Monday, March 31, 2014

Infographics: Critical thinking opportunity!

I love good data representation, and some infographics are good examples of data represented well. On the other hand, some infographics I run across worry me - I'm often uncertain about whether the research findings being presented include enough information for people to be able to understand/think about those research findings.

Which makes me think: maybe a good use of infographics in a psych classroom is actually as the basis of a critical thinking exercise!

Some potential examples:
Last note: if you haven't heard of Edward Tufte, he's an amazing designer who thinks deeply about ways to present data in elegant and compelling ways. Definitely worth a look.

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Friday, March 28, 2014

The return of the return of AP Psych review

Two years ago I had a wacky idea: could we use Twitter to help students review for the AP Psych exam? I came up with the hashtag #appsychreview and started blogging and tweeting about it. Dozens of students posted questions, and even more impressively, more than a dozen AP Psych teachers - some of whom I didn't know - jumped in and answered questions. Last year even more questions were asked, and even more teachers stepped up to handle queries.

So this Monday marks five weeks until the AP Psych exam and the official return of #appsychreview. Having learned a few lessons over the past two years, I want to share some tips for both teachers and students. If you are spreading the word about #appsychreview in your classrooms or on the Internet, PLEASE send folks to this post instead of just saying "use this hashtag."

Use this URL:

1) Use #appsychreview to get help with questions you are struggling with. Maybe you can't tell the difference between, say, retrograde and anterograde amnesia. Well, we can help with that. Or you need a way to remember Erikson's eight stages, and so we can send you to see the great Dr. Britt.

2) DO NOT use #appsychreview for basic questions.  Questions like "Who is Piaget?" or "What was Milgram's experiment about?" are ones that will either be ignored or at best you'll be re-directed to the Wikipedia pages for that subject.

3) Be considerate. If you have a dozen questions, don't post them all. Before posting, look for similar questions on #appsychreview - believe it or not, you're not the first asking about hindsight bias. Then post a question or two. Someone will probably answer your question within 24 hours - and if you don't see a reply to your tweet by then, feel free to send your tweet to me (@highschoolpsych).

4) This is not an on-demand guaranteed service. People who currently teach or formerly taught AP Psych will answer your question as best they can. If you need more intensive help, there are plenty of AP Psych review books (such as Barron'sAP Psychology All Access, and D&S) and Michael Britt has review apps aplenty to choose from.

1) PLEASE DO NOT encourage your students to post questions for extra credit. One day last year we had more than 100 tweets in 15 minutes because a well-meaning teacher told his students they would get extra credit for doing so. This is a volunteer service of real teachers who are giving their time to help out students, not a bunch of automated robots.

2) The biggest question I get is: how do I know I can trust that my students will get the correct answer? The short answer is you can't - there's no guarantee. But in the two years we've done this, I've never seen anyone give incorrect information. Sure, some folks give explanations in different ways than I would, but that's to be expected. What's more impressive is the dozens of tweets that I've read where *I* learned a brand new way to explain something, or about a new resource because another teacher pointed to it in her answer. If you see an answer you think is wrong, let me know.

3) If you're answering a question, it helps greatly to give a link to a site or to an image which helps to explain the concept. For example, the amazing @mariavita1 gave this great answer to a question about the phi phenomenon by giving a few words and then a link to a site that more fully explained it.

4) How do you answer a question? Just reply to the question and be sure to keep #appsychreview in the tweet. There's no application process and no minimum number to answer - just jump in when you can and help!

Questions? Let me know in the comments or via e-mail (
--posted by Steve

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

TOPSS and the APA public info campaign

In the sidebar on the left you may notice a new icon and link for the APA's Teachers of Psychology in the Secondary Schools. As someone who has been serving on the TOPSS board for five years, I'll admit to feeling pretty foolish recently about having not made that link more prominent before. (There has always been a link on the bottom left amid a host of other links.)

I've just recently returned from a TOPSS board meeting and it's so energizing to work with other high school teachers, college professors, and APA staff members to make high school psychology better for all of us. One thing I don't think that we (the TOPSS board) always do well is to say what we are working one, what we have accomplished, and what our limitations are. Sometimes people will share terrific ideas with TOPSS that we might not implement because it's beyond the scope of what we can do, or because it's not something that is feasible. We are part of the APA, and while that it always an incredibly good thing, sometimes there are "quick and dirty" solutions that could work for teachers but might not always be something that would earn the APA imprimatur.

One thing we learned about at our last meeting was the APA's new public information campaign called Psychology: Science in Action which has the great URL The campaign is designed to help the general public see that psychology is about much more than just people who are involved in mental health. (If you don't think that's the public perception of psychology, ask a random stranger what they think a psychologist does for a living!)

There are obviously great applications to our classrooms as well, where you can expose students to not only the wide variety of career paths psychologists can follow, but also the incredible diversity in the people who pursue psychology as a career. As part of that idea, the APA will be mailing classroom posters in the next few months to TOPSS members about this campaign so that students can be reminded daily that psychology IS a science and a terrific idea for a career.

If you have comments about the campaign or TOPSS in general, please leave them below or send them to me (

--posted by Steve

Monday, March 17, 2014

Beware the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...

The connection between St. Patrick's day and this post is tenuous at best, but it might start interesting conversations on any day!

I've been seeing more research lately on the impact of wealth/money on our attitudes and actions, and this might be an important discussion topic for psych students as they think about college/career/life path, etc. The research doesn't send a simple message - psychological impacts of wealth are more complex:

  • This Psychology Today blog post is a good overview, I think. Addresses connections to some of the "big" motivation theories, and the link to the quizzes on are intriguing (that website looks a bit fishy at first glance, but it's run out of San Francisco State, and the research seems legit)
  • Scott Miller (hi Scott!) keeps sending me great stuff, and this article describes a fairly simple study that is an important addition to the topic. Perhaps counter-intuitively, humans seems to accumulate much more than we can use: "Always wanting more, whatever the price"
  • This PBS News Hour story on the impact of wealth includes a powerful video summary of a "monopoly" study - surprising and dramatic results! worth watching! "Exploring the Psychology of Wealth
posted by Rob McEntarffer

Monday, March 10, 2014


Are you all watching the new Cosmos series? It's on Sunday nights on Fox (not public television! surprising!) and so far I think it's great. At first glance there aren't many references to psychological science concepts, but I think it might be an opportunity to make a couple non-obvious connections for students who are excited by the series:

  • in the first episode (March 9), a good chunk of the program was devoted to Giordano Bruno, a 16th century Italian friar who was persecuted for what the church at the time saw as heretical beliefs about the organization of the universe. This dramatic presentation (great animation!) could be a jumping off point for a discussion about conformity and obedience, and specifically how scientific thinking might relate to social psychology pressures. 
  • The narrator, (the great Neil Degrasse Tyson) talks passionately about the history of science and how remarkable it is that in only 400 years, humans progressed from Galileo looking through the first telescope to humans walking on the moon. Student might be interested in discussing how the science of psychology fits in this "arc" of scientific progress, and how young psychology is as a science relative to physics and astronomy.

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Thursday, March 6, 2014

All purpose Sensation/Perception demonstration

In some chapters/units, the problem is not having enough great demonstrations/activities (I always struggled with finding ways to demonstrate the important concepts in the motivation emotion unit). But in other units, like Sensation/Perception, the problems is an abundance of riches! There are SO many great demonstrations in this chapter/unit, the problem is choosing which great demonstration to use!

One strategy I've seen teachers use is "beefing up" one activity to include a number of concepts ("one demonstration to rule them all"). Scott Miller (hi Scott!) sent me this article a while ago about "fruit colored cereal" and taste: when we eat different colored "fruit loops," most people perceive each color tasting like a different fruit, but in fact they are all the made of the same sugary substance, and food dye is added.

Shocking News: All Froot Loop Colors Are Really The Same Flavor

This demonstration on it's own could be an engaging activity to demonstration aspects of taste and top-down processing, but with a few tweaks, it could be used to discuss several other sensation-perception concepts:

- sensory interaction: since smell and taste are most often used at the same time (to detect "flavor"), is our sense of smell active during this illusory perception? Why or why not?
- visual dominance: what does this illusion demonstrate about which senses "dominate" others?
- schema: in what ways are our schema active during this perception? How does this relate to top-down processing?
- absolute and difference thresholds: which threshold is most applicable to this illusion? One, both, or neither?
- selective attention: does focusing on specific aspects of the fruit loop (e.g. focusing on the color) influence the illusion?
- finally, what other food substances might this illusion apply to? Jelly beans? Starburst? Skittles?

posted by Rob McEntarffer