Monday, February 29, 2016

A Very Special #Psychat

This Wednesday (3/2) is a very special edition of #psychat. From 7 pm - 8 pm CST Dr. David Myers and Dr. Nathan DeWall (YES, THAT DAVID MYERS AND THAT NATHAN DEWALL) will be hosting the hour-long psychology teacher chat. Follow the chat easily on Twitter (or Hootsuite or Tweetdeck) by following the hashtag #psychat. Thanks to @allisonshaver for setting this up and to Worth Publishers for helping to promote this fun night!

-----Posted by Amy Ramponi

The Ethical Teaching of Psychology in High Schools - When We Should NOT Use Role Play

A few weeks ago, a guest blogger (Dr. Ian) talked about some things we, as High School teachers, may want to avoid from an ethical perspective. He spoke of NOT using original images like the TAT, Rorschach Ink Blots, or IQ test questions from a live test in class because it disrupts the clinical use of those tests.

I receive a lot of positive feedback and emails from people, the message being, "Wow. I never thought of that...I'll take his suggestions and amend my curriculum! Thanks."

Since this post received so much positive feedback, I was reminded of a session I attended at a recent conference and a conversation I had after the conference with Dr. Kris Vespia, a professor at UW-Green Bay and a licensed counselor. Dr. Vespia had some suggestions for teaching therapy in the high school setting, and I wanted to pass along her ideas and advice to people who didn't have the good fortune to attend the conference.

Kristin Vespia
UWGB Professor Dr. Kris Vespia

Follwing is my interview with Dr. Vespia:

What are some of your favorite tools to teach students about therapy and techniques?
I’m going to answer a different question than the one you asked (I know, I know – we would not give our students full credit for that kind of behavior!). The truth is I do not focus on teaching therapy “techniques,” and I would be even less likely to do so with high school students particularly due to ethical concerns.  I teach an upper-level college class called “Counseling and Psychotherapy,” and we go into some depth about several theoretical approaches to therapy. Even in that context, I focus more on theory, research, case conceptualization, and ethical and/or professional issues than “techniques.”
Now, to answer your question at least partially, what I would probably focus on for a high school or Psych 102 unit on psychotherapy would be one or more of the following topics: a) defining psychotherapy and/or the counseling process (relationship, assessment, conceptualization, etc.) in detail; b) reviewing the theoretical basis of therapy approaches; c) examining therapy research; and, possibly, d) exploring future directions for the field. Here are some resources that could be helpful.

The theoretical basis of therapy: Provide a case study to students and ask them to conceptualize the underlying cause of the same client’s depression from three different theoretical perspectives (e.g., Freudian psychoanalysis, feminist therapy, cognitive therapy)

Therapy research: Show students samples (e.g., abstracts) of actual studies (see one journal example here: Introduce students to the idea of empirically supported treatments and their prominence in the field (here is one web-based source of information you might find helpful for your own reading: and

Future directions: There always seem to be new and interesting topics to bring into this particular unit. For example, there is an increasing interest in the use of technology in therapy (e.g., telehealth, use of email or apps as adjuncts in therapy) and associated research and ethical issues.   
Do you have any favorite videos that show therapy techniques that you use in your classes?
My favorite videos are not going to be terribly helpful because they are ones I have accumulated over the years that are typically pretty expensive and may even have ethical restrictions on who can view them (e.g., to undergraduates vs. graduate students vs. practicing professionals). In terms of more open access videos, is a large seller of DVDs and streaming video, but you can typically access 3-5 minutes clips of these as previews. That can give students a nice glimpse into what a specific therapy is about by hearing from an expert in it. I would say that I tend to avoid Hollywood movie or TV depictions of therapy because they are often so bad. They can be fun to show, though, if used as a part of an activity to have students brainstorm what is realistic/accurate about the clip and what is not.

Would you recommend having students practice therapy techniques or "simulate" therapy on each other in a Psych 101 or high school class? If no, why not? What are the dangers?
No! In fact, here is the disclaimer that I put on the syllabus for my Counseling & Psychotherapy course each semester. We will review a variety of theoretical approaches to counseling during the semester. Although you may be exposed to counseling techniques in your textbook and in lecture, you should never attempt to use these techniques, which can cause harm when used inappropriately. This class is not in any way designed to teach you to counsel others. Graduate-level training and supervision are necessary to do that kind of work. There are two major problems I have with the idea of encouraging role play of therapy techniques. First, if we have students “practice” on each other in high school or college, we may send a message that therapy is simple and not much more than being a supportive person and/or good listener – or a message that mental illness is not serious and can be “cured” just with support. We would not, after all, have high school or college students practice on each other medical techniques a physician would use to treat physical illness. My larger concern, though, is an ethical one – people could actually be harmed. Even if what happens is just students role-playing supportive conversation, not counseling, with one another, those in the “client” role often end up role-playing a situation that is real to them. Just talking about that situation can bring up unresolved emotions and reactions (e.g., crying, trembling, raising voices) they were not expecting in the classroom. In addition, students may take techniques they “learned in school” and believe they can use them to help others. What is noted above in my syllabus warning is true, though. For example, relaxation exercises may seem harmless and very easy to teach, but for some people using a relaxation technique can actually induce a panic attack instead.

Being an expert in counseling, you obviously deal with many persons with disordered behavior or mental health conditions - is it ok to "act out" disorders in a classroom as a means to teaching students about disorders? 

I would strongly advise against any “acting out” of disorders. From a basic educational perspective, I think it is almost impossible to communicate accurate, high quality information about mental illness that way. It also tends to promote a view that "all people with..." act the same way or have the same symptoms, which is not the case. Professionally and ethically, it likely contributes to stereotypes and stigma surrounding mental illness, which are significant problems. The “acting out” can also trivialize mental illness and lead to reactions like laughter about it in the classroom. Imagine how painful that could be to someone in the class who has a mental illness diagnosis or knows someone personally who does. If the goal is to help students learn more about specific mental illnesses, then there are good professional resources available as an alternative. If you want to learn more about stigma or address that as a topic in class, there is a very large research literature available (P. Corrigan is one key author in that field). 

You might also examine some of these resources and look for similar ones yourself. There are many, many misunderstandings of genuine mental illness (e.g., Major Depressive Disorder is just “feeling sad”). This TED-Ed lesson provides a wonderful illustration: Students may also appreciate hearing people with different diagnoses talk about their experiences. For example, a TED talk by attorney and professor Elyn Saks challenges many of the misconceptions students may have about the illness while still acknowledging its severity. (Connect via this playlist: Of course, you will need to evaluate whether the content is appropriate for high school classrooms.

Any other considerations or tips for teaching Therapy in a high school psychology classroom, it is literally my least favorite topic. Ever. to teach. 
The great news for those of you in this position is that therapy is just one unit (perhaps a week?) in a much longer class, and you can link therapy to almost any core unit in psychology that you do love to teach! Here’s one suggestion. Rely on students’ reading the textbook for your “content coverage” and have your own material in class supplement that content with in-depth treatment of more focused issues. It is a great opportunity to evaluate students’ ability to deal with independent reading, and it frees you to use supplementary material that links most closely to your own interests and expertise. For example, if you love research, you can go in depth with types of therapy research, common methods used, and special ethical considerations with therapy studies. On the other hand, if biological psychology is your passion, you can bring in material about associations between therapy and biochemical changes in the brain or discuss the increased use of psychologists in primary health care settings with physical problems.

Thanks to Dr. Vespia for her thoughts on such an important topic! 

----- Posted by Amy Ramponi 

Friday, February 26, 2016

My Damn Mind

"This American Life" did it again: they produced a podcast that is very nearly PERFECT for high school psychology teachers. If you've never listened to TAL before, this is a good place to start.

Their story, "My Damn Mind" investigates a shooting in a hospital. Along the way we learn what a delusion feels like from the inside, the impact of medication and the lack of medication, how rationality tries to fight delusion, and the impact of stereotypes and lack of training in very scary, aggressive situations.

TAL partnered with the New York Times on this story, and the NYT provides even more details about this fascinating, scary, tragic situation. (Note:
includes photos - looking at this article while listening to the podcast might be fascinating for students)

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Warm Fuzzies from Dr. Gurel

The February 2016 Edition of the APA's Education Directorate's  "Psychology Teacher Network" has a pretty spectacular article written about high school psychology teachers by Dr. Lee Gurel.


If you're in need of a little love or a pick-me-up....or if you just want to feel seriously good about what you do in your classroom everyday, READ DR. GUREL'S THOUGHTS.

Here is a link to the February PTN article by Dr. Gurel, PhD

Oh, and here's a link to the Clark Workshop ...applications are being accepted through April 15, 2016. The is a FREE workshop for high school psych teachers held in MA each summer. Scholarships are available and it was one of the most amazing professional development experiences of my life. If you haven't yet applied or attended Clark, get on it!

Happy almost-spring to everyone! It is almost March, people!

---- Posted by Amy Ramponi

Monday, February 22, 2016


Do any of you play "Quiz Up?" My 14 year old introduced me to it a while ago. She loves it (and is VERY proud of her rankings). When I play I get a bit stressed - opponents answer FAST!

I think this news has been shared in other places (the AP Psych facebook group maybe? or #psychat on Twitter?), but in case you didn't know: there is a "Quiz Up" group for AP Psychology! After you make an account, search for "AP Psychology" in the box at the top and you should see two results. One of them is more popular than the other (the one created by Michael Sandler).

AP Psychology on QuizUp
The questions I've seen are good so far, given the limitations of the system (you can only have 4 possible responses, and they can't be long). If you play, please comment below so that can all compete and brag! :)

There is also a very large , general "AP Challenge" group students might be interested in. Questions come from any AP subject (I learned a lot playing it!) 

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Must Read: Learning Scientists Take on Students, Studying, and Test-Taking

I'm pretty passionate about teaching my students optimal learning strategies, teaching students how to study, and best practices in "making things stick." In fact, it is my SLO Goal this year (Shout out to my AP, Lori!). When I recently came across a pair of cognitive psychologists, Dr. Yana Weinstein, Ph.D. and Dr. Megan Smith, Ph.D., who were using Twitter to get out the message about how students learn best, I knew we'd be fast friends… and, that I wanted them to have a platform on the THSP page to talk about their craft, their blog/Twitter presence, and how high school students can best use their research and expertise. You can find these ladies on Twitter at @AceThatTest and on their blog

The Learning Scientists

How did the two of you decide to start the "Learning Scientists" blog? What were your motivations?

Yana: Honestly, I had recently started to listen to NPR on my daily commute, and I started feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing more to help the community. They had this one story in particular about “College Bound Dorchester”, which is a program that gets kids with troubled pasts (e.g., former drug dealers) college-ready. Suddenly I thought, hey, how come someone figured out how to help the community like that, while I have some skills to share, but am stuck in my ivory tower? This prompted me to start thinking more about what I could do to help promote good learning and teaching strategies.

Megan: I teach a number of the experimental courses at Rhode Island College (cognition, perception, and learning). I have been trying to come up with creative ways to help my students link the concepts from class to the real world. Improving learning is one connection. But, there are many others, such as how we might frame an advertisement to help it sell, or how we can improve procedures in the criminal justice system to avoid false convictions.

I decided to create an assignment requiring my students to interact with one another and make connections with popular articles on Twitter. In building up my Twitter profile I saw that Yana was tweeting learning strategies to students.  I decided to join in, and we created @AceThatTest to work together.

What is the single most annoying myth about learning, studying, or cognition?

Yana: Learning styles.

Megan: Yes, definitely learning styles. So much time and effort seems to go into worrying about this, and the whole concept of matching instruction to “style” doesn’t help learning! Students and teachers may have a preference, but that’s really a different issue and can be addressed in a different way than this concept of “matching.” We’re all for being interested and engaged with the material, but “matching” isn’t the way.

What would current you (PhD you) tell High School (or undergrad you) about studying that could dramatically change your life?

Yana: I would let undergrad me know about my ADHD diagnosis (which I only just got, at the age of 32, and am trying to be frank about). I would tell myself it’s quite unusual to be so painfully bored in a bad lecture that you can’t physically bring yourself to stay (I could never figure out how everyone else was capable of staying!), that it’s not my fault, and that there are things I can do about it.

Megan: Try to make connections between what you are learning and the things you need to know in later life, even if the connection is “learning this will help me learn how to learn.” I was very much worried about grades in high school. While grades are very important, I wish I had spent more time applying what I was learning in high school. It would have made the transition to college a lot easier! I had to completely re-learn how to learn, and how to be successful, and remind myself why all of this was important once I got to college.

Why don't students listen to us when we try and teach them how to study? (And...why does highlighting and reading over your notes continue to be their #1 study technique?)

Yana: Because highlighting and re-reading FEEL good. Every time you read something yet another time, it feels more fluent as you run your eyes over the letters. And who doesn’t love highlighting? The colors are so pretty, and the way the highlighter glides across the page…

Megan: Perfect answer, Yana! It is unfortunate, but just because something feels like it’s helping you learn, does not mean that it is.

As a high school teacher, I hear "I'm just a bad test taker. I KNOW the information...I just freeze on tests..." a lot. Is test anxiety real, or do they just not know the material?

Yana: It could be that students really are so anxious about tests, that it causes them to underperform. Rather than saying this doesn’t happen, it might help to validate students’ feelings, but then try to reframe them. Promising results are coming out of research into arousal reattribution interventions, where students are told that the heightened state they are experiencing is actually helpful – not hurtful – to their test performance.

Megan: I agree. As a person who can be very anxious (about everything, not tests in particular) I can say that anxiety can be very debilitating. I actually realized in graduate school that my general anxiety was making my life more difficult than it needed to be, and started seeking treatment for it.

When it comes to test anxiety, I think we need to combat anxiety not by saying “I can’t do tests,” but by acknowledging that they’re scary and trying to move past that fear. Make test anxiety something you’re working on, not an excuse for a grade. If the anxiety is really causing a problem, it might be a good idea to talk to a professional about it. There’s no harm in that, and as Yana mentioned earlier, it isn’t your fault, but it is something you can work on!

If you could only have one study technique to use for now until eternity - which would you choose?

Yana: Retrieval practice

Megan: Yes, we both LOVE retrieval practice. Sit down and write, draw, or doodle everything you know!

Who are your Cognitive Psychologist heros?

Yana: Oliver Sacks (RIP).

Megan: My hero is someone most people will have never heard of. Her name is Dr. Janet Proctor, and she works at Purdue where I went as an undergraduate. Dr. Proctor has her PhD in psychology, and could have made a wonderful professor and researcher. However, she took a job as a full-time academic advisor instead, and uses her skills to help college students succeed. She helps undergraduates to find their passions and identify career goals, do well in college classes, and gain experiences they need to become competitive when they go off to graduate school or try to get a job. She’s working “in the trenches” but is making a huge difference for her advisees.  I owe her for my career.

What are 5 quick tips that HS teachers can teach and students can use to start studying better and more effectively?

Here’s our list!

  1. Study a little every day.
  2. Practice remembering things.
  3. Don’t study the same thing for a long time – switch it up.
  4. Take breaks often.
  5. Read feedback carefully.

--- Posted by Amy Ramponi

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Nova "Memory Hacks" Special to air Wednesday, 2/10

Happy February, everyone! It's Amy, here, and though memory is a few weeks away for me, maybe you're ready to tackle this topic soon...or you need a refresher?

At 8 pm CST tomorrow, NOVA will be airing a special entitled "Memory Hacks" about the human memory system. Looks to be an amazing addition to our psychology teacher tool kit!

From Nova's website:

Program Description

Memory is the glue that binds our mental lives. Without it, we’d be prisoners of the present, unable to use the lessons of the past to change our future. From our first kiss to where we put our keys, memory represents who we are and how we learn and navigate the world. But how does it work? Neuroscientists using cutting-edge techniques are exploring the precise molecular mechanisms of memory. By studying a range of individuals ranging—from an 11-year-old whiz-kid who remembers every detail of his life to a woman who had memories implanted—scientists have uncovered a provocative idea. For much of human history, memory has been seen as a tape recorder that faithfully registers information and replays intact. But now, researchers are discovering that memory is far more malleable, always being written and rewritten, not just by us but by others. We are discovering the precise mechanisms that can explain and even control our memories. The question is—are we ready?

Unfolding the Brain

 I learned quite a bit from this video: I knew that brain "folding" occurred early in development, but I didn't know about the research connecting engineering/physics, psychology, and connections to developmental issues. The sound quality of the narration isn't great, but the animations are well done (by the very talented and funny PhD comics) . Worth sharing, I say!

Unfolding the Brain

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Friday, February 5, 2016

Northwest Conference on Teaching Introductory Psychology

High school psych teachers in the Northwest area: check out the great line up of speakers at this psych teaching conference:

I've heard both Dr. Nolan and Dr. Gurung before and they are GREAT. I talked with Sue Frantz from Highline College and she said they would love to have high school psych teachers attend. If you end up going, please post a comment and tell us what you learned!

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


The fantastic Drew Appleby (psych professor emeritus from Indiana University, and friend to high school psych teachers everywhere) wrote this excellent article about his response to recent "shots" some politicians took at psychology as a major and career path.

"A Call to Arms or a Call to Action: Responding to Governor Rick Scott's Challenge to Psychology"

Besides being a well written and clever article (e.g. "the Sunshine State has launched its second gubernatorial torpedo at psychology in less than four months." - ha!) the article is a great example of a scholar reflecting on an "attack" in a thoughtful way, and turning the situation into a productive educational opportunity. That's what we want to model for students, right?

The article links to two other useful resources:
I think high school psych teachers could use these resources to turn what is usually a lecture/presentation about psychology careers into a participatory project: high school students could answer the question like "Is it a good idea to major in psychology in college if I want a job eventually?" using this and other research, and convince themselves of an answer instead of being told an answer by the text or a teacher.

(thanks Drew!)

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Those in and around the Philadelphia area - there's a seriously cool group of people meeting up on Saturday to talk HS Psych...

Time is 10 am and the location is Cheltenham HS in Wyncote, PA.

More information can be found here!!

Contact Maria Vita at for more info!

-- Posted by Amy Ramponi

Monday, February 1, 2016

"Hack your way to Scientific Glory"

This interactive website is really slick: it's a demonstration of inferential statisitcs - p values - and how "statistical significance" is influenced by factors like samplke size and number of variables included in the calculation.

Note: the content of the website (political party power and economic indicators) might be distracting to some students in some contexts?

The interactive feature is halfway down the page. The text at the top and bottom of the page is interesting too: a good discussion of how we need to be very critical and careful consumers of statistical findings (since data can be "hacked" to produce significance). (Note: some profanity in the text).

posted by Rob McEntarffer