Monday, March 23, 2015

Big Summaries

This blog post from WIRED magazine got me thinking about the value of "big summaries"

"What I Learning Writing a Brain Blog for 17 Months"

 I like how Christian Jarret tries to take the "long view" of brain research in his blog post. Summaries like this that attempt to pull together a LOT of current research and make judgment calls about overall trends/principles can be very valuable. It's easy to use the web to find "cool new current brain research," but it's a LOT harder to find wisdom about what all the research might "mean" in the long run.

A couple of related "wonderings":
  • I wonder if students could do this about some topics. Could a student at the end of an intro psych experience tackle a "Big Summary" question, like "Given what you know from the developmental, biological, personality, and other chapters, what is wrong with the phrase "nature vs. nurture" and how would you restate it?"
  • I wonder if an experience like this might help students review for the AP exam. Some FRQs require a level of synthesis across chapters, and going through a "big summary" experience might help student's practice this kind of thinking.

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Guest Post: AP/IB Review ideas from Mike Corayer

Mike Corayer, an AP and IB Psychology at Shanghai High School, sent this review idea and hopes it's useful for you all! Thanks Mike! By the way, you can find more materials from Mike at

Fill the Board

I write a general topic at the top of the whiteboard (such as Sensation and Perception) then I give 5 or 6 students markers and a few minutes to write or draw anything they remember from this topic. I encourage students to incorporate drawings as much as possible. Any drawings should also include some related terms, theories, or labels.

After the writing is finished, students return to their seats and I head to the board to briefly go over all the terms, names, and drawings. At this point, we can add any related terms that might be missing and I try to get students to come up with these by asking questions.
I encourage the students to work together while they're writing on the board. This isn't a test and the purpose is not to judge. If a student is stuck,  other students should provide suggestions. Sometimes one student will write a single term which triggers another student to think of a related term and the board starts getting filled up that way. Even a “misplaced” term (from another topic or chapter) isn't  wrong because it gives me a chance to review that term and make sure students know why it is or is not related to the main topic we're reviewing.

One potential criticism of this technique is that students are just reviewing what they can already recall and therefore what they probably don't need to review! While this might be true for each individual student writing on the board, if there are several volunteers writing I generally find that we get a wide variety of terms and concepts. If we don't, this indicates that this is a topic I need to go over in more detail and students can clearly see the gaps in their knowledge in the white space left on the board.


One way to vary this is to simply create teams and cover multiple topics simultaneously. For instance, I might write “Consciousness” on one half of the board and “Personality” on the other. Then I give students different colored markers for each topic and they work in teams to fill their side of the board. They might even feel a little competition for which side can come up with more items.

Category Challenge
Write a general category (such as Memory) on the board, then one at a time, each team writes a related term on the board (no using notes!). If they write a term, they have to be able to explain what it means if I ask. The next team then writes another term related to the general category. This continues back and forth until one of the teams can no longer think of any terms related to the chapter (or if they write a related term but can't explain it).

Connect the Dots
This is a variation I use in my IB classes, where longer essay assessments often require students to make connections across multiple perspectives. In this case, things begin as normal, and I might write two general topics on the board and send groups of students up to start writing. After the board is full, we briefly review the terms, and I might add a few that were missing.

Next I give out different-colored markers to a few students. Their job is to circle something from one side of the board and then draw a line across the board and connect it to something on the other side. After a few connections are found (not everything will be connected to something) I ask the students to explain why they made that connection and what the relationship is between the two items.

I hope these ideas can help you to have more interactive and engaging review sessions, let me know if you have any questions and be sure to share any other ideas in the comments!

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Thursday, March 12, 2015

How do you review for the AP Psych exam?

The AP Psych exam is on May 4th (first day of testing - whew!) and we'd love to hear your best ideas about how to help students review before the exam. Here's a list of previous blog posts that might be useful:
  • The AP Central Website is a goldmine for information about previous exam questions (multiple choice and FRQs) as well as scoring guides, etc. Here's a post filled with links to AP Central: "AP Psychology Free Response Questions-Updated to 2014"
  • Many teachers use previously released exams for review, and one useful technique is to analyze the previous exams and make a "table of specifications" that shows items organized by chapter. Students can use these tables to figure out areas of strength/weakness, and modify their studying plans accordingly. "2014 AP exam Breakdown"
  • Many teachers are wondering about how changes to the DSM (current edition = DSM5) might impact the test. Pat Santoro posted an explanation on AP Central: "Brief Update about the DSM5 Changes"
  • The Twitter discussion "#psychat" continues to be a great resource for all kinds of useful teaching ideas, including review ideas: "#Psychat Archive for Review Ideas and Activities"
  • Chuck authored this "megapost" of AP review reources last year and it still looks up to date (and great!) "AP Review Resources"
We'd love to hear about how you help students review materials. On a personal note, I'd love to hear your wisdom about using flashcards (full disclosure: I'd like to help the Barron's company improve the AP Psych flashcard product!)

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Greek System at Universities and Racism

After a discussion in class about the Oklahoma racist chant, one of my students mentioned seeing an article that included a picture of a sorority that posed with sombreros, moustaches, and signs that said, "I don't cut grass, I smoke it." I might add that that class is two-thirds Latino. That particular picture struck a nerve.  My students have heard the terms "beaner," "burrito-eater," and the like, but this one hit a little harder, especially when the photo appeared to be nearly exclusively white.

I did a quick search and discovered this article which cites a dozen examples, several that have pictures. I know kids are young and make mistakes. But these make me sick. This article could be great for a discussion on group decision-making, prejudice, stereotypes and so much more.

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Monday, March 9, 2015

Guest Post: Eric Castro and Writing in Psychology

Hello THSP Readers,

I (Chuck) am very happy to share with you a piece of writing from one of our West Coast colleagues, Eric Castro of St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco.  I was reading the archives of #psychat (on when I ran across the files he linked to and the ideas he had for writing in the psychology classroom. He was kind enough to put together this information and links below.

So thank you very much Eric!  We are very pleased and happy to have you on THSP as a guest poster.  For the rest of you who have great ideas to share, please reach out to one of us.  We want to include more voices in our psychological conversation.

I feel a little disingenuous writing about “writing in Psychology” because I don’t think I do a particularly good job at it. That is not to say my students are not good writers; in fact, I think they’re excellent[1] — I just can’t claim any of the credit! Our English department and the others in the Social Science department teach my students how to write well. I don’t know how, I’m just grateful that they do.

If you’re still reading this, Chuck asked me to share one particular writing assignment that we do in the Development Unit; we call it The Toy Project. Based on those two pieces of information – Development unit and “Toy project” – you already guessed that it’s based on Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development. As you suspect, students go to a toy store near them, choose a toy that corresponds to a stage of cognitive development, and they write about it[2].

If you’re still reading this, there are a few additional details that we work into the project[3]. Here is how the project is currently assigned. Note:
  • Students work in groups of their own choosing, from across any section/ any instructor
  • Students can ‘Google Doc’ their paper (thereby collaboratively writing it), but do not have to
  • Students have to take pictures of themselves in the toy store for full credit[4]
  • The finished product is uploaded to Canvas, in our case, where I grade it — and Canvas automatically forwards the paper to for “checking”…
  • There are three distinct parts to the paper. Part 1 connects one toy with each of Piaget’s Stages; part 2 harkens back to the Research Methods unit; and Part 3 connects to our discussion of gender schema theory vis-a-vis elements in the design of toys and toy stores.
One of the things that I like so much about this paper is that it can be done with any amount of technology. I had students take physical photos back in the aughts; they paperclipped Polaroids or 3x5 photos to their printed paper. That evolved into inserting digital images into their word processed paper before printing it. For a few years, every student had their own blog for Psychology (using Blogger), and they posted their assignment and embedded their images there. For a few years, I had them share a Google Doc with me, like this one. And now they use whatever they want to word process the paper, export it to a PDF, and upload it to our LMS.

As an aside, we do two other “projects” like this. One is the Scary Movie Project, which coincides with Sensation & Perception, and the other is a Social Norms Project. When I share any of these three, I’m invariably asked, “What’s your rubric for assessment?” This may stray from what Chuck was looking for… but I don’t have a rubric for these. First, the assignments are constructed in such a way that they guide students through each step or part of the assignment. Second, as I read the resulting paper, I am correcting for conceptual understanding, correct usage of Psychology vocabulary, and correct application of the concepts. I am not grading for grammar, syntax, spelling, or anything else like that. Again, this goes back to the I-don’t-teach-students–how-to-write… I’m lucky that they come prepared for this work. Third, I grade these papers on a very simple scale: A, B, C, D, or F. For these three papers, it is – frankly – rare for students to not receive full credit. Now, part of that is because these are sort of enrichment activities. They’re kinda just for fun. I certainly don’t tell them that! But it’s part of my hidden curriculum; I want them to have enjoyable experiences while studying Psychology.
On a final note, for each chapter besides the three mentioned above students complete a traditional free-response question, modeled on the FRQs from the AP Psychology exam, and those are graded according to strict College Board-esque rubrics.
I hope that gives some insight into one way of doing “writing in Psychology.” If you have any questions at all, give me a tweet!

  1. At the bottom of page 1 and page 3 of my 2014 AP Psychology Instructional Planning Report, you can see how my students did on the Free Response Question portion of the exam. I hadn’t been scanning the Instructional Planning Report, but you can see how my students did for 2011–2012 and 2012–2013.
  2. I’ve been assigning this project/paper for 15-years… and I can’t remember where I got the initial idea. Toys + Piaget’s Stages seems like such an obvious assignment idea, I’m pretty darned sure I didn’t come up with it first. If I got it from you 15-years ago… THANKS!!
  3. I say “we” because there are two Psychology instructors at St Ignatius College Prep, Yosup Joo and me. At our school, Psych is an elective for juniors or seniors.
  4. The pictures must be inserted into the document (whether a Google Doc or otherwise word processed) as evidence that they know how to do this before going to college.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sneetches, Prejudice, Discrimination, and Status

Dr Seuss gave us many classics in regards to human behavior. My personal favorite is "Sneetches," a story about two kinds of Sneetches, creatures who lived on the beach, some of whom had stars on their bellies, some who did not.

Those with stars fancied themselves better than the others and excluded those without stars from their social gatherings. Those with stars also had stereotypes about those without. This led to discrimination, name calling, and social shunning. Along comes an inventor who can put stars on those without. Conflict ensues when the originals with stars feel the need to change once all Sneetches had stars--they needed some visible identifier for in- and out-group labeling.

Then the inventor who took the stars off the original star-bellied Sneetches.  They reclassified the status of both kinds of bellies.

This new designation leads to chaos as both groups end up adding and subtracting the stars so that everything gets messed up from the original grouping.  No identifiers work for in- and out-group designations.

Lessons are learned and the scam artist leaves.

The video version is available here:

I posted a two-part link some time ago, but I recently found this full-length version which prompted me to update the post.

Posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Friday, March 6, 2015

Teach TEAMWORK - new APA project

Our friends at the APA (specifically, the Center for Psychology in Schools of Education) are working on a curriculum designed to share research-based information about teamwork skills in academic settings. They are looking for teachers who are interested in reviewing modules from the curriculum and filling out a response survey.

If this project matches your interests (maybe your school/district is pushing it's own version of "meeting norms," collaboration strategies, etc. and you want to compare it against current research?) you can contact the fabulous Martha Boenau at the APA:

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Shade Illusion--Illustrated in a Video

This classic illusion that can be found in most books usually leaves my students not believing that the two tiles are not the same color.  Their brains are unable to see the colors as the same due to the shadowing effects.  This video illustration ought to help you out.

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Schemas, Artwork, and Creativity

This is less about psychology and more about how fascinating I find artists using the world around them and seeing it in an entirely different way than I do.  Here is the link for lots more pictures:

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Brain Games Seasons 2 and 3 Episode Guides

Karli and Jai, my TAs have been working hard and creating more episode guides.

You can find the Season 3 Guide here:

As a reminder, Season 2 can be found here:

Season 4 is coming soon :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Human Behavior Experiments-Great Social Psychology Video

When in search of great resources for my class, I will often record and digitize shows for my classroom use.  When preparing for today's class, I discovered that one of my favorites was online.

This show is called, "Human Behavior Experiments" and appeared on Court TV in 2006.  It is a great social psychology overview focusing on both the original research of Zimbardo (prison study), Milgram (obedience), and Darley and Latane (bystander intervention and apathy). This includes original footage along with content dealing with real-life examples that are truly unbelievable including the Abu Graib prison situation in Iraq.

Direct link:

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Monday, March 2, 2015

Are you listening to "Invisibilia" yet? No? Why not?!?!

NPR recently started airing a podcast called "Invisibilia," and it is AMAZING. It's what you'd expect from NPR: a well produced and written science podcast filled with compelling stories. Here's the description from their website:

"Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things) is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions. Co-hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently"

What I DIDN'T expect was that every episode I listen to, I learn what feels like a radically different interpretation/aspect of psychological research that I thought I was very familiar with. This podcast blows me away every time I listen to it. Examples:
  • "World with No Fear" - "Alix explains how nature imbued us with the need to feel fear, and how the modern world sends it into unnecessary overdrive. We'll also hear about the striking (and rare) case of a woman with no fear" (thanks to Scott for alerting me to this episode)
  • "Mirror Touch" - "the hosts introduce you to Amanda, who can physically feel what other people are feeling."
  • "How to Become Batman" - "Alix and Lulu examine the surprising effect our expectations can have on the people around us. Plus, the story of a blind man who says expectations have helped him see. Yes, see" 
Even if you don't normally listen to podcasts, even if you don't really have time, this one is worth listening to - promise! Try it! You'll love it!

posted by Rob McEntarffer