Thursday, December 30, 2010

Upgrade your tech skills today!

If you are a regular reader of THSP I'm guessing you have some degree of comfort level with technology. Today's post is about a web site that will give you great ideas about how to use technology, both for yourself and in your classroom, and show you how to do it in a very easy manner.

Sue Frantz teaches psychology at Highline Community College near Seattle, and is an amazing technology guru. She has a new website at but under the name Techology for Teachers this sit has been around for a while. I subscribe to her RSS feed and every week she posts something else that I am vaguely aware of but don't know much about, or she describes how she uses something that I know about but didn't really know how to implement. For example, here are some posts that she has done in the past month:
There are many more examples here, but clearly this should show you that Sue is a genius. My advice is to learn from her and then nonchalantly display your knowledge to others at your school. They will think you are brilliant and you'll just smile knowingly. (Not sure if Sue has a tip jar, but she may want to add that feature!)

P.S. Still wondering what that thing at the top is? It's called a QR code and someone can use a mobile phone's camera plus a code-reading app to read the code and go right to a URL without having to know the URL. Cool, huh? The one above was generated for THSP and when scanned will go right to our site. (And yes, I learned about this from Sue Frantz!)

  --posted by Steve

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Visual Jokes in Art History

Psychologists were not the first people to be interested in visual illusions nor the use of illusions or multiple interpretations within a painting.  The January 2011 issue of Smithsonian has a great article called "Feast for the Eyes" along with pictures about the artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo who did such work for the Hapsburg dynasty (in the 1500s) who had humor enough to appreciate his work.  Check out the article at the link above-quite fascinating.

If you like the work of Arcimboldo, check out his complete works on this site.

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Monday, December 27, 2010

Attribution Error and the Quest for Teacher Quality

This post may be of limited "classroom" use to everyone, but I thought it was an intriguing example of an application of social psychological principles. In her article "Attribution Error and the Quest for Teacher Quality" (Educational Researcher, 39 (8), pg. 591) Mary Kennedy argues that many researchers investigating "teacher quality" may be committing the fundamental attribution error.

Dr. Kennedy's explanation and support for this idea are fleshed out very clearly in the article, but here's a quick summary of the basic idea: Researchers looking into "teacher quality" primarily use data about personal characteristics (e.g. years of experience, certifications received, degrees attained, licensure test scores, etc.) as variables in studying teacher quality. They rarely (ever?) include situational factors (available resources, planning time, intrusions into instructional time, etc.) in their research. Kennedy says "We study teachers' credentials because we can . . . Researchers are limited by the circumstances of their funding agencies, which may hesitate to pay the cost of gathering these difficult to define and difficult to measure variables."

What are the implications of the error in this context? I suspect no one knows, but until Teacher Quality studies include situational factors, can researchers really claim to know what factors are associated with "good teaching"?

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Music in Psychology Class--A Different Way to Approach Things

Most of us have seen the items on the listservs about lists of music that go with particular units.  Some of us use the music as a transition into class.  Some of use show the lyrics on the board/screen while the students listen to the song, adding observations or comments afterward.  A nice little combination, a free one, can be found on

The first example here is The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel.  The poster has already printed the lyrics for you/us.  Some concept ideas include schema, the role of individual in society, perception,  states of consciousness, communication, hearing versus listening, and more.

A perennial favorite of my students is the Green Day song, Basketcase.  This song questions the writer's sanity while he is reaching out for help.  Some great psych idea are used including "neurosis," perception/misperception, therapy, dream interpretation, the role of drugs in interpreting reality, and more. 

As with anything from the internet, I would caution that you view everything first prior to sharing it with your students.  While they may be superficially mature and sophisticated, they are still children and we have an obligation to screen and contextualize everything we do with them.  Also, each community has different standards--what may be usable and successful in one class may not work in another school. 

There will be more of these posts coming up with some of my personal favorites.

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Los Angeles Brain Bee is Seeking High School Contestants!

I'm delighted to share this information from Amy Sweetman.

The Los Angeles Brain Bee is Seeking High School Contestants!

The Los Angeles Brain Bee is just one of many national neuroscience competitions for High School Students that are held across the nation.  Students study a 70 page booklet that is written by the Society for Neuroscience and demonstrate their learning at their local Brain Bee Challenge.  Currently there are over 70 competitions held across the nation.   

The competition consists of a full day of neuroscience learning opportunities and gives students a chance to practice their speaking skills as well as making a great addition to their college applications.  This is the 3rd year of our competition, but we need candidates.  

The competition is sponsored by UCLA Brain Research Institute, USC Neurogenetic Institute and Los Angeles City College.  Please see our activity schedule below.  Students do NOT need a coach, no teacher involvement is required.  

All information can be found at the website  contact Amy Sweetman
8:30 am arrival and refreshments
9:00 am introduction of candidates
9:15 am Scavenger Hunt/ Brain Storming Activities
10:00 am Written Portion of the test
10:45 am Anatomy Practicum by Interaxon
11:00 am Understanding CT scans by Save a Brain Foundation
11:30 am Guest Lecture
12:30 pm Lunch Break
1:30 pm Interaxon Neuroscience Panel
2:15 pm Announcement of finalists 2nd round of Brain Bee Jeopardy format
3:00 pm Announcement of finalists for 3rd round
3:30-4:00 pm Winner is determined

Part of the contest involves students studying from a book prepared by the Downloadable book from the Society for Neuroscience  The book itself looks to be a potentially good review for neuroscience issues in AP Psychology.  Be sure to check it out.

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

A Natural History of the Senses

A Natural History of the Senses is an excellent book by Diane Ackerman.  You may wonder why I share this book from 1990 now.  If you appreciate words and writers' views of the world along with fantastic turns of phrase, this book is for you.  If you teach psychology within a Humanities department, this book will be an excellent resource.

She, of course, takes from the writings of many sources dealing with all the senses.  Perhaps my favorite is when she examines how "bad smells" are dealt with medically.  Apparently, the Merck Manual has a category on flatulence.  Whether she is citing sweetness of smell or something musky or acrid, Diane Ackerman shares with the reader a delightful romp through history, psychology, and literature to enlighten us as to how people have perceived and used the senses in their daily lives.  A good read and worth quoting in class.

Below are two other excellent books related to psychology from Diane Ackerman:

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Value of Self-Reflection--Thank You to Beth Lewis

I share the ideas here from Beth Lewis at  Her words are incredibly important to those of us in the profession.  I give her full and complete credit for the ideas below.  I just wanted to make sure my fellow psychology instructors also saw these.

The Value of Self-Reflection - Any Time Of Year, It's Important To Self-Reflect

Examining What Worked And What Failed In The Past Can Lead To Future Triumphs

By , Guide
In a profession as challenging as teaching, honest self-reflection is key. That means that we must regularly examine what has worked and what hasn't in the classroom, despite how painful it can sometimes be to look in the mirror. Then take your answers and turn them into positive, resolute statements that give you concrete goals on which to focus immediately. Be honest, work hard, and watch your teaching transform for the better!

Ask Yourself These Tough Questions - And Be Honest!

  • Where did I fail as a teacher in the past? Where did I succeed?
  • What is my top teaching goal for the coming year?
  • What can I do to make my teaching more fun while adding to my students' learning and enjoyment?
  • What can I do to be more proactive in my professional development?
  • What resentments do I need to resolve in order to move forward more optimistically and with a fresh mind?
  • What types of students do I tend to ignore or do I need to spend more time serving?
  • Which lessons or units am I only continuing to perform out of habit or laziness?
  • Am I being a cooperative member of my grade level team?
  • Are there any aspects of the profession that I am ignoring out of fear of change or lack of knowledge? (i.e. technology)
  • How can I increase valuable parental involvement?
  • Have I done enough to foster a productive relationship with my administrator?
  • Do I still enjoy teaching? If not, what can I do to increase my enjoyment in my chosen profession?
  • Do I bring additional stress upon myself? If so, how can I decrease or eliminate it.
  • How have my beliefs about learning and pedagogy changed over the years?
  • What minor and/or major changes can I make to my academic program in order to directly increase my students' learning?

What Happens If You Refuse To Self-Reflect

Put earnest effort and pure intention into your self-reflection. You don't want to be one of those stagnant teachers that drably presents the same ineffective and outdated lessons year after year. The unexamined teaching career can lead to becoming just a glorified babysitter, stuck in a rut and no longer enjoying your job! Times change, perspectives change, and you must change in order to adapt and remain relevant in the ever-changing world of education.
Often it's difficult to get motivated to change when you have tenure and "can't be fired" but that's precisely why you must undertake this effort on your own. Think about it while you're driving or doing the dishes. It doesn't matter where you self-reflect, only that you do it earnestly and energetically.
snip snip

Posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taylor Mali--"What Teachers Make"

I could have sworn I posted this earlier, but my memory must be tricking me.  Here is former teacher and current poet Taylor Mali performing, "What Teachers Make."

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Arts and Letters Daily (great website)

When I have time, I love to go to the website, Arts and Letters Daily for some intellectual challenge.   They link to articles, book reviews, and essays and opinion.  Each link contains a brief intro to help the reader decide if it is worth checking out.  Their archives go back to 1998.  Along the left side column there are links to sites they draw from, web radio, and other favorites of the editors.  The site is updated six times a week.  Here are some psych-related links that are on the front page just from today's edition.  The site is an incredibly rich source for virtually anything.

What makes music sad?
The Case Against Peer Review in Scientific Research
An Interview in the Economist With Oliver Sacks
The Truth About Suicide Bombers
In Defense of Disgust
How Weird is Consciousness?

Put this site in your favorites--you will be glad you did.

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Monday, December 20, 2010

Google Books Ngram Viewer - Research tool?

Michael Sandler sent me a link to this Boston Globe article about how researchers are using a new tool, Google Books Ngram Viewer, to examine social/cultural trends in language use.

The Ngram viewer graphs the occurrence of any word/phrase you type in across the 15 million books Google has scanned into their database. You can even enter multiple phrases to get multiple lines.

This interactive link from the Boston Globe article is a good "taste" of what the Ngram Viewer can do (the Boston-centric bias of the terms included in the graph made me laugh too :) but I had fun just diving into the actual Ngram viewer and typing in some phrases. The phrase "high school psychology" has interesting peaks and valleys!

I liked this quote from the Boston Globe article: "Going forward, digital humanities researchers have increasingly powerful tools, but the challenge will be interpretation — finding links between quantity and meaning." This might be a good "angle" to use in a psych class during research methods: What research method(s) would students use along with Ngram viewer to try to get at "links between quantity and meaning"? Naturalistic Observation researchers have been grappling with this question for years, right?

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Power of Silence

Late yesterday afternoon, my neighborhood lost power due to a "winter" storm.  All told, we were without power for about four hours.  For me, it was four hours of bliss.  I went to the mailbox, seeing several neighbors who had come outside to see if they were alone in the powerlessness.  I then walked to the garage, grabbed a couple of fire logs, and built myself a fire.

I was no longer connected to the interwebs; the tv was not working; and there was no hum from the fridge or from the air purifier.  I refused to put on the earphones of my iPod.  I listened to the rain as it got darker and the fog rolled in.  That, in combination with the fire were, to me, priceless--one of those times when my needs were met with some outside event.

You see, I need silence.  I need solitude.  When I was growing up, I had a series of ear infections and ear aches that cost me part of my ability to hear.  I was 75% deaf in one ear, 50% in the other.  I started school one year later than the other kids because of this.  When I was ten, I had surgery to put a little blue tube in each ear drum to release the fluid build up.  I could not swim for a year and had to keep water out of my ears (had to wear earplugs during showers).  The days after the surgery were the most intense pain I've ever felt--I lay on the couch having ear drops used to lessen the pain.  But I could hear things I'd never heard before--the birds, the traffic, the sounds that we all try to put out of our consciousness, but without which we would feel somewhat empty.  This was part of my introduction to silence by choice versus imposed silence.

My students seemingly need noise, distraction, something to grab at their attention, rarely listening to the voices in their heads (the self-talk kind, not the hallucinatory kind).  When I tell them I need silence from time to time, they look at me like I am crazy.  I tell them that time moves differently when there is silence--it goes more slowly and I can do more of what I need to do, including think. 

I did some cursory research on the issue and found not nearly enough to my liking.  There were many items on meditation and prayer and the power of silence in relation to those practices.  There was even a little about American culture and how Americans tend not to like silence--we will fill up silence with words rather than let the silence sit there, lingering.

As I write this, I am reminded of a story Desmond Morris told of an African tribal group where women did not speak for about six months (if I recall correctly) as a method of mourning the loss of a loved one.  They had developed a wealth of signs to communicate, but speaking was forbidden.

I recall a radio interview some years ago with an author who explained that people who cannot handle silence cannot handle the thoughts that are in their own head.  I do not know of research, but that sounds intuitively true.  In our culture, our children are growing up increasingly distracted--I have students who are very uncomfortable just sitting still during or after an exam.  "Can I listen to my iPod. . .please?" are the plaintive cries, especially this past week during finals. I often think to myself, "What are you afraid of with the silence?  Will it hurt you?  Do you not like what you will find in the world without external noise?  Are you afraid of your inner voice?  Are you so addicted to distractions that it hurts to have silence?"  And I wonder on.

What can one do with this topic in class?  I offer some suggestions:
  1. Explain the importance of silence both in terms of culture (social psychology) and in terms of perception--how does time perception change?  You could do a demonstration with students closing their eyes--you will not tell them how long--have them estimate how long--then tell them the actual time.  Discuss implications of this perception change.
  2. Have the students listen to the sounds of the classroom--can they hear the buzz of the lights?  Can they hear traffic (my classroom is at one of the busiest corners in town)?  Can they hear the shuffling of papers, the crinkling of gum or candy wrappers?  Are they aware of how much noise they themselves make each time they move?  Can they hear their own joints creak when they move (maybe that is just for the teachers)?
  3. Find a film clip(s) or use a willing student as a demonstration in a discussion--how to use silence to set people off guard.  How uncomfortable do we get when people just look at us without saying anything?  It's amazing how much of our insecurity we project into situations when we expect someone else to say something.
  4. Ask students for their own examples of when silence has changed their view of an experience or a conversation.
  5. Try watching a film clip or a sporting event without the sound of the announcers or the crowd--how much does sound fill us up emotionally and send us context clues as to how to respond?
  6. Talk with your local sign-language teacher about the role silence plays in the life of a deaf person--how is the world different for them?
  7. Have students write about how their lives would be different if there were no longer sounds in their lives?  
  8. I'm certain there are dozens more ideas--please feel free to add them in the comments section.

All in all, sound and silence is a fascinating set of topics.  During your vacation (or at least time away from school) I wish for you time to sit in quiet and time to reflect on all the good you do in your work with children. 

Some links for further reading--these are highly rated books that deal with the role of silence in our lives.

A paper that discusses how different cultures use silence in the communication process

Can Silence be Eloquent?
The Eight Core Values of the Japanese Businessman: Toward an Understanding of Japanese Management
A book about Japanese business that has a section on the importance of silence

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

TV alert: 60 Minutes

 Tonight's 60 Minutes looks right up our alley: an entire hour on people who have "superior autobiographical memory." These people, including the actress Marilu Henner, have the uncanny ability to recall exactly what they were doing or what was happening in the world virtually every day of their lives. According to the preview info, recent research with MRIs suggest people with this ability tend to have larger temporal lobes.

Can't wait to see this one! Be sure to comment below if you watch it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Serious Games!

We've posted about psychological aspects of games before, but in a recent comment Michael Britt (of "The Psych Files") posted a link to a Prezi "Games and Learning" presentation he created. In the presentation Michael addresses (among other topics) "Serious Games" and recent research about how playing games can deepen learning experiences.

I recently got to hear critical thinking researcher Diane Halpern speak about a Serious Game she's helping develop to promote/teach scientific reasoning: Operation Aries. The game is in development, but the YouTube clip is intriguing.

Do you incorporate "gaming" into your course somehow? How?

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Google Body Browser

Google recently released the Google Body Browser - kind of like "Google Earth" for our inner spaces. When I went to the site to try it out, I was informed that I needed a newer/better browser (I usually use Firefox), but the site worked well after I downloaded Google Chrome.

I haven't played with it much, but I like what I see so far. It seems like a well thought out and thorough body atlas (what else would we expect from Google, eh?). I liked "swooping" to different brain structures and the labels feature is nice. It seems to work well with discrete, named brain structures (e.g. hippocampus, amygdala), but less well with general areas of the brain (e.g. frontal lobes).

I'm sure the Whole Brain Atlas is more complete, but I think I'd like using the Google Body Browser with students. Opinions?

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Puzzles, games, memory and more puzzles!

Have you seen the Science section of the New York Times today? Holy moley! There's an incredible array of articles, interviews, videos and interactive games that are just begging to be squeezed into a unit on cognition or memory, or at the very least as filler for 15 minutes. Among the highlights:
And there is so much more, on topics like jigsaw puzzles, mind-bending puzzles (which came first, the chicken or the egg?), and a great essay on puzzles by the usually mute magician Teller of Penn & Teller. Enjoy solving!

  --posted by Steve

*In a future post I'll discuss one of my claims to fame: I've had five crossword puzzles published in the New York Times! If you have questions about how puzzles are made (or why anyone would even attempt to do it) let me know and I'll address them in my post.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Multitasking or Task-Switching?

A previous post on this blog referenced a great NYT article about attention, focus, and "multitasking" ("Ear plugs to Lasers")

Since reading that article, I feel like I keep seeing good articles about the "myth of multitasking" (this is a good reference list, I think). The general idea of "multitasking" is so pervasive and impacts all our students (and us!) so it might make for a great discussion topic whenever you tackle selective attention? When would it "fit" in your classes?

posted by Rob McEntarffer