outlines by going to the website, making needed changes right on the main document.

The site allows me to restrict membership to just my students and tracks all changes made to each page. I could look at the history page for each outline and see exactly what each student did. I must admit I still had some problems distinguishing who did what as some groups delegated the task of uploading all the material to the wiki page to one student. The site even includes a discussion page which some students used to work out problems they were having with the wiki word processor.

The activity was far from problem free and I have a number of changes for next year. Please contact me at if you are interested in hearing about those or for more information on the wiki outline project. For the first time through, I felt the project was successful enough to warrant repeating next year.

Your Students = Wikipedia Editors

Anyone ever edited or contributed to a Wikipedia page? I've been fascinated with Wikipedia's group editing process since I first heard about the idea, and I've always wanted to get students involved. I tried to get this rolling in my psychology club this year, but we ran into too many snags with our district's firewall. So I thought I'd share the idea with y'all and hope that some enterprising psych teacher can actually get this done.

Here was my plan: ask students to poke around in psychology topics on Wikipedia until they find a page for a psych topic (term, concept, experiment, psychologist, etc.) that seems "thin" - one that needs more information, better information, better references, etc. (My choice would have been - Wolfe deserves more than that entry!). Then your students research to fill in the gaps, write up potential revisions to the page, and submit the changes to Wikipedia. Hopefully there are other "editors" out there in Wiki-space who are monitoring that page and the students will get the experience of discussing the potential changes and going through a revision process. In the end, your students may see their work represented permanently on Wikipedia and they will be much more experienced not only in their chosen topic, but in the process of "Web 2.0" knowledge "creation" and writing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

APA Topics Page

The American Psychological Association's (APA) Topics page provides basic information on a variety of subjects. Each subject area includes articles from APA press releases, books & videos, journals, internal APA resources and the journal Monitor on Psychology. While many of the links are designed for the layperson, high school students can find a wealth of information.

Click on any of the topic areas below or go to the main listing at







Bipolar disorder



Death & dying


Eating disorders

Emotional health

Hate crimes



Kids & the media

Law & psychology

Learning & memory

Marriage & divorce

Natural disasters







Sexual Abuse






Testing issues




Women & men

Workplace issues

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Terrific Gestalt examples
 has a great post of corporate logos with "hidden messages" that are also perfect examples to use when discussing Gestalt psychology. From closure to figure-ground to continuity (and more!) here are 25 examples that would be great for students to dissect.

I used the FedEx logo in class earlier this year -- I found it on a page of Gestalt examples and had no idea what principle it represented! When I finally saw the arrow I knew I had to use that example in class.

Do you have other similar stories or favorite Gestalt examples? Share them in the comments!

Monday, May 18, 2009


Funded through grants from the NSF, ePsych is a web site designed to teach students at all levels, the concepts of a traditional introductory psychology course using learning modules, guidebooks and interactive activities. Students can perform Java based experiments, use video clips and animated diagrams.

Still in the development state, ePsych has a large number of activities for units taught earlier in the year/semester (biological influences, sensation, and perception), though a version of a Skinner Box is included.

ePsych can be accessed at Please leave a comment with your impressions if you have used ePsych in your classroom.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Speed of Information and Our Place in the World

While this does not relate directly to the teaching of psychology, it does relate to our growth as learners and implications on both teaching and learning. It is a video called, "Did You Know?" and it contains a number of statistical facts about technology, the number of people in the world/regions of the world, and global competition.

The original video on YouTube was described this way: Wonderful, concise video that helps raise awareness of the issues of globalization in our newly connected world first raised in Thomas Friedman's book, The World is Flat. Karl Fisch remixed content from David Warlick, Thomas Friedman, Ian Jukes, Ray Kurzweil and others, added some music, and came up with the following presentation.

Version 3.0 is described this way: 3.0 for 2008 - Newly Revised Edition Created by Karl Fisch, and modified by Scott McLeod; Globalization & The Information Age. It was even adapted by Sony BMG at an executive meeting they held in Rome this year. Credits are also given to Scott McLeod, Jeff Brenman

Within a psychology class, one could use it as an exercise in critical thinking. What do you think the authors' intentions were with the video? How would the average American view this video--any emotional reactions? If so, why? Were the positive or negative emotions-explain. Are the statistics accurate? If they are, how are they being used in crafting a message about the future of the world and our role as Americans within the world? What messages are being sent? How does the video use images? Does it over or underwhelm? Explain. How is text used to create a message? One could even go into personality theories and how each might react to this (e.g. Adler and inferiority complex, Rogers and unconditional positive regard, etc.)

I leave it to our readers to add their own questions to the comments section.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

2009 Illusion of the Year

The 2009 Illusion of the year has been announced! And its a good one - a powerful motion illusion. It works well for me on my screen and I bet it would work well for an entire class if it was projected. My challenge with these perceptual illusions is always relating them to the perception principles in the text (they are often VERY complex) but the description provided for this illusion is pretty clear. The web site also allows viewers to change the parameters of the illusion, etc.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Advanced Placement Summer Institutes (APSI)

As our thoughts of preparing for the AP Psychology Exam turn to the end of the school year, many teachers start thinking about AP Summer Institutes (APSI). These week long adventures designed for both the beginning and seasoned AP teacher, provide valuable insights into the teaching of any AP Psychology course. I've heard many a teacher say the APSI is probably the one best thing that has helped their teaching of AP Psychology with the possible exception of being a reader.

AP Psychology Advanced Placement Summer Institutes (APSI)are offered at over 50 locations throughout the country, and designed for new, experienced or both new and experienced AP teachers. Most last four or five days and are run by endorsed consultants of the College Board.

To learn more about a specific institute, go to the Institutes and Workshop section of AP Central at The site includes a search engine where you can find a APSI in your part of the country. You can search by topic, date, and/or location.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Using 12 Angry Men in Intro Psych

Looking for a meaningful post-AP or year-end activity? I have had a lot of success in the past with the movie 12 Angry Men, particularly as a vehicle to tie together many varied strands of social psychology. If you haven't seen the film, it's a 90-minute real-time depiction of the deliberation of a jury in a murder trial. The initial vote in the jury room is 11-1 guilty, and that's when the fun starts. Among the topics that you can illustrate here are minority influence, groupthink, group polarization, conformity, obedience, stereotype, scapegoat, persuasion and more. You can also bring in concepts from other units as well such as belief perseverance ("I still think he's guilty") and the concerns of eyewitness testimony.

There are many resources on the Internet for building a lesson plan around this film. Here is an interesting one that uses bingo cards for students to identify when they identify social psych concepts in the film. There's also a nice list of quotations from the film that match those concepts. Here's another one, a little old, but again it covers these same social psych concepts. If you have access there's a nice series of journal articles in the October 2007 issue of Negotiation Journal, including a satire written from the point of the view of the defendant who had been found not guilty by the jury but who admits he actually did it. And this site has mini-bios of each juror, along with a numbered photo of the group (handy since only two names are exchanged, and the only in the penultimate line of the film.)

[Long ago when teaching civics I had my students create the next day's newspaper based on this film, with various "reporters" covering the trial itself, reactions from the attorneys, neighbors, families, witnesses, jurors, etc. Some wise guy usually would include a scoop interview with the killer who admits he did it. Too bad I didn't think to get that published then!]

If you are planning on giving a written assignment, however, please also be aware that there are numerous sites where students can find term papers and other work on the subject. That aside, I think it's an excellent movie that will allow your students to put their knowledge in action as well as appreciate a fine example of American cinema.

How about you -- have you used 12 Angry Men? How so?

EDIT: Photo replaced (it didn't load when I viewed it the 2nd time.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Teller - Cogitive Psychology of Magic

Anyone seen a Penn and Teller show? I'd love to see them live someday, but until then I'll just continue to read and be fascinated by their original, skeptical perspective on the universe. This article from WIRED about the connections Teller sees between magic, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience might be a great way to "wind down" after the AP exam? Fascinating stuff about how magicians use principles from perception to "fool" audiences. There is a group of neuroscientists at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona working with magicians to identify these principles (the group already published their research in Nature)

Here's a quote that provides a sense of what the article is about:
"By reverse-engineering these deceptions, Macknik hopes to illuminate the mental loopholes that make us see a woman get sawed in half or a rabbit appear out of thin air even when we know such stuff is impossible. Magicians were taking advantage of these cognitive illusions long before any scientist identified them."

AP Psychology Exam - Last Minute Items

With the AP Psychology Exam on Tuesday, many of us are reaching the end to a long journey that started last September. Below are some of the "last minute" items I tell my students.

General Information:
  • Tuesday May 13, 2009 in the afternoon
  • Bring pencils with erasers and blue or black pens
  • Bring a watch that does not beep
  • Do not wear any psychology related clothing
  • Do not bring anything else: books, papers, calculators, cell phones, etc.
Multiple Choice Section:
  • 100 multiple choice questions
  • 70 minutes
  • 2/3 of the overall grade
  • A-E Answers
  • Names, charts, graphs, drawings are all possible
  • 1/4 point deduction for guessing
Free Response Section:
  • 2 required Free Response (essay) Questions
  • 50 minutes
  • 1/3 of the overall grade - 1/6 of grade for each question
  • Points are given for correct responses not taken away for incorrect material
  • Points can only be removed if one part of an answer contradicts another part
  • Read through both essays before doing anything else
  • Think through the answer before starting to write
  • Write an outline or notes in the test question booklet
  • Don’t be afraid to cross something out, if needed
  • Write in sentences - DO NOT OUTLINE OR BULLET YOUR ANSWER.
  • Be as complete as possible, but keep to the point.
  • Watch the time. Don’t get caught short on essay #2
  • Structure the answer following the structure of the question
Test Security:
  • Do not discuss the multiple-choice section with anyone
  • Do not discuss the free response questions for 48 hours. The general rule of thumb is wait until the questions have been posted on the College Board website
  • Do NOT post, text, email etc. anything about the exam on the Internet, especially on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks
  • Do not come and visit me between the multiple choice section and free response section
If you have any questions on the above items, please contact me at Please feel free to leave any other ideas in the comments section below. Best of luck to everyone.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Alzheimer's Project

The Alzheimer's Project is a series of films that will air May 10-12 on HBO. In a New York Times review Alessandra Stanley calls it "a sober, deeply affecting" series that "seeks to comfort and encourage" with the message that "a breakthrough — in prevention and treatment, and even possibly a cure — is at hand."

The preview to the series is above. What's amazing is that all four of the films are available now online to view via streaming video. The four are:

The Memory Loss Tapes
Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?
Momentum in Science

This last program would seem to be of special interest to psychology teachers according to Stanley's review:

"State-of-the art diagnostic tools and experimental treatments are explored Monday and Tuesday in “Momentum in Science,” a comprehensive look at the research currently under way, including tests to see whether drugs or vaccines can combat the buildup of amyloid, which many scientists now believe to be a lead culprit in ravaging the brain. The focus of the segment is on encouraging developments and promising prospects, not recent setbacks in clinical trials."

Guessing on the AP Psychology Exam Spreadsheet

One of the most difficult aspects of the AP Psychology Exam for some students to grasp is the penalty for guessing. This is especially true for students who take the ACT which has no penalty versus students who take the SAT which has the same penalty as the AP Psychology exam.

To help explain the guessing penalty I created a spreadsheet detailing how scores are adjusted due to the quarter point deduction for every wrong answer. The chart assumes the student answers all one hundred questions thereby not leaving any questions blank. If they do, they should add one quarter point to the adjusted score for each question they leave blank.

The first column of the chart depicts the number of correct questions a student receives on the AP Psychology Exam. The second column is the point deduction for guessing on all the remaining questions. The third and final column shows the adjusted score after the guessing deduction.

For a larger view of the chart, simply click on the above graphic. To download a PDF or Excel version, go to Please note, there are two versions of the Excel document, one for Excel 2007 (.xlsx) and one for early versions of Excel (.xls).

A curious side note, many SAT preparation books suggest the SAT does NOT have a penalty for guessing rather a wrong-answer penalty. While the end result is the exact same score, the difference in phraseology is interesting.

Friday, May 8, 2009

WebAnatomy Website

Murray Jensen, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, developed the WebAnatomy site to help teach his anatomy and physiology students the various parts of the body. While the site is better suited for an AP Biology course, psychology and AP Psychology students should find the endocrine and nervous sections very useful.

Students have a variety of options including:
  • Test Your Knowledge
  • Race against the clock with timed tests
  • Play Against Another - a multiplayer game
  • Image Bank for
  • Quiz Bowl
The site is located at

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Psych in the news

[I'm guessing everyone is in AP mode, but in case you've got students who aren't taking the exam and are twiddling their thumbs, send 'em here! I'll post several a day over the next few days to clear out my bookmarks.]

Dealing with the sting of rejection

Former San Francisco psychology teacher extraordinaire (and current free-lance education journalist) Patrick Mattimore shared one way he helped seniors deal with the stress of college acceptance/rejection letters (the description of Patrick's activity starts about half way down, under the header "Share the Pain"). Getting a rejection letter can obviously be a very stressful event for an already stressed high school student, and Patrick's "rejection therapy" sessions sound very humane to me, and a very relevant way to introduce some concepts from the therapy/treatment chapter.

Brain Briefings

The Society for Neuroscience ( puts out a monthly publication called "Brain Briefings". The the short newsletter style briefings are designed to "explain how recent advances in basic neuroscience research are leading to clinical applications". Many times they include a variety of topics pertinent to psychology. The March edition discusses Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders.

Brain Briefing publications since 2006 can be found electronically at or you can have future editions sent to your school by sending a request with your full mailing address to

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Great source for social psych

I was looking for an example or two to illustrate a social psych concept when I stumbled upon this treasure trove. Wow! This site, Examples Illustrating Social Psychological Concepts, is edited by Jon Mueller, Professor of Psychology at North Central College, Naperville, IL. There are seemingly endless links to examples of social psych concepts in many different formats. Need a bystander effect video clip? Another fundamental attribution error example? Cartoons? Audio clips? They're all here.

As I browsed around I realized this is a smaller part of an even bigger site, Resources for Teaching Social Psychology. Here is even more for your social psych teaching needs: activities, web projects, lectures, and much much more. I'm off to change my lesson plans for today! Be sure to post in the comments below how your liked this site and what lessons/example/activities worked for you.

UPDATE: I got an e-mail from Professor Mueller today and he would like me to share this as well:

"I just wanted to mention that I also send out a free, monthly email newsletter with the site in which I include new and newly discovered resources and ideas for teaching social psych and related topics. Your readers can subscribe at
You can also read previous issues there in the Archive.
Also, I have collected lots of links for my intro psych course here that you are welcome to browse and use

Monday, May 4, 2009

Make a Personal Psychology Review (MAPPR)

One of the very first postings on this blog included information on Michael A. Britt's where, if you dig down deep enough, you will find what might possibly be a look at the next generation of concept maps.

While in the very early stages of development, the technique called "Make a Personal Psychology Review" (MAPPR), looks extremely promising. The method starts with a standard concept map of a typical unit in an introductory psychology course. Students can then click on any concept or number of concepts on the map and hear a definition and in some cases, an example for each of the terms.

To date, only the Research Methods unit and Learning unit have been mapped out. I am hoping in time, the other units will be added. For more information go to

Friday, May 1, 2009

An Opportunity to Talk with a Textbook Author

Bedford, Freeman and Worth Publishing Group is offering a unique opportunity for high school teachers to hear from authors of two of their popular textbooks through a teleconference phone call.

David Myers, author of many introductory psychology texts, will be available on May 7th and Charlie Blair-Broeker along with Randy Ernst, authors of Thinking About Psychology, will be teleconferencing on May 19th. As time permits, both calls will include questions from the audience.

To be part of one or both of these exciting events, you need to register by sending an email to or contacting your BFW sales representative. Remember space is limited, so please sign up ASAP.

For the specific times or more information on the teleconference calls, simply click on the icon in the right corner of this posting or contact the email address listed above.