Thursday, May 26, 2016

Psychology and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?

I got to sit by a friend at a meeting today and we chatted about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). He shared this article with me - it describes these 8 "practices of science," and I started wondering about whether they might apply in Psychology classrooms, and if so, how?

1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
2. Developing and using models

3. Planning and carrying out investigations

4. Analyzing and interpreting data
5. Using mathematics and computational thinking

6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering) 
7. Engaging in argument from evidence

8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

The science classes taught in science departments in my district are getting redesigned using these 8 practices. I like our current national standards for high school psychology, and I don't propose changing them to "meet" the NGSS, but I'm curious about whether or not these science "practices" might apply to psych classes in interesting ways. Any thoughts? Are the NGSS a big deal in your districts? Does anyone think we psychology teachers should pay attention to NGSS?

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Monday, May 23, 2016

Brain Stamp!

Have you seen Brain Stamp? Looks like a great new high school psychology resource, created and run by high school students!

Yena Kim and Abby Flyer  (twitter account = @Brainstampnews ) started this blog because of their passion for their high school psychology class! Here's how one of their teachers (the fabuloys Allyson Weseley) described the blog's origin story:

"Earlier this year, Yena and Abby came to see me saying that had "a surprise" to show me; Brain Stamp was that surprise. They had already set the up site and posted a number of articles and were eager to talk about how they could expand their audience. In 26 years of teaching, I don't think I've ever seen students initiate and execute an independent project of this scope."

Amy Ramponi interviewed Yena and Abby (via email) about the site:

Tell me more about yourself and why you started this.
Yena: We are currently two psychology-obsessed high school juniors from Roslyn High School. After taking AP Psychology last year, we realized that psychology is just so captivating and important in all of our lives. Later that year, we sought to create a Psychology Club in our school. However, the club didn’t pass due to insufficient funds.

Abby: Even though we couldn't get our club started, we still wanted to share our passion for psychology with our fellow students. We started Brain Stamp as a way to write about topics that interested us and make them available for anyone to read. After a while, it became clear to use that our website served a much better purpose than a club would have; while clubs provide a community of learning and sharing within a set time frame in a classroom, Brain Stamp creates an online community that is easily accessible at any time, from any location.

When did you start?
Yena: We started in Fall 2015.

What are your future plans?
Yena: For now, we really want more high schoolers to find out about who we are and what we do. This is because Brain Stamp is a brand new platform for students to get more involved in the field and to share their love for psychology in a unique way.

Abby:  We also want to build more of a relationship with the students who visit our website. We want to hear what topics students are interested in or are struggling with so we can share our insights, and we hope to receive more submitted articles as a way for the members of the community share their insights, too.

Who motivated or inspired you?
Abby: I was first introduced to psychology informally in seventh grade. I was in a general accelerated course called SAIL, in which my teacher presented the class with videos or readings that he personally found interesting or enriching. Much of what he showed us was tied to psychology—for instance, we watched videos on change blindness and selective inattention, videos I found absolutely fascinating but couldn't explain why. When I finally took AP Psychology in tenth grade, everything made sense. Ever since, I've been absolutely enamored with psychology, and, as with everything I love, I take every opportunity possible to share it with everyone I can. Creating Brain Stamp seemed like an effective way to do so.

Yena: I’ve always loved to observe the way people interact with each other and with the world. Ever since I was little, my father encouraged me to constantly think about the “why’s” of individual differences in human behavior. When I entered high school, I became deeply involved in my school’s behavioral and social sciences research program and took my first psychology class. Through these experiences, I was able to study (some of) the answers to my endless list of questions and discover the complexity of what makes us who we are. Inspiration, for me, derived from all sorts of places—history, home, school, friends, the news, etc.; curiosity is what drove me to be here.

Who was your teacher?
Abby: Both of us had Dr. Todd Postol for an enrichment class in seventh grade and Ms. Andrea Pearlman for AP Psychology, two teachers who, I feel, have had a profound impact on my life.

Yena: We run Brain Stamp independently, so it’s not an official organization of our school. However, we have many teachers who support what we do. For example, the Coordinator of Secondary Research at our school, Dr. Allyson J. Weseley, is one of the teachers who stands out. 

posted by Amy Ramponi and Rob McEntarffer

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering

It is rare that I read a book where I am dog-earing and placing so many post-its in order to return to some great idea or quote. Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering is one of those books. David Kessler takes a new, cross-disciplinary approach to understanding and connecting biological, behavioral, cognitive, phenomenological, and sociocultural perspectives to explain how all/nearly all mental illnesses are related. In taking this approach, I suspect that he will capture the psychological community in the same way as Gardner changed our thinking with multiple intelligences and Gladwell had us viewing the world with thin-slicing. I am drawn to writers who are able to clearly articulate what I have thought or intuited, but have been unable to state simply and clearly. Below are some samples.

Simply put: a stimulus--a place, a thought, a memory, a person--takes hold of our attention and shifts our perception. Once our attention becomes increasingly focused on this stimulus, the way we think and feel, and often what we do, may not be consciously what we want. I have terms this mechanism "capture." Capture underlies many forms of human behavior, thought its effects may be detrimental or beneficial. By viewing behavior through this lens, I hope to help explain the power that capture has over us when it drives us to destructive impulses.

Another excerpt
When we are drawn to a particular stimulus, we act in response to a feelking or need aroused by it. Every time we respond, we strengthen our neural circuitry that prompts us to repaet these actions. As we continue to react in the same ways to the same stimulus over time--thereby sensitizing the learning, memory, and motivational circuitry of our brains--we create emotional and behavioral patterns. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions begin to arise automatically. What started as a pleasure becomes a need; what was once a bad mood becomes self-indictment; what was once an annoyance becomes a persecution. This process of neural sensitization occurs, and grows stronger, over the course of a lifetime, I becomes increasingly difficult for us to resist its pull. . .While capture is often the source of great pain and suffering, it can also grip us in positive ways. The joy of hearing a beloved song, a visit to the quiet interior of a church, the pursuit of a worthy cause in which we believe--all these, too, can be sources of capture.
The genesis of capture is profoundly individual. Our life histories and narratives result from the singular totality of our actions and experiences. What caputres me affects who I am--and who I am affects what can capture me.
In this last selection, I see hints of Bandura and reciprocal determinism with more than a little Rogers' ideas on phenomenology.  You can see more of this in his examination of David Foster Wallace with this quote from Steve Bunney.
For somone like Wallace, in its simplist form, it is about a disconnect between the person you want to be and the person you perceive yourself to be. . .There is a feeling of losing control; this is one of the biggest issues in psychiatry. If you don't have control, then that's when you get into trouble--whether yoy have anxiety or depression or whatever--because that can be a threat to your entire existence. I canot fully imagine the anguish that makes an otherwise healthy person want to end his life, But I do know that suicidal people feel there is no other way to escape from negative thoughts and feelings. One of the paradoxes of suicide is that it becomes that last and only way that a person can exhibit control. 

Kessler goes on to examine the experiences of William James, his work on attention, and James' personal history. He also explores Freud and drives, cognitive behavioral therapy, Aristotle, and neural circuitry. Citing both anecdotes as explicators and research for support, Kessler makes a compelling argument for the concept of capture as well. Kessler views numerous historical events and figures using the lens of capture to understand. Whether the idea catches on, the book is a great read for the simple reason of examining human behavior. Ultimately, he recommends awareness of psychology/causes of behavior and ways to change our attention to facilitate growth. I found the book to be a very enjoyable read.

Full Disclosure: I did receive a copy of the book at no cost for the review process. The book was already on my "to read" list for this summer. Receiving the book simply quickened the pace.

About Capture
Hardcover: 416 pages •
Publisher: Harper Wave (April 12, 2016)

Why do we think, feel, and act in ways we wish we did not? For decades, Dr. David A. Kessler has studied this question with regard to tobacco, food, and drugs. Over the course of these investigations, he identified one underlying mechanism common to a broad range of human suffering. This phenomenon—capture—is the process by which our attention is hijacked and our brains commandeered by forces outside our control. In Capture, Dr. Kessler considers some of the most profound questions we face as human beings: What are the origins of mental afflictions, from everyday unhappiness to addiction and depression—and how are they connected? Where does healing and transcendence fit into this realm of emotional experience? Analyzing an array of insights from psychology, medicine, neuroscience, literature, philosophy, and theology, Dr. Kessler deconstructs centuries of thinking, examining the central role of capture in mental illness and questioning traditional labels that have obscured our understanding of it. With a new basis for understanding the phenomenon of capture, he explores the concept through the emotionally resonant stories of both well-known and unknown people caught in its throes. The closer we can come to fully comprehending the nature of capture, Dr. Kessler argues, the better equipped we are to eventually alleviate its deleterious effects and successfully change our thinking and behaviors. Ultimately, Capture offers insight into how we form thoughts and emotions, manage trauma, and heal. For the first time, we can begin to understand the underpinnings not only of mental illness but also of our everyday worries and anxieties. Capture is an intimate and critical exploration of the most enduring human mystery of all: the mind.


“Kessler proposes an original theory of the mind. His cogent argument is that a great deal of the apparently inexplicable behavior of human beings is the result of impulses, drives, and obsessions that may share fundamental neural and psychodynamic mechanisms. This carefully researched book is both startling and engaging, and is written with brio.”—Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of The Noonday Demon “In this richly documented, beautifully written, and original work, David Kessler has given us an idea that explains one of the most strange and most powerful processes in the human brain.”—E. O. Wilson, University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University “Capture is a breakthrough book. In a world of increasingly specialized knowledge, it takes a particular gift and some stubbornness to cut across the fields of neuroscience, psychiatry, philosophy, and psychology, and to ask the fundamental question: Why is it that we allow our best selves to be captured and torpedoed by thoughts and actions that sink us? Kessler’s exploration of the question makes for a compelling read. His ultimate answer is profound and one that could be life changing and life saving. I know I will be handing this book out for just that reason.”—Abraham Verghese, MD, author of Cutting for Stone

David A. Kessler, MD served as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He is the author of A Question of Intent and The End of Overeating, a New York Times bestseller. He is a pediatrician and has been the dean of the medical schools at Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Kessler is a graduate of Amherst College, the University of Chicago Law School, and Harvard Medical School.

posted by Chuck Schallhorn

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Murder Over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High

A Murder Over a Girl is a new book by Ken Corbett, a gender studies expert and NYU professor who went to Southern California to learn why a 15-year-old transgender student Larry 'Letitia' King was murdered. Corbett takes the reader through painstaking detail through the trial with its various witnesses, describing each with both a flair for observation, and inferences about the context, motivation, and meaning of the words they used. The book is not just about the murder or even the trial, but about how context matters for everything and how we shape the context in our own lives can lead us down very different paths. This book is fascinating, trouble, and insightful.

Cover Art
Corbett analyzes race, identity, poverty, culture, gun violence, and adolescence in a way I have never read before. Some parts of the book were hard for me to read due to the abhorrent nature of the ideology examined. That said, I believe this is a necessary book for all psychology and sociology teachers to help us understand the role that culture plays in our personal and collective lives. After so many years of teaching experience, I learned to look at education and my students through a new lens after reading this book.

From the Amazon description:
A psychologist's gripping, troubling, and moving exploration of the brutal murder of a possibly transgender middle school student by an eighth grade classmate On Feb. 12, 2008, at E. O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, CA, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney shot and killed his classmate, Larry King, who had recently begun to call himself "Leticia" and wear makeup and jewelry to school. Profoundly shaken by the news, and unsettled by media coverage that sidestepped the issues of gender identity and of race integral to the case, psychologist Ken Corbett traveled to LA to attend the trial. As visions of victim and perpetrator were woven and unwoven in the theater of the courtroom, a haunting picture emerged not only of the two young teenagers, but also of spectators altered by an atrocity and of a community that had unwittingly gestated a murder. Drawing on firsthand observations, extensive interviews and research, as well as on his decades of academic work on gender and sexuality, Corbett holds each murky facet of this case up to the light, exploring the fault lines of memory and the lacunae of uncertainty behind facts. Deeply compassionate, and brimming with wit and acute insight, A Murder Over a Girl is a riveting and stranger-than-fiction drama of the human psyche.

From the Publisher:
On February 12, 2008 in Oxnard, CA, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney and the rest of his eighth grade class walked to the computer lab with their teacher, Dawn Boldrin. As his classmates typed their history papers, Brandon quietly stood and shot 15-year-old Larry King—who for just two weeks had been wearing traditionally female accessories and identifying as “Leticia”—twice in the head. Larry died in the hospital two days later. Psychologist Ken Corbett was unsettled by the media coverage that sidestepped the issues of gender identity and race, and went to California to attend the trial. In his new book, A MURDER OVER A GIRL, Corbett, a leading expert on gender and masculinity, details the case, and all the social issues still littering the American landscape eight years later. The brutal murder begged the question: How this could happen? Ellen DeGeneres spoke out; Newsweek and The Advocate ran cover stories. Once again, a “normal boy” like Brandon had taken a gun into a school and killed another student in cold blood. But others, still, wondered: How could this not happen? In many ways this was a “perfect storm” of race, poverty, gun violence, and gender identity fueled by ignorance and fear. Brandon had been raised by drug-addicted parents. His mother shot his father days before their wedding, and his father later shot his mother in front of him. His home was a veritable culture of guns. Larry’s birth mother was a 15-year-old drug addicted prostitute. He had recently been removed from his adoptive parents’ home after reporting abuse. Larry identified as gay from the age of 10, and by 15 had realized he was a girl. He wore makeup and stilettos to school with his uniform and had asked the boy who would be his killer to be his valentine. Brandon says he was being sexually harassed by Larry and sought peace the only way he knew how. Eight years later, the citizens of this country have yet to get on the same page on so many of the major issues at play: gender identity; sexual and racial equality; gun control; drug laws. Neither experts nor lawmakers nor voters can come to a consensus, and yet, teachers—most of whom have received no training in any of these areas—are thrust to the forefront in the classroom.

 posted by Chuck Schallhorn