Tuesday, February 7, 2017

7 Reasons Introduction to Psychology Courses Provide the Best School Environment for Learning

The following is a repost from

The Effortful Educator

 on December 20th, 2016.

7 Reasons Introduction to Psychology Courses Provide the Best School Environment for Learning

Let me begin by apologizing.  If you are a teacher of any other discipline, I’m sorry.  By saying that psychology class is the best environment for learning, that isn’t saying that other disciplines’ environment isn’t great.  Surely, a lot of courses contain many of the reasons listed below, but it is just my belief that no other course offers as much versatility in its content while also being so relatable and applicable.  Please forgive me if I’ve upset you.  It wasn’t my intention to do so, and what do I know, anyway?   I’m just some teacher with a blog.  They’ll let anyone have a blog these days.  Also, this is a bit different from my normal blog posts; much less research and much more opinion today.  If this isn’t your speed, please check out my other posts for a more scientific and researched look at cognitive psychology and the classroom.
1. The course content is so varied.
From statistics and the bell curve to the sleep cycle to lobotomies, psychology offers such an eclectic sampling of material.  I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had students make comments like, “I didn’t know we were learning about that in here” or “I didn’t realize that was psychology.”  I usually reply with something quite philosophical like, “Everything is psychology.”  That usually ends the conversation…just like it ends this paragraph.
2. The material is very relatable and applicable to the student.
Usually, sometime during the term, I’ll have students walk into class Monday morning exclaiming something like, ‘@CoachHarvard, get out of my head” or they’ll make a statement that they thought about me this weekend.  I look at them a little startled and they reiterate that they thought about the class and psychology during the weekend…something they saw or heard made them think about a topic from the class the previous week.  I absolutely love when this happens.  They’re getting it.  I believe it has a lot to do with the relatability of much of the course material.  Students with siblings relate to the unit on human development, other students begin to point out defense mechanisms used by their peers in arguments, still others attempt to diagnose (without a DSM handy, I might add) their friends with every psychological disorder under the sun.  They sit in a chair in my class hearing and seeing the material and then it’s almost immediately applied to life when they walk out my classroom door.  From the standpoint of an educator, it’s tough to be that.  Amazingly beautiful.
3. Learning and memory are built into the curriculum.
In my semester class, we spend at least a week talking about memory and learning.  We discuss how information is encoded, stored, and then hopefully retrieved when needed.  Also, quite appropriately, I add in data and research on learning strategies proven to assist with retention of material.  The Learning Scientists provide ample articles on six learning strategies that all students can improve upon with practice.  If there’s one thing I hear from my ex-students who are now in college, it’s that they either did well in their first year because they knew how to study or that they quickly found out they couldn’t just listen to lecture and “get it” for the test.  I’m not sure there is another high school class that provides this much focus on the art of learning and studying.  Psychology class is the best.
4. The material prompts much questioning, debate, and discussion.
Classes can talk evolution, groups can form ideas on the legitimacy of personality inventories like the MBTI, or we can debate the pros and cons of the DSM and labeling.  Because of the amount of theories and creativity of ideas, psychology class is the perfect setup for all types of discussions and debates.  Rarely ever does my class go more that a couple of days before a student asks an insightful question that leads to another question by another student.  Before you know it, I’ve got students with differing interpretations and opinions intelligently and respectfully making their positions known.  If only our government could follow suite…
5. The course is alive.
I mean this both literally and figuratively.  Literally, as a class, we conduct social experiments during our lunch hour.  We discuss neural transmission, then we go in the hall and measure the speed of travel of our sensory, inter, and motor neurons.  We dissect brains, see eyes dilate, view optical illusions, visit the developmental wing of our school during the human development unit, download apps and study our circadian rhythm, et cetera.  Psychology is alive and allows for human interaction and involvement.  For me, that is thoroughly enthralling and I try to pass along this passion to my students.  Figuratively, psychology is also alive.  I talk with my students all the time about how one of the coolest aspects of this class is that it is happening now.  Psychology is not a discipline that is finished.  We are learning so much more about our brain and memory and sleep and…Researchers can’t conduct the experiments quickly enough; can’t get the results out to the population quickly enough.  It is an exciting time to be involved in the psychology community, that is for sure.  
6. The teachers are wrong…and that’s great.
Being that psychology is alive and discoveries are being made all the time, teachers can be wrong or even doubted in their beliefs.  While that almost seems counterintuitive for what school should be, I think it is great.  Finally a class where one being doesn’t have all the answers to bestow or hand out as he or she sees fit.  It is a great learning tool for students to see a teacher be wrong or learn something new that changes their mind.  We train our students that being wrong is always a bad thing or something you must always defend or be ashamed of, but to be wrong you have to think, and thinking can lead to further, new learning.    
7. The teachers are weird…and that’s great.
We’re an odd bunch.  Not sure if it’s been proven or not, but I’m sure there’s at least a quite strong, positive correlation between number of peculiarities and psychology teachers.  That’s great.  Students need to see and experience different types of teachers; some too strict, some too lenient, some that primarily use collaboration in class, some who mostly use lecture.  That’s life.  They will grow up and have to deal with and adjust to different co-workers and bosses with different personalities.  Why not, while the training wheels are still attached a bit in school, expose them to different situations so they can learn to deal with and be successful in those instances?  

So, I believe an introductory or Advanced Placement psychology class in high school is the best and most inclusive environment for learning.  I genuinely believe all students would benefit from these courses because of the above-mentioned reasons.  No other class offers such varied content while also being so relevant and useful in everyday life.  I am thrilled with my profession as an educator; not sure that there is a more noble career.  Being able to teach psychology is just the icing on the proverbial cake.