Society for the Teaching of Psychology
Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

"This is How I Teach" Blog

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Teaching shouldn't be a private activity, but often it turns out that way. We don't get to see inside each others' classrooms, even though we'd probably benefit if only we could! In order to help Make Teaching Visible, we've introduced this blog, called "This is How I Teach." We will be featuring the voices of STP members twice a month. Psychology teachers will tell us about how they teach and what kinds of people they are -- both inside and outside the classroom. 

Are you interested in sharing your secret teaching life with STP?

We’d love to hear from you!  To get started, send your name, institution, and answers to the questions below to the following email: howiteach@teachpsych.org.  

  1. Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
  2. What are three words that best describe your teaching style?
  3. What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

"This is How I Teach" edited by: Maggie Thomas, Editor (Earlham College), Rob McEntarffer, Associate Editor (Lincoln Public Schools), and Liz Sheehan, Associate Editor (University of Kentucky)

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  • 17 Apr 2019 5:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School Name: University of Roehampton London – Online & University of the People - Online

    Type of School: Public Universities. Both universities have a diverse student body that represents the six continents – Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Australia.

    Classes you Teach: Undergraduate and Graduate psychology courses including Research Project (Master’s Thesis) Supervision

    Average Class size: In undergraduate courses, class size ranges from 15 to 40 students. While in the graduate courses, class size ranges from 15 to 25 students. Supervision of master’s thesis varies from 4 to 15 students. 

    Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    Out of all the psychology, undergraduate and graduate courses - psychopathology, personality, and health psychology are the courses that I enjoy teaching as I found that most students someway and somehow relate to the topics with their personal experiences, and at times discovers something new about themselves. As much as I love teaching these courses, I like organizing and presenting the materials in a way that makes it easier for the students to understand which can stimulate discussions that foster learning and engage the students in active learning.

    These courses that I enjoy teaching are aligned with my research interest which reflects on the student’s masters thesis that I am supervising that has an emphasis on how adverse environmental experiences (stress, trauma, social disadvantages, alter development processes) shapes emotional, cognitive and neurobiological development throughout childhood and adolescence that predicts the increased risk for psychopathology, particularly in adulthood.

    What are three words that best describe your teaching style? Interactive, Engaging, and Supportive.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I am a licensed clinical psychologist and currently in active psychological practice. I amfrom Houston, Texas but presently residing in Alberta, Canada. Psychology is not my first undergraduate studies, but Business Administration.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    Teaching using a learning platform can be challenging compared to teaching in a classroom as being familiarized with the different learning software is vital in facilitating the course/class, engaging the students to participate in activities must be sustained and students tend to need more support. Because of this, flexibility, adaptability, and communication are imperative.

    The best advice that I learned from my professors and mentors are keeping it simple even if the course material is difficult as it enables the students to learn the material and knowing after the course is over that they have learned what should be is the rewarding part of teaching.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? I love the books that are authored by Oliver Sacks in particular, The Case of the Colorblind Painter as it clearly displays the relationship between cognitive processing and behavior. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment.

    Writing a research proposal is my favorite assignment as it demonstrates the student’s subject of interest, why it interests them, and showcase their writing skills. Based on the students’ feedback, they find this assignment challenging, but they are also excited in doing an activity that they have not done before.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you? Active learning is my teaching/learning style which allows inclusion of the different learning styles and motivates students to be engaged learners.

    What’s your workspace like? Tons of paper all over my workspace. It is evident that the semester term is over when all the paper disappears, and everything is organized.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    When I was new on teaching online, I announced the date and time of the synchronous class and realized the day before the scheduled date that some of my students are geographically located in places wherein the date is a day ahead of North America. Luckily, that day I managed to show up although I was ten minutes late and good enough some of my students are still online waiting. I ended up facilitating the class though slightly disorganized. Because of this error, I ended up giving two synchronous class instead of one and sending emails that contains some materials and resources that I did not manage to cover during the synchronous class.

    At the time that I made this mistake, all I can do is go with the flow though I was really flustered. Now, when I look back, it always brings a smile on my face. 

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Recently, I became enthused about the holistic approach such as meditation that I ended up reading Aware, the science and practice of presence.

    What tech tool could you not live without? Collaboration app is essential in teaching and communicating with students, and the use of SPSS to validate the students’ statistics work.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school?)

    In the faculty lounge forum, the discussion between faculty members tends to be more suggestive as the topics that are most talked about pertains to student’s situations or circumstances such as academic integrity or inappropriate/unusual behaviors. In some instances, a faculty member might discuss an activity that they intend to introduce or already presented in class that is out of the ordinary that usually creates a lot of buzz.

  • 29 Mar 2019 3:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Columbia College

    Type of school: Small liberal arts school

    School locale: Columbia, MO

    Classes you teach: General Psychology, Lifespan Development, Research Methods, Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Capstone Research, and Writing for the Social Sciences.

    Average class size: 20-30 students

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    In one of the first courses I TA’ed as a graduate student, the major professor gave me a Louis Pasteur quote about “chance favoring only the prepared mind.” The quote confused me at first, but I quickly realized how fast things moved inside the classroom and how quality-teaching moments were products of being prepared when students asked difficult questions.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?

    Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. I read this when I started teaching and have aspired to implement these practices ever since.  

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    General Psychology is one of my favorites. It’s the doorway to the rest of the major and because it has so many topics, I never get bored. I bring a lot of passion and enthusiasm into this course and love hearing students say they took a psychology course to satisfy a requirement but enjoyed it so much that they signed up for more. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    Whenever I lecture on Latané and Darley’s (1970) decision making model for helping behavior, I always recruit a student to help me create a scene at the beginning of class (e.g., falling down, spilling a stack of papers, dropping a cup, etc.). I try something different every year and I’m amazed by students’ reactions. It makes for a great talking point later in the lecture when I post an image of my student accomplice and ask why so few of their classmates got out of their seats to help (diffusion of responsibility!).

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    Retrieval practices! I read Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel’s, Make it Stick, and was immediately convinced I should implement low-stakes retrieval practice activities in all of my courses. Now, I can’t go more than a few days without engaging students in some type of retrieval practice. 

    What’s your workspace like?

    Most of the time, my office is relatively clean. However, this is not always the case around the middle and end of the semester (see attached photo for proof).

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Energetic. Active. Fun.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Always have fun with the material. 

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    At one point during my first year as a faculty member, the power went out in my building 15 minutes before I had to teach. My course was in a windowless, basement classroom and I had to think fast if I still wanted to lecture about attachment theory. Instead of canceling class, students illuminated their cell phones and I taught the entire lecture by getting students to role-play Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Task. The class got a kick out of the tall student athlete from the football team playing the role of the baby. (The guy did a great job!) Every semester since, I incorporate some element of role-play when discussing this topic.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I was quite the runner in college and graduate school, completing 10K’s, half-marathons, marathons, as well as an Ironman triathlon. Exercising helped me manage all the stress that came with school.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I attended a Supreme Court session last summer and got hooked on all things Supreme Court. I started listening to Radiolab’s podcast, More Perfect, and even bought Justice Sotomayor’s autobiography, My Beloved World, in the Court’s bookstore. I get in a few chapters whenever I have “free time” during my breaks.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    ZipGrade completely changed how I administer and score exams. Since adopting this tool, I haven’t looked back.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Mostly, my conversations are teaching focused. My colleagues do amazing work and I’m always fascinated to learn more about their approaches to teaching. Their stories inspire me to continue dreaming big in my own courses. 

  • 28 Feb 2019 12:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Duke University

    Type of school: R1

    School locale: Suburban meets small hipster city

    Classes you teach: My primary focus is on teaching our large (250 student) Introductory Psychology course, but I am also teaching a first-year seminar called The Psychology of Student Success, and I teach seminars on teaching and on doing classroom research.

    Average class size: My class size is bimodally distributed. J Classes are either huge (230-250) or small (<18)

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    I think probably the simplest, most impactful advice I received was just to be “intentional.” Instead of just doing my best impersonation of my own college professors, or trying to shove as much content into my class as possible, my teaching choices should intentionally reflect my goals for my students. This seems so obvious to me now, but as graduate student teaching for the first time, it wasn’t obvious at all. I really thought of teaching as more of a performance than as a project with desired outcomes. This advice came indirectly from two of my colleagues at Stanford: James Gross and Kelly McGonigal, who are two of the best teachers I know. They talked about teaching in this way, and it really changed the way I thought about it.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    Over the years I’ve really tried to find a way to fall in love with each and every topic I teach. I have to discover something—a story, a particular study, a theme—that makes me really eager to share that topic with students. If I can’t connect with its meaning or purpose, then why am I covering it? As a result, I truly love all the topics I get to teach. If I had to pick a single favorite, I think I’d choose Sensation and Perception. Visual illusions illustrate at a very basic level how the mind constructs reality. The active role of the mind in shaping our experiences is one of the most powerful lessons that a psychology course can teach a person and this all begins with how we interpret information coming through our senses.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    For years, I have been illustrating the reconstructive nature of memory in my introductory psychology course by planting a false memory about the first day of class. This idea was originally conceived in collaboration with my former colleague at Stanford, Greg Walton. In a lecture on the brain, I describe the function of the cerebellum and offer a joke: “this part of the brain wasn’t working very well for me when I spilled my water bottle the first day of class.”

    Several days later, I give students a survey that they can complete for modest extra credit (a single point on an exam). The survey contains a number of questions related to memory, including questions asking students to recall details about events from the first day of class. The false event from the first day of class—me spilling my water bottle—is listed alongside three to four true events.

    Although most students report not remembering this false event, anywhere from 20-35% of my students do, and most will confabulate details of the incident, including the color of the bottle, where I was when I spilled it, the noise it made, what I said, the fact that students laughed, etc. I then use student quotes describing the false event in my lecture on memory. After sharing some of Elizabeth Loftus’ and others’ classic research on false memory, I reveal students’ own data illustrating their false memories.

    Critically, we discuss the ethics of the demonstration. I explain how much I value honesty in the classroom, and don’t use deception without careful consideration. I further explain that I want students to experience the vulnerability of their memory in a safe setting, where the worst thing that can happen is that they feel mildly embarrassed that their anonymous description ended up on my PowerPoint slide. Students overwhelmingly think the demonstration is worth the mild deception, and appreciate the lengths I’m willing to go to help them understand psychology.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I have two favorite teaching techniques. First, I love telling stories as a pedagogical tool. Listening to a story has always been one of my favorite ways to learn, and I think that creating a compelling narrative is a strength of mine. My lectures are structured to be story-like, and I use specific stories to illustrate important concepts and to describe a classic experiment. Telling a successful story forces me to take my students’ perspective: What do they already know? What will they care about? What will surprise them? Anger them? Inspire them? I’m always collecting new stories by listening to wonderful podcasts that feature psychologists and their work. My favorites are This American Life, Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, Radiolab, and the Ted Radio Hour.

    Second, I love a good discussion. I like to pose a good question and really listen to and build on what students have to say. I used to think that teaching was all about “talking,” until I observed some brilliant friends and colleagues who were skilled at facilitating discussions. They knew how to pose thought-provoking questions and then just listen, really listen, to what students had to say. With intense listening, they would easily come up with a great follow-up question or comment that would inspire other students to join in and create a true conversation. I’ve really enjoyed developing this skill myself because it forces me to be in the moment with my students, learning along with them.

    What’s your workspace like?

    When I’m getting down to the business of lesson planning or grading, my workspace is just me and my computer, because everything is digital. I have a sit-to-stand desk so that I can get up on my feet. I like to have multiple screens for lesson planning, because I’m usually doing a mix of reading, writing, and building slides all at once. I also think a lot about teaching when I’m walking and driving. While driving, I prep for class by listening to previously recorded lectures from my own classes or to podcasts that have stories I want to share with students. While walking, I sometimes use “retrieval practice” and mentally walk through the lesson I have planned for the day.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    theatrical, empathetic, meticulous

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Always start from a place of empathy.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    I’ve made so many mistakes over the years, most small, but occasionally a bigger one. Probably my worst teaching disaster was when I was in graduate school, teaching a summer session course that I helped to design on “The Psychology of Mind Reading” (really a course about social cognition). This was one of my first real teaching experiences. At the last minute, I’d decided to add a description of a recently published study to my lecture plan. When it came time to explain the study in class, my mind went completely blank. I just could NOT remember the details of the study and just stood there, looking blankly at my slides for a long time. Eventually I gave up, tried my best to laugh about it, and explained that I would “study up” before our next class session. I think my students gave me the benefit of the doubt because they’d seen how prepared I’d been for our previous classes, and they knew I cared. By the next class we seemed back on track. Ever since, I’ve been extra careful to make sure I understand the studies I plan to cover in class, taking time to check out the original article and make sure I have a grasp of the methods, partly to make sure I can explain it, but also to be prepared for interesting questions students may ask.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    Most of my students are surprised to learn that I’m also a group exercise instructor who likes to choreograph fitness routines to music. I love to exercise and have been teaching exercise since my first year of graduate school. Occasionally one of my students stumbles into my exercise class on campus and then takes a few minutes to recognize me because I look pretty different decked out in my workout gear.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I don’t have very “elevated” book selections—I love fantasy fiction written for young adults because I can read it before bedtime without having to strain my brain too hard at the end of the day. I most recently read Sabaa Tahir’s Reaper at the Gates which is part of her Ember in the Ashes Series. I haven’t picked a new book yet. I love audio books because I can listen while walking or driving.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I could not live without Google image search. My lecture style is very visual. I don’t like a lot of words on my slides and Google’s image searching capability makes it so easy for me to find the perfect picture to compliment whatever I am trying to say.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    I definitely ask my colleagues about how their teaching is going this term. Because I’m at an R1, I don’t think faculty talk as much about their teaching, so I try to start that conversation. We also talk a lot about our kids. I have two daughters, aged 7 and 10, and they are always up to something fun that I like to share.

  • 15 Feb 2019 3:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Delta State University

    Type of school: Regional State University

    School locale: Small town, in the Delta of Mississippi (the heart of the blues!)

    Classes you teach: General Psychology, Lifespan Development, Educational Psychology, Human Sexuality, and Statistics

    Average class size: 20-30

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    My biggest fear when I first starting teaching in graduate school was that my students would see right through me. I had a fear that a student would ask me a puzzling question that I would not know the answer to and I would be caught as a fake, the ol’ impostor syndrome at work. I mentioned this fear to my advisor and he told me that there was no way I was going to know everything, and that’s Okay. He told me to not make up some answer just because you feel like you have to, that students will respect you more if you reply with, “I actually don’t know the answer to that, let me write that down, research it, and I’ll get back to you next class,” and MAKE SURE to get back to them. The relief that came with that piece of advice helped me relax into my teaching and let my passion and enthusiasm come through.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    It’s a hard choice between John Dewey’s Experience and Education and Ryan and Deci’s (2000) “Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being,” but ultimately I have to go with Experience and Education. Dewey’s description of education and its importance in being a transformative experience instead of just a means to an end constantly reminds me to keep perspective while I am teaching, because at the end of the day what is that I want my students to take away from my class? Concepts, content, and lectures will fade, but opening a student’s mind to critical thinking and the beautiful world of understanding human behavior and thought through psychology is truly transformative.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    I absolutely adore teaching Statistics. It’s such a weird mixture of conceptual and procedural learning, and I just love surprising my students with how relevant it is to their everyday lives. So many students come into statistics with math anxiety and a fear of failure. They set such low expectations of themselves and the class and that motivates me to show them that the course really is not so scary. It also continually challenges me to think of different ways to describe complex ideas. Standard deviation may feel like second nature to me now, but I am constantly needing to remind myself of my very first interaction with these topics. It is like learning a new language that can make you lots of money if you get really good at it! Honestly I get so jazzed about statistics I would not be surprised if sometime down the road I get a statistics related tattoo.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    My favorite assignment is one I actually borrowed from the Transformative Experience literature (see Pugh, 2011 and Heddy & Sinatra 2013). It’s called “Use Change Value” or “UCV” responses. I do this about 8-ish times a semester where I ask students to describe how they have seen the course content in their everyday life through three prompts:

    1) Discuss how you saw an example of course content in your everyday life.
    2) Discuss how seeing that content in your real life experience has changed how you see that topic.
    3) Discuss why that experience was/is valuable to you.

    I give my students autonomy in letting them choose any course content, and given that psychology is the study of human behavior/cognition and we are all humans, they have a plethora of options to choose from. I find that this assignment is great for facilitating self-relevance so the material usually sticks better, and I get to know more about my students through these prompts. They’re also only 300 words, so it doesn’t become too burdensome for myself or my students.

    What’s your workspace like?

    I think my office is a reflection of my interests and sense of humor as well as my affinity for psychology. My psych side shows through my skulls, brains, and psych memes on display, but I also have a poster of one of my favorite movies (Army of Darkness) framed above my desk, and a mounted taxidermy bob cat head that I inherited from a bar I worked in during grad school. I spend a lot of time in my office and so I wanted it to be a place that brought me joy as well as a space that didn’t feel as threatening to my students. As a student, walking into offices with a multitude of bookshelves felt so daunting. It was if the bookshelves represented the vast knowledge of my professors that could come crashing down on my little brain at any minute. I keep one bookshelf of what I find to be absolutely essential texts, and the rest reside at home.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Enthusiastic, Relevant, Eclectic

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Each student has a unique perspective, address it.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    In graduate school one of my mentors asked me to teach about operant conditioning and shaping in her class so she could observe my teaching and give me feedback. I decided to do an in-class activity on shaping where someone in the class would be sent out into the hall while the rest of the class decided on a behavior they wanted them to do when they returned. Upon returning, using M&Ms, I would reward the student as they performed behaviors that got closer and closer to the desired behavior until they finally performed it. The class chose jumping jacks, which was great and should be easy I figured. It was not. My volunteer just did not get the idea that they had to try different movements in order to be rewarded. Maybe I did not explain the activity well enough, maybe they were shy, but we stood there for 5 awkward minutes while my volunteer made little gyrations and the M&Ms melted in my hand. Finally my mentor saved me and told me that we got the idea and to just move on. I ended up carrying out the rest of the lecture with only a mild amount of sweat and shaking, and it was a very valuable lesson in how your in-class demonstrations may not always make the point you want them to and how you may need to switch things up to get things to work.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I am a big horror genre fan, so I am currently reading through some of Stephen King’s more popular titles, and at the moment am on Pet Semetary.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Honestly my LMS, which is currently Canvas. I love the organization, accessibility, and ease of communication. I’m constantly finding new ways to engage with it in meaningful ways with my students.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Usually it revolves around campus news and activities, but Cleveland is also a very small town, so we will also chat about upcoming social events or trips to bigger cities as well.

  • 30 Nov 2018 10:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: City of Medicine Academy

    Type of school: CMA is an urban magnet high school, a small school of 350 that’s 44% African-American and 42% Hispanic, and 82% female. We have a wide range of students who are interested in pursuing a career in the medical field, so they take extra health and medicine electives. Our students can graduate from high school with their CNA license or as certified EMTs.

    School locale: Durham, NC – the Bull City!

    Classes you teach: AP Psychology, Civics & Economics (and numerous other social studies courses over the years)

    Average class size: 20 (has ranged from 5-30)


    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    In 2008 I worked closely with a fellow social studies teacher, who, like me, had spent several years out of the classroom before returning to teaching. She’d worked a lot with beginning teachers, and one day when we were talking about teaching she said, “Look, it’s not that hard – just teach every class period from bell to bell.” She was a great colleague and she of course knew that teaching was always a hard job, but that reminder has always stuck with me. I only have a small amount of time with my students every day, and it’s vital that I use that time wisely every period.  

     

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    Like a lot of high school teachers, I was a social studies teacher by training, and it was a surprise when I was first asked to teach psychology. One of the most important books at that time was Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. I was taken in by Sacks’ use of rich language to describe his patients and I became just as fascinated as he was as to what motivated them (and all of us) to think and behave in certain ways. In terms of teaching, the book Make It Stick has greatly changed my thinking about how learning happens.  

     

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    There’s not one specific topic, but one general idea, which is encouraging students to use the principles of psychology to influence the behavior of others. I don’t mean this in a manipulative way, but when I teach about methods of persuasion or reinforcement principles, I truly encourage students to go out in the real world and try out these methods in small ways. It’s always fun to have them come back and say that their parents were more likely to allow them to have a later curfew, or a friend is acting more warmly to them, because of the principles they used. What could be more enticing to teenagers than to show them the tools for improving their world a little bit?

     

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    “Silly snakes!” This is the activity developed by Janet Simons and Don Irwin (Bolt resources manual, 1996) in which students are asked to listen to 20 strange sentences (“The crafty surgeon won the daily double”) and write down their ratings for each sentence. Each student rates the sentences according to the instructions on their rating sheets, and unbeknownst to them, there are two different rating systems: one asks them to rate the sentences according to how well they could pronounce the words, and the other asks them to rate them on how well they can create a vivid mental picture of the sentence. I then ask the students to turn over the rating sheet, number from 1 to 20, and then I start asking them questions based on the sentences (“Who won the daily double?”) I love this because I’ve done it dozens of times and it works every time! The “vivid mental picture” group always scores higher, and it leads to a conversation about the power of visual images when trying to create memories. I collect the scores by having them raise their hands (“how many got all 20 right?” etc.) and it’s just fascinating observing the “pronounce” group respond so emotionally because they have done poorly, and cannot imagine how someone else could have done so well. I once did this in a meeting with our faculty, and principal, who was in the “pronounce” group, got very angry as I read off the questions, even slamming down her pencil in frustration at one point!

     

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    Unlike most AP Psychology teachers, I have only one semester to teach the whole course, so I have to carefully structure every unit to maximize what I can help my students learn. I introduce every unit with a calendar that lists the page numbers of the reading and major concepts for that day. I regretfully jettison fun activities and projects that I’ve done successfully in the past, but I justify it because my focus is on students doing their best on the exam and gaining college credit. I can often be found in the front of the room, but I view it more as an interactive coaching style than lecturing; the students have already done the reading, so I focus on ways to help them learn the concepts more effectively, by using probing questions, mnemonics, concrete examples, activities, demonstrations, and images to promote dual coding. I also use frequent quizzes to make use of the testing effect, and the unit calendar helps to reinforce the idea of spaced effort over time instead of cramming. (Can you tell I’m a big fan of incorporating cognitive learning principles?)

     

    What’s your workspace like?

    Organic – that’s a positive way to say messy, right? Clutter has always been my hallmark, which of course leads me to seek out those research studies that link creativity and messiness.


    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Relevant, responsive, and reflective.

     

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    “Teaching is performance. Art.”  I wish I had written this, but a while back I saw this comment from fellow high school psych teacher Charlie Blair-Broeker and it just clicked with me. Like performance art, teaching may seem on the surface to be easy or simple, but as we all know there’s so much work and thought behind every class period that students never see.

     

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    I know this sounds like a cliché, but it really happened. Several years ago when I was teaching memory I was proudly showing my students the mnemonic I had just learned for keeping proactive and retroactive interference straight. For years I had struggled with a quick and effective way to delineate the two, and someone shared with me this idea: you can teach students that “Proactive is when Old interferes, while Retroactive is when New interferes” by focusing on the word formed by the first letters of those capitalized words. So yes, in the midst of me proudly writing PORN on the board and boasting how effective this was for remembering interference, my new principal walked in for a little mini-observation. The debriefing after the visit wasn’t as bad as I had feared, and my students really did perfectly remember the difference!

     

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? Okay, this is completely a lie, since I always manage to work it in to my AP Psych classes, but my other students wouldn’t know that I have had five crossword puzzles published in the New York Times. I still love solving them daily, but never seem to have enough free time to construct new puzzles any more. When I teach cognition I always do a mini-unit on solving puzzles by comparing solving methods between crosswords and cryptoquotes, two puzzles that most students have rarely done and seem to enjoy learning how solve. By the end, I can convince some to do extra credit in which they create crossword puzzle clues of varying difficulty or even complete a partially filled grid with their own letters.   

     

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Scandinavian crime fiction – my favorites include Jo Nesbø, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Camilla Läckberg, Lars Kepler, and Karin Fossum. I love the combination of the snowy bleakness, the clever twists, and the miserable detectives always trying to redeem themselves by breaking the big case.

     

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I’m known in my own head as the “Sue Frantz of high school teachers,” so it’s impossible to choose just one. The one that gives me the most peace of mind is Dropbox, because I never have to worry about having my files on the wrong computer or a flash drive I can’t find. It’s also a lifesaver when I realize I’ve just inadvertently saved the wrong version of a file, and I can use Dropbox to download the version I’d saved the day before. Zipgrade has been great for quickly grading multiple choice using a method that gives far more data analysis and speed than the old Scantrons I once used. I’ve done lots of online quiz programs, like Socrative and Kahoot!, but my absolute favorite in the past few years is Quizizz. I can create quizzes in minutes, assign them to students, and get mountains of data back before the end of class. One of my favorite parts is giving students the option to re-take the quiz at home (using a laptop or phone) in “homework mode” so they get more practice with the questions and they can earn extra points by doing so. Oh, also I’ve been an Apple fanboy since 1984.   

     

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    We’re a super small school – again, just 350 – so we get to know students much better than the average high school faculty. Most of us get to teach students in more than one class – I’ve taught one poor student four times! Our hallway chatter thus becomes conversations about our students – how’s he doing in your class, she seems sad – know what’s happening, what schools is she applying to, etc. One of our school’s goals is personalization, so having this close network of teachers who know the students well helps us all to be more responsive to the needs of the students.  

  • 31 Oct 2018 11:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: University of Maine at Farmington

    Type of school: public liberal arts college (~1700 students)

    School locale: small town in rural Maine

    Classes you teach: Child and Adolescent Development, Research Methods, Sophomore Seminar

    Average class size: 15-30

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    My teaching mentor in grad school, Dr. David Zola, modeled “ways of being” in the classroom that have shaped my teaching practices. One of the things he believed was that students learn best when they are active. Even in large lectures, Dr. Zola would have students discuss and apply concepts with each other. The lecture hall would roar with the noise of many conversations and he would smile knowingly at his teaching assistants as if to say, “This is learning. This is the way you teach!”

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    Daring Greatly by Brene Brown is a book that has shaped how I live in and out of the classroom. The premise is that vulnerability, although often viewed as weakness, cultivates so many positive things in our lives. Putting yourself in front of a group of students in an authentic, open way can be a vulnerable position. But, the reward of seeing students grow and growing as a teacher makes the risk worth it.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    My favorite course to teach is Research Methods. Every semester, the 15 students each develop their own research project. The questions they seek to answer are always very interesting. The course is different every semester because the projects the students choose are unique to them. Although the main content of research methods stays the same, the way we work to apply the concepts to each individual project changes and keeps the course exciting.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    In Child Development, during the prenatal portion of the class, we read and talk about innovations in conception and genetics. Each semester there are current events and news articles related to beginning of life issues. This semester we read about the 3-person embryo technique and about how scientists can create egg cells from stem cells. The new science is always changing and students seem very interested in keeping up to date.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I focus on how students can apply abstract concepts or theories to something in their own life. This is easy to do in a course like Child and Adolescent Development, where all students have direct experience with many of the ideas. I also try to have students apply information to their future personal or career lives (i.e., Why might a parent need to know about this theory? How might a teacher use this concept in a 3rd grade class?).

    What’s your workspace like?

    The psychology building at UMF is an old church, complete with a steeple. The 8 psychology faculty are the only ones housed in this building, which also includes a small classroom and psychology student lounge. When I arrived 5 years ago, I was given the opportunity to choose a paint color for my office. I chose purple; the space feels warm and cozy. My large desk serves as both a workspace and a small group meeting space for my students and myself.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Goal-oriented, Collaborative, Relational

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Create learning goals. Develop relationships. Revise. Repeat.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    One day deep into the spring semester I walked into my Sophomore Seminar class and saw 12 exhausted faces staring at me. The goal for the day was to discuss and apply some of the theory from the reading about procrastination to our everyday lives. The irony of the topic (procrastination) was not lost on any of us. The semester had been full of short days (literally, Maine has less daylight in the winter), cold weather, and rampant flu-like illness. My students were exhausted, and I’d guess many of them hadn’t completed the reading. None of them looked energized for discussion. I tentatively began my planned class. Within 2 minutes, I could tell we weren’t in a learning frame of mind. I paused and considered how to correct our course. I acknowledged the exhaustion. I recognized the “human” in all of us. Then I made the suggestion that we walk the 3 blocks to downtown and grab some coffee. They were over the moon. We went downtown, got coffee at Dunkin’, and sat in the downtown gazebo casually discussing the reading for class. The biggest lessons I acquired: Learning doesn’t always happened as planned. Learning doesn’t always happen in the classroom. Cultivating relationships pays big dividends.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    My students might be surprised to learn that I’m an introvert at heart. Teaching is often an extroverted job. Whether I am enthusiastically getting up in front of groups of students or working to make individual connections in office hours, much of what I do at work revolves around social interactions. I think my students might be surprised to know that these interactions are not what “charges my battery.” Instead, I draw energy from lingering over a warm cup of tea with a book. Or, I find calm in my newest hobby-- sewing and quilting.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I commute 2 hours each day and so my “reading” for pleasure often comes in the form of audiobooks in my car. I vacillate between listening to fun popular fiction books (currently Crazy Rich Asians) and podcasts (like Psych Sessions Podcast co-hosted by Neufeld & Landrum).

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I’m wracking my brain and habits on this one. The truth is I could live, and probably live better, without most of them. Many of the tech tools that we use on a daily basis actually facilitate our disconnection with others in the “real world.”

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Many of my colleagues are regularly in their office with doors open. We pop into each other’s spaces and discuss the hits and misses of our latest class. We talk about challenging moments or funny missteps in and out of the classroom. And more often, we discuss the latest news headline or the most recent tweet.

  • 15 Oct 2018 3:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Missouri State University

    Type of school: 4-year public institution, with Master’s degrees, and professional doctorates

    School locale: Springfield, MO

    Classes you teach:

    Introductory Psychology
    Abnormal Psychology
    Psychopathology (graduate)
    Clinical Communication Skills (graduate)

    Average class size:

    330 for Intro Psyc
    30-40 for Abnormal Psyc
    9 for graduate classes

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    I’ve received a lot of great advice over the years! Coming to understand that “covering content” is not what teaching is all about and not what students are going to remember from my course was very liberating. Over the past decade, I have seen my role change from “content provider” to “designer of the learning environment.” This role is so much more fun and one where I believe my SoTL skills can be put to good use. 

    Some other advice that really promoted a paradigm shift for me came from Carol Twigg and Carolyn Jarmon from the National Center for Academic Transformation during the early stages of our course redesign of Introductory Psychology. They taught me to consider the financial costs associated with teaching and to use that information to determine how my time is best spent. Since we now teach 330 students as a team (faculty member, graduate assistant, and 6 undergraduate learning assistants) it doesn’t make sense for me to spend my time entering grades on Blackboard. Instead, I use my time to analyze the class homework data and tailor our upcoming class accordingly. Every class is interactive (even with 330 students) and recognizing that the ability to have that type of class emerged from a financial analysis years ago is pretty cool!

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    What the Best College Teachers Do (Bain). I also attended one of Ken’s workshops in 2010, which was career-changing for me.   

    How Learning Works (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, Norman)

    Make it Stick (Brown, Roediger, McDaniel)

    And of course, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology and Teaching of Psychology journals.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    I love all the courses I teach. But Intro Psyc is probably my favorite. My favorite classes are the ones where we have all 330 students participating in an activity – The Human Neuron for the Bio chapter, Shallow vs Deep Processing Experiment for Memory, or Classically Conditioning them with Fun-Dip in the Learning chapter.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    In addition to the ones I mentioned above, I also hold a special “study skills” class for all the undergrad courses I teach. I wait to do this until after the first exam (you probably know why) and love the opportunity to provide them with evidence-based strategies and some of the rationale about why they work and why the typical study strategies students often use aren’t generally very effective.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I try to practice what I preach. So, I attempt to model “best-practices” for teaching and learning during my classes. I use just-in-time teaching to plan the class for the day, the students answer numerous clicker questions throughout the class, I use peer-instruction, and interactive activities to help the students elaborate on the concepts. I’m also trying to do a better job of making the connections between the various topics/chapter more explicit. Intro Psyc is a survey of the field, but it is not 16 distinct topics. My goal is for students to start to see some of those “Big Ideas” running throughout the course and develop an appreciation for the science.

    What’s your workspace like?

    My workspace is generally pretty tidy and organized. It can get out of control briefly but then I have to clean things up before moving on to the next task. Our building was just renovated and I moved into my office in August – I’m taking a minimalist approach because our offices are so small now. What I’ve realized is I really don’t need much more than a computer these days!

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Energetic, Warm, and Data-driven

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Appreciating psychological science while learning how to learn.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    The year was 2008….my babies were 16 months and 5 months (yes, they are 11 months apart and I did not sleep for over 2 years!) I was teaching 150 Intro Psyc students and about halfway through the lecture I scratched my shoulder. I felt something strange and had the slow realization that what I was feeling was the inside seam of my shirt. I had been wearing my shirt inside-out all day and no one had said anything to me. I ended up finishing class 30 minutes early because I just couldn’t go on!

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I’m originally from Vancouver, Canada and I’m still Canadian. I completed my undergraduate degree in Vancouver and then moved to Baton Rouge, LA to attend LSU for graduate school. There was some definite culture shock! But, I loved it and still cheer on the LSU tigers. I also met my best friend (Brooke Whisenhunt) in grad school. We have that one-in-a-million situation where we both got jobs at Missouri State University and have worked side-by-side for the past 15 years. It has been a dream come true.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I honestly don’t have much time for pleasure reading. But, the next on my list is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I saw him speak at APA this past summer and it was amazing!

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Definitely my iPhone. I wish I could say I would be able to function without it, but I believe my entire life is contained in that little device.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Honestly, we talk most about improving our teaching to better help students. Our Intro Psyc teaching team of faculty is very close and we are always looking for new interventions to try and new ways to measure learning. Most of us are also moms so we talk a lot about the ups and downs of raising children.

  • 15 Sep 2018 1:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: University of Louisville (UofL)

    Type of school: Large public research institution

    School locale: In the city of Louisville, with Churchill Downs (the home of the Kentucky Derby) located just a few miles away from campus.

    Classes you teach:

    Human Development, Advanced Issues in Human Development, Learning Theory & Human Growth & Development (Educational Psychology), Learning Systems: Theory & Practice. I have also taught Research Methods, Measurement & Evaluation, a seminar on Understanding Genius, and independent studies on a variety of topics (achievement motivation, gifted education, and independent studies on teaching human development/educational psychology courses).

    Average class size:

    My class sizes have ranged from ~10 (doctoral student seminars) to ~40. What’s most fun is the diverse mix of students in these classes. The Learning Theory & Human Growth & Development course has music education undergraduates alongside MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) graduate students. One semester, that class had juniors and seniors, MAT students, and two doctoral students (Curriculum & Instruction and Nursing), which was a really fun challenge!

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    Make changes thoughtfully and intentionally. There is always this temptation to make lots of big changes to a course, whether after learning about a new technique that sounds intriguing, coming across a cool reading, or responding to student feedback (course evaluations or mid-semester feedback). Being adaptive in teaching is important, but it quickly can turn into too much of a good thing. Make several changes at once and it’s hard to isolate what exactly was the cause of any improvement, so then you’re left not really knowing what works and what doesn’t. I’ve found this to be especially true when making mid-course changes, such as considering changes after mid-semester feedback – you might end up changing something that had been working. I try to keep in mind that any change I make should be thoughtful, intentional, and carefully implemented.

    I wish I could remember who gave me this advice, but I think I’ve heard it from several mentors and colleagues over the years. It’s probably the advice that I give most frequently to others, too.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    It’s tough to pick just one. Make it Stick was incredibly helpful in supplying clear explanations of cognitive psychology principles that improved my teaching. Similarly, I love The Learning Scientists blog and website for a wealth of resources on how to implement those cognitive psychology techniques.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    I always joke with students that, "This course is my favorite to teach because every course is my favorite to teach!"  I think each course is my favorite for different reasons; it's just as exciting to push the doctoral students to become theoretical scholars in the Advanced Human Development seminar as it is to get emails from the pre-service teachers and counselors in my courses about how they are putting the content into practice. Each course challenges me in different ways, too.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    I have a huge fondness for myth-busting, so it might be a tie between debunking learning styles or debunking self-esteem myths. For the latter, I have students engage with two vignettes highlighting times that facets of my self-concept and self-esteem took a hit (snippets from a particularly brutal manuscript rejection and tough feedback from a lesson I took with an elite equestrian). As they answer questions around the vignettes to figure out the structure of self-concept and its relation to self-esteem, they also get to see me as a real person who receives failure feedback.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    My teaching is an eclectic mix of highly-interactive lecture interspersed with retrieval practice, small group and whole-class discussion, and activities.

    What’s your workspace like?

    Organized chaos. I know where things are, but it doesn’t always look that way.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Enthusiastic, authentic, demanding.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    One that I’m willing to share for a wide audience? I’ll go with a hilarious embarrassment. It was my first year teaching at UofL and I was getting my PowerPoint set up for one of the classes in Learning Theory & Human Growth & Development. The projector screen was one of those pull-down screens with the string. For some reason I couldn’t get the whole first slide to show. I was talking through some of my frustration with students who were sitting in the front row of the class – trying to sound smart by reasoning that I just needed to adjust the screen resolution on the monitor.

    And that’s when one of the students gently pointed out that it wasn’t the screen resolution. I just hadn’t pulled the projector screen down all the way. And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, it was the week that we were covering giftedness. Which meant that I had chosen the Far Side “Midvale School for the Gifted” cartoon for the first slide – a kid pushing on a pull door. There’s really nothing much to do in these situations except laugh at yourself.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I think my students would be shocked to know that I hated developmental psychology when I took the course as an undergraduate - especially because I eventually earned my Ph.D. in it and I love teaching human development courses now! I even include “Fall in love with human development” as a learning objective for each course. At the time, I was adamant that I would not take another course in development. Looking back, it's an important reminder that whether we want to or not, we serve as ambassadors for our disciplines. I carry that forward with me now by trying to be the best ambassador I can for my content area.

    For something a bit more lighthearted, one of the lesser-known facts about me is that I make really good homemade limoncello. It takes about two hours to carefully peel all of the lemons and then close to three months for it to age properly.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Like most fans of David Foster Wallace, I’m forever able to say that I’m reading Infinite Jest.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Notecards. I was recently discussing this with a colleague and we agree that while high-tech classrooms can be cool, we can accomplish a lot of magic with just notecards and sticky notes.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    There is a lot of talk these days about our new president, Neeli (yes, she prefers to be called by her first name). She is our university’s first female president and has brought a lot of positive energy to our institution. It’s not often you hear about a president giving out their cell phone number to every student they meet – so that’s certainly generated some hallway buzz!

  • 20 Aug 2018 1:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    School name: Woods Cross High School

    Type of college/university: Suburban high school

    School locale: 13 miles north of Salt Lake City)

    Classes you teach: AP Psychology, Introductory Psychology, Quest (a credit recovery course for students to help them get on track to graduate)

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

    The best advice I ever got as a teacher was during my student teaching. Pam Olson, my coordinating teacher for math (I taught math for 15 years) told me that the best thing a teacher can do is let go of her ego. She went on to discuss how teachers who struggle often get caught up in battles of ego. Egos affect interactions with students or colleagues or parents. If you can let go of your ego, you can avoid all kinds of problems. I have found this to be such sage advice. When difficulties have arisen for me as a teacher, it usually goes back to ego issues more than anything else. I also find that I can have a much better relationship with my students when I check my ego at the door.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?

    In all honesty, it was the Myers Psychology textbook (maybe 2e) that my AP Psychology teacher adopted in 1992. In the spring before my senior year of high school, my psychology teacher came to me and asked me to look over a set of three textbooks to help him choose the best book for a new class that would be offered the following year – AP Psychology! I distinctly remember looking those books over very carefully. As a junior in high school, I knew I loved psychology. However, helping to select that text and subsequently taking the first AP Psychology class my senior year, solidified my decision to major in psychology and become a teacher. I read the text cover to cover my senior year, not because it was required, but because I could not get enough. When I began teaching AP Psychology eight years later, I was THRILLED to recognize the author, his unique and funny voice, and a newer edition of the book I had loved. David Myers’ texts have shaped my courses and helped lead me to make the decision to become a high school psychology teacher.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    My students joke that I start every unit with the statement, “This is my favorite unit to cover in psychology.” Their joke has merit. It is REALLY hard for me to pick just one. Every unit has its own fun activities and demonstrations and applications to real life. Just when I start to tire of a topic, it’s time to move on to another “favorite” unit.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    As stated above, where do I begin? I have been to so many amazing workshops and conferences. I have had the pleasure of learning from so many phenomenal teachers. I have a favorite activity with every unit. My “go to” favorites are usually the ones that don’t take very long and really help the kids to deeply process the information. I’ve listed a few below, but I could go on and on and on:

    Neurinal (field trip to the bathroom to demo the neuron), Pavlov and lemonade (this one quick demonstration works better than anything else to teach classical conditioning concepts and kids never forget), Andrea Yates article to teach perspectives and writing FRQ’s for AP, M & M’s to teach statistics, using social media to dispel the myth that we only use 10% of our brain.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I use many different cooperative learning techniques. My classroom has nine tables of four and from the first day of class, my students learn about the necessity of discussion. They speak the language of psychology daily through small group, partner, or whole class discussions. I am also very structured in this approach, which helps the students and me to stay focused. They number off and take turns. Everyone has to contribute. A quiet class or a class where I lecture the entire time is very much out of my comfort zone. I also make my students get out of their seats and move every 20 minutes for at least 30 seconds. I have a variety of strategies for doing this. I believe it really helps with the climate of the class, the comfort of the kids, and the ability to process information.

    What’s your workspace like?

    My classroom has nine tables of four. I set things up from the “front” where I have a screen and a computer. However, I constantly walk around the room and monitor or participate in discussions. When I’m planning lessons and grading, I have my own desk, table, and computer off to the side in a corner. Though, I rarely sit at my desk when students are there.


    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    I asked students to help me with this: Passionate, Organized, Energetic

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? 

    Love the students, love the subject, take risks!

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    I have certainly had embarrassing moments that I was just able to laugh off, like walking around with my shirt tucked into my underwear for an entire class. I even walked into the class next door to take photos in order to use up a roll of film (yes, I have photo evidence) and showed off my underwear to a second class. A kind student took pity on me and told me at the VERY end of class.

    I also had a glitch one day teaching functions in math. I could not say the word “function”. I kept dropping the first n in the word. The more I tried to say the word, the more I fumbled to pronounce it correctly. It was a disaster. The poor students couldn’t focus and I had to do the entire lesson over again the next time. I just had to let my ego go, laugh at myself, apologize to the kids, and move on.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? 

    I still get nervous before the first day of any class. I have two tattoos

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? 

    I just finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and started The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

    What tech tool could you not live without? 

    Projector, clicker, and PowerPoint (boring, yes, but PowerPoint structures my classes and contains clips or prompts for discussions, demonstrations, and activities)

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    We talk about students, parents, other faculty members as well as our own kids and pets. I share a back room and eat lunch with a big group of English and math teachers. We usually talk about the math and English departments and each other. We are great friends.

  • 03 Aug 2018 9:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Washington & Jefferson College (W&J)

    Type of school: Small Liberal Arts College (about 1400 students)

    School locale: Washington, PA – small town about 30 minutes south of Pittsburgh

    Classes you teach: First-Year Seminar, Elementary Psychology (semesters 1 & 2), Cognitive Psychology, Sensation & Perception, Advanced Laboratory in Sensation & Perception (capstone)

    Average class size: 12-25 students

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  

    Learn how to say “no”! While this advice wasn’t initially about teaching specifically, this advice has been useful in keeping my academic life organized. My graduate advisor, Gordon Legge at the University of Minnesota, gave me this advice when I was spending most of my time teaching instead of finishing my Ph.D. research. The advice allowed me to finish my Ph.D. successfully. In semesters at W&J that I overcommit myself outside of the classroom, I struggle with teaching and advising. When I say “no”, even occasionally, teaching and advising goes back to being my primary role … and love.

    What book or article shapes your work as a psychology teacher? 

    I guess the one book that has influenced my teaching most recently has been Small Teaching by James Lang. While there are lots of teaching books on my shelves, one of the things that Small Teaching has helped me with is understanding that making the classroom a better place doesn’t necessarily require extensive makeovers. Sometimes a small change, or a small addition, or a small subtraction is enough to make the environment of the class better. Since I have tried to make all of my classes very applied in nature, the chapter on “Connecting” has been particularly meaningful in helping me think about how to work with students to connect ideas that we discuss in class and/or things that they read about outside of class time. The time commitment to more intentionally do that kind of connecting work really is quite minimal compared to the work to learn the topics. But, making those connections really is a big part of a liberal arts education.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    Although my field is cognitive and perceptual psychology, and I teach Cognitive Psychology, Sensation & Perception, and a capstone on the topic of reading, my favorite course by far is actually my section of our First-Year Seminar titled “The Art and Science of Vision and Visionaries”. We teach approximately 15-20 sections of First-Year Seminar every fall, each topic-based and decided by the individual professor but centered around students learning about the key set of skills that they need as students. The topics are just “excuses” to teach a good course about the liberal arts and what it means to be a good college student.

    My course is split into two halves. The first half of the course is about visual perception, but with the spin that we learn about principles of visual perception and cognition through the study of art. We’re lucky that we live near Pittsburgh and have fabulous art museums in the city. I have the students go to the Carnegie Museum of Art early in the semester and then again later in the semester and I ask them to think about how they have changed (or added to) their way of viewing artwork. I sometimes try to get them to the Andy Warhol Museum or the Mattress Factory, very different types of art museums to see if what they have learned can transfer to different types of museums.

    The second half of the course is about visionaries and how and why people get placed into that category. So, we read Where Good Ideas Come From, learn a little about Steve Jobs, and watch Flash of Genius as a few of our examples. It’s a good excuse to think about how good ideas come about throughout a liberal arts education with an important message that often those ideas don’t appear in a formalized educational setting. The course and topics also provide a good basis for discussing how a liberal arts education is set up to allow the type of visionary thinking that we read and watch in the course.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    One of my favorite in-class exercises comes about halfway through my Cognitive Psychology class. While I start the first day of the semester talking about study skills, and how those important study skills are informed by research in Cognitive Psychology, once we have studied attention and memory in the class, we are ready to talk about how we can actually support those study skills experimentally. The students in the class have read the assigned textbook pages in the Goldstein Cognitive Psychology textbook, they have done a series of CogLab exercises on memory, and they have read articles by Willingham (including “What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?”) and Roediger & Pyc (“Inexpensive Techniques To Improve Education”) on applying memory research to the topic of study skills. Students have also done brief presentations on the chapters in following books: Brown, Roediger & McDaniel (“Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning”), Willingham (“Why Don’t Students Like School?”), and Lang (“Small teaching”). The students come to class and work in groups of 3 or 4 and are given the task below which they work on for the entire class period. The goal is to get everyone thinking about how what they have been learning can be applied directly to learning, and for our Education majors, to teaching.

    Assume you’ve been given a single exam question that says:

    • a.    Briefly describe each of the 5 study techniques covered by Goldstein on pages 202-204 (Elaborate, Generate & Test, Organize, Take Breaks, Avoid Illusions of Learning) plus the additional technique I mentioned on Day 2 of the semester (Match Learning & Testing Conditions).
    • b.    Briefly describe two pieces of evidence to support each of the 6 study techniques (thus 12 total pieces of evidence). Your evidence should come in the form of: 1) Experiments we’ve discussed in class; OR 2) Experiments from your text reading during the last couple of weeks; OR 3) Examples of principles from “What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?”; OR 4) Examples of principles from “Inexpensive Techniques to Improve Education”; OR 5) CogLabs we’ve completed and discussed in this unit
    • c.    Briefly: How would you apply these techniques specifically to set up a study strategy for Exam #2?

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I still use lecture as a teaching tool in most of my classes, mixed with activities, class discussions, projects, presentations, discussions of primary source articles, etc. When we renovated our building a number of years ago, we decided that we wanted a seminar-style room to facilitate classes like our capstones and other smaller classes like our First-Year Seminar classes taught by Psychology Department members. The room, and the U-shaped setup of the tables, allows for a natural setting for discussions and presentations rather than lecture. Although the picture shows what the room looks like during a First-Year Seminar writing exercise, the important thing is that the room structure helps to facilitate the desired teaching and learning techniques for many of my classes.

    What’s your workspace like?

    While I want students to see my office as a “professional” space, I also want them to feel comfortable coming to visit. So, I’ve tried to put as much of “me” in the space as I can … soccer, Cleveland, NASA, Star Wars, family / kid pictures, etc. These extra things in the office provide a comfortable environment for me to work, but also provide a relaxing space for current students to visit. The space also provides some additional ways to make connections with current students, but also with prospective students and their parents when they visit campus. I do like to watch visiting prospective student parents gazing at the things in the room while I talk with their son or daughter. I have also tried to pilfer just about every extra chair around the building so that I can host groups of students or prospective families.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Supportive, practical, integrative

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Teaching with an eye toward real-world applications

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    The easiest example that comes to mind (yes, more than one example comes to mind!) is my first, and only attempt to teach our Mind, Brain, and Behavior course early on in my time here at W&J. The folks in the MBB program were trying to find new instructors for their program’s introductory course, and for someone interested in Cognitive Psychology, it seemed like a natural fit. Well, I made the mistake of trying to teach the course based on a syllabus from someone that had taught the course previously. I did try to modify the syllabus to be slightly more psychological than philosophical given my interests, but I didn’t do enough. I’m quite sure that there were class days where I was just as lost in the material as my students were. I tried to run the class as a discussion class but I wasn’t well enough prepared to do that, and the students certainly didn’t have the background, and I didn’t do a good job of preparing them for those discussions. It really was a horrible class. I occasionally still have a nightmare about that class! I didn’t give up on the techniques that I tried in that class … I’ve applied those in other classes. But, I never taught the class again. Maybe it’s because I was hiding under my desk when they went looking for people to teach the class in later semesters. The MBB program was later cut from our curriculum. I’m a program killer!

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I occasionally wear jeans or shorts! While there are lots of ways to present yourself as a teacher, I’ve always done dress pants and shirt/tie in the classroom since arriving at W&J. During the winter, I like sweaters, and occasionally on a course evaluation I get a comment about my “matching” sweater and socks. But, once in a while on a final exam day, or a sports event on campus, or just wandering aimlessly around Washington, PA with my wife and daughter, I run into students or alums, and lo and behold I’m wearing jeans or shorts. It’s funny how many times students will remark on how “normal” I seem outside of the classroom. In the midst of a busy, and sometimes stressful college career, I’m not sure that students always think of faculty also as “people.” Being Facebook friends with a small subset of students after they graduate has also helped to reinforce the idea that professors (and students/alums!) are normal people, parents, citizens, etc. I’m looking at my wall of fun quotes in my office from former students and one of them commented: “Once you graduate college, it’s funny how you realize that your professors who you thought were so perfect are really just like you.” I love that many of my former students are now also parents and I get to follow their parenting adventures on Facebook as I struggle my way through being a parent of an 8-year-old.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I’ll just be honest. Right now I’m not reading anything for pleasure. A lot of my reading time is devoted to reading articles and books to prepare for my classes. We’re in the midst of the Middle States Reaccreditation process, reading applications for a Visiting Assistant Professor, doing a departmental self-study, preparing for college-level Strategic Planning, etc. I’m lucky at this point if I have the reading energy for the weekend newspaper right now! At some point, I’ll get back to reading for fun!

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I don’t know if this is a good answer, but I don’t feel particularly married to any tech tool. I use PowerPoint in many of my classes to show primarily graphs and figures, but almost never text. I still like using the chalkboard more than any technology. I use Sakai, our Learning Management System at W&J, as a place to make links and articles available to my students during the semester to read. But, in cleaning files this summer, I came across the big stacks of handout originals that I used to use instead of Sakai. I’m happy to not be killing as many trees, but I feel like I could live without Sakai if needed. Maybe it’s a good sign that there aren’t technologies that I feel like I could live without. As I mentioned before, Facebook has become a wonderful tool to stay in touch with students that have graduated from W&J. I’m in touch with many more alums in the Facebook era than I am in the pre-Facebook era.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    At the time I am writing this, W&J is in the midst of many transitions … President, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Vice President of Enrollment … and others. So, naturally some of the hallway discussions are about how all of that uncertainty has an impact on students, faculty, and staff. But, I find more often than not that discussions are about ways to help students succeed at W&J … specific students or students in general. I am also really fortunate to have an office neighbor who also has an 8-year-old daughter, so sharing kid stories is always an important part of nearly every week!
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