Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The First Day of 2010-2011 School Year

While I (Kent) am completely aware many of you following this blog have been back in school for some time, today was our first day of classes at Germantown High. In the infinite wisdom of our state (WI), students cannot legally start before September 1st.

That being the case, my summer hiatus from school has come to a rapid close as well as the break I've taken from this blog. I'm looking forward to another school year with my AP Psychology students and the opportunity to dialog with my psychology colleagues from around the world (approximately 20% of our visitors come from outside the US).

Last year at this time I introduced the Midnight Postings. My hope was to present some useful ideas for your classrooms and bring a sense of continuity to the hodgepodge of thoughts and ideas that normally is found in many blogs. As the THSP blog is a year and a half old with a strong base of followers, I would like to return to the free-flowing nature of postings.

The "Stranger Paper" is an assignment I present the first day of every year. Very early in the class period, usually right after I have introduced myself, I ask the students to find someone in the classroom that they don't know or don't know very well. At this point many students think we are doing the prep work for some type of "boundary breaking" activity where I will ask them to interview this stranger and then introduce them to the class. Imagine their surprise when I tell them for the next few days I want them to watch this person and eventually write a paper about their personality characteristics. I stress the paper should NOT be a simple listing of what the person wore and did but conclusions about their stranger based on those observations.

The students seems to find the paper interesting and a bit of a challenge. In time, we can discuss the limitations to naturalistic observation and the tentative nature of their conclusions. The paper creates a sense of excitement that separates AP Psychology from the other classes that spent the first day going over the syllabus and classroom rules.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the Stranger Paper.


Oregoncornhusker said...

Love this idea! A few questions: Are these shared to the class or just to you? Does everyone find one other person so that every person in class has one paper written about them?

Also, you mentioned a few uses for this paper for future reference (ie limitations of naturalistic observation, tentative results), but only vaguely suggested other uses. What are some of those other uses?

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I stumbled upon your blog as I am one of those first year psych teachers that has nothing to go from! I am interested in the same types of questions as Oregoncornhusker and will be looking forward to your reply / the rest of the semester! :)

Kent Korek said...

I never share the Stranger Papers with the strangers. In some cases the statements made in the papers are not all that positive. I once had a student come out and say "I would not want to be friends with my stranger". If the students want to share their observations, they are free to do so, but I do not. This gives me a perfect opportunity to explain the concept of confidentiality within a psychological framework.

I also do NOT set up the system where each person has a paper written about them. In some cases, you may find the same person is picked as a stranger by multiple people. One year I had a foreign exchange student in class who became the stranger for most of the class.

Other concepts you can use with the papers include: Hawthorne Effect (don't let the person know you are watching them as they will probably change their behavior), body language, facial expressions, etc.

Hope this helps.

Trevor Tusow said...

I did this assignment and it worked really well. There are so many different discussion that can come from it. Kent gracious enough to give me lots of ideas with it.

Thanks Kent!

Melissa said...


Would you be willing to share the written assignment details? I am at the conclusion of my first year teaching an intro psychology course (mostly hs seniors) and I'm interested in using this as an introduction to the Personality unit. I'm thinking my discussion questions will be a little different, but would love to know exactly what you state in the assignment.

Kent Korek said...

I really don't have a formal rubric for the Stranger Paper or anything I hand out to my students. I give the assignment out orally. One of my goals in giving the assignment is to create a sense of excitement the first day. Handing something formal out takes away from that excitement.

My primary concern is the students develop some type of logical conclusion(s) about their stranger not just list all their observations. For example, if a student's notebook and folders are all adorn with Harry Potter pictures, we might guess they are a fan of the books and/or movies. Many students have a tendency to just list all of the observations and not make any conclusions. I try to stress the observations are simply data which doesn't mean much without some type of analysis.

Below is the best I can say when it comes to a "formal" procedure:

1. Tell students to look around the room and find someone they do not know or know very little about but they can easily observe.
2. During the class hour over the next few days the students are to observe this person and take brief notes about them. Student are to note clothing, body language, general behavior and start to draw some conclusions what this person is like based on these observations.
3. Inform students they should be careful the other student does not notice they are watching them.
a. explain how behavior changes when one knows they are being watched
4. At the conclusion of the observation period students are to write a paper (2 pages) on this other person based on their observations and conclusions. Stress to the students must include a number of conclusions based on observable behavior. The paper should NOT be simply a listing of observations, but conclusions based on those observations.
5. Grading the papers is facilitated if students hands in their notes on the person with the paper.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me.

Anonymous said...

how would you start a stranger paper