Online teaching and learning

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Many of us are now teaching our classes through a virtual learning environment. Most had very little notice, maybe one or two days, and are now on the steepest learning curve ever. Here are a few tips, followed by some very useful sites and links:

online learning

Several online sites are very kindly offering teachers free access to psychology resources  for at least a month, and often through to the end of June 2020. 

Thank you to those teachers who have sent their students home with copies of Psychology Sorted. Our sales have held steady through March, and we’re sure, with the key studies summaries, QR codes and links to many online resources, all students will appreciate this.

Finally, for those who would like to use psychology as a lens for discussing the current pandemic: 

I am sure there will soon be more resources available on this topic.

Cognitive biases like those listed on the Raconteur site (see this link, and below) can be a useful way to describe not only our own reaction to all the troubling news of the Covid-19 virus, but also to analyse the ever-changing reactions of some of the more prominent politicians!  Here’s hoping your families and you keep safe, and stay online 🙂

Cognitive biases

 

‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1 second edition (including all the new additions) out now on Amazon!

Laura and I have been working hard to get the second edition of ‘Psychology Sorted’ Book 1, Core Approaches out – and here it is! This second edition includes key study summaries for all of the new additions to the Core Approaches – yes, those pesky topics that could come up on Paper 1, Section A. So, if you have been wondering about which study to use for agonists, antagonists, excitatory/inhibitory synapses, neural pruning etc. (I mention the Biological topics as these are the ones that seem to have caused us all so much grief!) then do not fear, we have them here!

You can order the book here

And if you love it please leave a review to say that you do!

Planning your course effectively – more overlaps

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Similarly to the biological approach, there are many overlaps between the cognitive approach and the options of abnormal psychology, development, health and human relationships.  For example, the psychology of cognitive processes and their reliability can explain clinical biases in diagnosis of disorders, debates regarding the etiology of  disorders and also inform their treatment.

Watch out for more of these!

Planning your course effectively – exploiting the overlaps

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Here is some support when planning for the new school year. This is one of the most useful exercises I have ever done before teaching a course on psychology. Using a table, or a simple Venn diagram, as above, identify the overlaps between the core approaches and the options. Putting these posters around your class, sharing them with students, and using them for your own planning can clarify and structure your thinking and theirs. This is so useful when it comes to revision.

For example, as we can see, the biological approach to human relationships comprises mainly evolutionary psychology arguments. The same overlaps mapped between biology and abnormal psychology would identify brain neurochemistry as a key conceptual argument. The biological approach to childhood development looks at brain development and neuronal networking.

Doing this helps immensely with understanding the big picture, and also minimising the studies one needs to cover. If teaching the human relationships option later in your course, when students are learning about evolutionary psychology in the biological approach earlier in your course – here are their examples.

I will be mapping more of these over the following weeks, so watch out for them before term starts!

What is a ‘key study’?

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Key studies are studies that are the most useful for any Psychology course, because they provide the ‘key’ to understanding a concept or theory.  For example, Maguire’s famous ‘taxi driver’ study, Loftus and Palmer’s ‘car crash’ study or Rosenhan’s research into the validity of diagnosis on admission to mental hospitals.

Teachers and students can benefit by summarising these studies according to Background, Aim, Participants, Procedure, Results, Conclusion, Evaluation.  This can be done on 1-2 sides of paper and kept to be used for essays, revision and even for HL Paper 3 practice if you are an IB Diploma teacher or student.  Below is a short example of what this could look like, from the biological approach.

KEY STUDY: Caspi et al. (2003) Influence of Life Stress on Depression: Moderation by a Polymorphism in the 5-HTT Gene.

 Background

Looked at the relation between inherited short alleles on the 5HTT serotonin transporter gene and incidences of stress and subsequent depression.

Links to:

  • Abnormal Psychology: Genetic explanation for inherited predisposition to depression as a response to environmental stressors.

Aim

To investigate whether a functional change in the 5HTT gene is linked to a higher or lower risk of depression in an individual.

Participants

The researchers used an opportunity sample from a cohort of participants who were part of another longitudinal study. There were 847 participants of 26 years old and they were split into three groups, depending on the length of the alleles on their 5HTT transporter gene.

Group 1 – two short alleles

Group 2 – one short and one long allele

Group 3 – two long alleles

Procedure

  1. Stressful life events occurring after the 21st birthday and before the 26th birthday were assessed using a life-history calendar.
  2. Past-year depression was assessed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule.
  3. A correlation was tested for between stressful life events and depression, between the length of the alleles and depression and an interaction between perceived stress and the length of the alleles.
  4. A further test was done to see if life events could predict an increase in depression over time among individuals with one or two short alleles.

Results

The participants with two short alleles in the 5HTT transporter gene reported more depression symptoms in response to stressful life events than either of the other two groups. Those participants with two long alleles reported fewer depression symptoms. Moreover, childhood maltreatment was predictive of depression in adulthood only in adults with either one or two short alleles.

Conclusion

While there is no direct relation between short alleles on the 5HTT gene and depression, there is a relationship between these and incidences of stress and subsequent depression. The long alleles seem to protect against suffering depression as a result of stress. The effects of the gene adaptation are dependent on environmental exposure to stress.

Evaluation of Caspi et al. (2003)

Strengths

  • This was a very large cohort of males and females and the age was controlled in order to isolate the variable of number of stressful life events between the ages of 21 and 26.
  • It was a natural experiment, with the naturally occurring IV being the length of the alleles. If the results are replicated this would suggest high reliability.

Limitations

  • Gene action is highly complex, and actions of other genes could not be controlled. While the stressful life events were standardised as employment, financial, housing, health and relationship, whether or not a participant experienced a certain event as stressful is highly personal.
  • The symptoms of depression were self-reported, although each participant was contacted in order to verify the symptoms; self-reporting can be unreliable.

Reference

Caspi, A., Sugden, K., Moffitt, T. E., Taylor, A., Craig, I. W., Harrington, H., … & Poulton, R. (2003). Influence of life stress on depression: moderation by a polymorphism in the 5-HTT gene. Science301(5631), pp. 386-389.

Exam tips – for the days themselves.

First tip is – don’t panic. Once the exams are upon you, then make sure you know the Panicdates and times (timetable on fridge, on bedroom wall, in school bag, on phone, etc.) Once you have sat an exam, no matter how badly – or how well – you feel it’s gone, it is gone.  Forget it and move on mentally, and physically, to some revision for the next exam, or move on to eat lunch if the your next exam is in an hour or two. And avoid any panicking friends if possible!

Be prepared, with several pens and pencils and any other necessary equipment.  Make sure your phone is not even in the room – leave it in your locker, or at home. (Radical thought, I know!)  Have a bottle of water, and make sure you have visited the loo and have eaten something.  Otherwise your rumbling stomach will be all anyone is thinking about! If you have allergies/a cold make sure you have tested any medication beforehand to ensure it doesn’t make you either twitchy or sleepy, and have plenty of tissues.  Tell the invigilator, who may be able to move you away from any open windows, or to the back corner of the room so you don’t feel you’re disturbing others.  Don’t forget your glasses if you wear them.

On non-exam days, revise for the next exams, but give yourself an hour extra in bed first.  It will feel like a reward and lighten your mood.  Don’t let yourself dwell on anything.  Revision by now should be going over your weak points, handwriting test answers, book closed, and going over them either alone or with other ‘study buddies.’

If you don’t have to wear school uniform, dress in comfortable layers. Exams that start early in the morning in a cool room can make you feel like you’re in a sauna several hours later.

Bad handwriting needs space so the examiner can read it – write on every second line.  Everybody should leave a couple of lines or more between paragraphs and start each answer on a new page.  This gets rid of the need to write vertically in the margin if you think of something that you want to put into your essay.  Exams are marked on screen nowadays, and these inserts run the risk of not being read if they can’t be seen easily.

Plan your time carefully, answering questions you know first, and those you will find harder last.  Leave at least ten minutes for looking over your answers.

Never leave an exam early.  Ask if you need to use the bathroom, and then come back and stay for the whole of the exam.  If you have finished very early, then you have done something wrong, and need to check your work again.  If you have missed out answering one question, because you don’t know the answer, then go back and try it; even one or two marks are better than zero.  There is usually something you can add, so use the time allotted to you.

Finally, try and ignore the other people in the room, whether they look confident and are writing away like crazy, or look as if they are about to burst into tears.  Try and think a ‘little bubble’ around yourself as you focus on answering the questions.

Good Luck!

 

How do you revise?

Woods to sunshineYou will all have your favourite tips for revision, but here are a few more that might help move you out of the dark woods into the sunlight.

  1. You are looking for retrieval, not recognition, so stop highlighting big chunks of your textbook and start writing or planning answers with the book closed.  The IB Diploma exams are very near,  A levels are not much further away, and many of you will be sitting end-of-year exams.
  2. Revise what you don’t know, not what you know. This is linked to the above: it is reassuring to realise that we know some things, but testing yourself on what you know is pointless.  You need to test yourself, using old  on what you are not sure of.
  3. Write, write, write.  Don’t type your answers, unless you’ll be typing them in the exams.  Your writing muscles need to get into shape now! So, when you are planning answers, writing notecards of material in your own words, summarising studies, do it by hand.  You may have 5 or 6 hours of writing in one day in your exams, so get training now.
  4. Output, not input. Yes, by all means make recordings, diagrams, notes, overviews, pictures, but the crucial test is if you can use all these theories and studies you have learned to answer the question. So get hold of old papers and markschemes, or at least old questions, and start now.
  5. Plan your revision now.  Make a revision timetable, and plan to cover at leat two different academic subjects (like Psychology and French, for example) each day, for up to an hour each.  If you get tired, swap topics – so maybe study half an hour of sociocultural psychology and then half an hour of biological, planning the answers as you go.  Stick to your timetable.

These exams will soon be over, but learning is a life-long skill.