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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  • 15 Jun 2018 2:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Ball State University

    Type of school: Public Research Institution

    School locale: small Midwestern city

    Classes you teach:

    Introductory Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, Graduate Neuroscience, the capstone research course for seniors

    Average class size: 40 for undergraduates, 25 for graduates

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

    Treat every day like a new day with the students.  Love what you do.  Balance enthusiasm with rigor.

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

    The journal Teaching of Psychology.

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

    I absolutely love teaching students about the neural action potential.  I also enjoy the lecture I give on “zombie” parasites in mammals.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    I have the students “act out” the action potential physically.  I like that one a lot.  Also, we run a dissection lab every term in the cognitive and grad classes that is a lot of fun, and dissect sheep brains with plastic utensils in turkey tins.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I’m a lecturer, but I move a lot, and I use a lot of physical demonstrations to get scientific points across.  Short, regular quizzes also seem to work well to assist students in learning the materials and retaining them. 

    What’s your workspace like?

    I do almost everything on the computer with very little paper these days, so it is digital!

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Energetic, enthusiastic, engaged

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Students engage when materials are relevant to them.

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

    I once, in my first year of teaching, had a piece of candy in my pockets that melted everywhere, ruining my pants!  The students whispered about it, but I laughed it off and kept going.  I thought for sure it would be the end of my reputation with the students, but my reaction and ability to keep going seemed to gain me some respect.

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

    I think they’d be surprised to know I like musicals (they all already know I love zombies).

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    A mystery series called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency about a woman P.I. in Botswana.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My laptop.

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

    We chat about our children; we are a very family oriented department!

  • 16 May 2018 1:59 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Gannon University

    Type of school: Small, Catholic Liberal Arts College

    School locale: Urban (Erie, PA)

    Classes you teach:

    Psychological Statistics (Introduction to Statistics), Honors Psychological Statistics, Online Psychological Statistics, Positive, Motivation and Emotion, Industrial-Organizational, Social

    Average class size: varies from 10-25

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

    Students don’t like surprises. Given them a detailed schedule the first day of class. Stick with it. Be clear in your expectations.

    These details may seem more mundane than planning an inspiring lecture or creating a psychometrically appropriate exam, but people like clear expectations. 

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

    Make it Stick.

    Also, Malcolm Gladwell’s work showed me how effective it is to teach a psychology theory by way of personal anecdote, historical event, or TV show/movie reference.

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

    In my statistics class, I have a Harry Potter-themed review lecture for teaching ANOVA and a Hunger Games review lecture for t-tests that I really enjoy. On those days, all of my examples are based on story cannon and psychology. So, the students perform a one-way ANOVA that demonstrates that Death Eaters score higher on Fascism scales than do members of the Order of the Phoenix or a random sample of wizards. And on t-test day, my students analyze data that reveals that in Panem, Capitol Leadership and Rebel Leadership score in a statistically similar manner on the Machiavellianism scale.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    When I teach Positive Psychology, I emphasize that we aren’t studying happiness, per se, but individual differences and societal support that lead to high achievement and striving. During the second meeting of the class, everyone gives a “Best Self” talk: They describe a time in their life when they were doing their very best. The stories my students share? One of our majors talked about over coming depression and suicidal thoughts. One student’s mom had a stroke, and my then-16 year old student had to keep her family together. Another was cheated on and dumped and then took up running to get over the loss and ran their first 10K. Another related being kicked off a college sports team due to partying and low grades, then getting their life back in order. One student worked really, really hard to earn straight As while working night shift for a whole semester.

    That day of class is a sacred day. Many students make themselves vulnerable by sharing very bad things that happened to them. I think we all remember that each and every one of us has done hard things and has lived to tell the tale. It also sets the stage for class and discussions of resiliency, optimism, and grit.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    Just use as many vivid examples as possible. By the time you are a college professor, your mind has been trained to think very abstractly and extensively about statistics, research methods, and psychology. Your students are not at that level. I think that using different examples and encouraging your students to come up with their own examples helps to avoid the “illusion of knowing” that comes with memorizing a dictionary definition of a concept without really understanding the concept.

    What’s your workspace like?

    I have a really messy office but I am particular about lighting and food. I hate florescent lights and have two lamps and a window to light my office. I also have lots of tea and snacks. My favorite teas are Wegmans Green Jasmine and Harney & Sons Green Tea with Coconut. I am usually snacking on trail mix, baked chick peas, oatmeal, and Dr. McDougall cup-o-soups.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Dress, boots-or-flats, cardigan-or-blazer.

    And, yes, I know exactly what you mean, and I refuse to change my answer.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Be enthusiastic. Be genuine. Read the room.

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

    I had a teaching assistantship my first year of graduate school. I assumed that I would hold office hours and maybe run a lab section. However, a week before classes started, I learned that I would be teaching two 60-student sections of Introduction to Psychology. I would receive twice weekly training via a practicum class lead by an experienced teacher.

    For that entire first semester, I was nauseous and nervous EVERY DAY before teaching my two sections. On top of that, I had my own graduate level stats class (which also made me nauseous), which occurred directly in between my two sections of Intro. I was already struggling with my first year of graduate school and it was just so hard. But I kept showing up, I kept trying, connecting with the students with silly stories and pop culture references, and now I love teaching.

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

    During that horrible first semester of graduate school? I failed my very first stats exam. Like, I REALLY failed it. My professor, Dr. Britt, even put a “See me” under my terrible grade. I still have that blue book. 

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I listened to the audiobook for The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman over the summer/fall. It was FANTASTIC. I really recommend audiobooks for busy people who have time to listen to a book while exercising/commuting/doing chores.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Outlook Calendar. I know that isn’t a very interesting technology tool, but my memory is garbage and I have two kids and a husband and we’re a lot to keep straight.

    I also love Twitter (@notawful). I use it to share posts from my blog about teaching statistics. Twitter has allowed me to connect with people I would never have the chance to meet otherwise and make psychology and statistics friends. I also like having a social media outlet that is purely professional in nature.  

    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 small department with pretty awesome psychology majors, so most of the hallway chatter tends to be between instructors and students or among students. I once overheard our majors have a very enthusiastic discussion about why they wanted a pet ocelot.  

  • 15 Apr 2018 11:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Hunter College, City University of New York

    Type of college/university: Public University, 23,000 students including undergraduate and graduate students.

    Classes I teach - Introduction to Research Methods, Learning Theory, Psychology 100, Evolution and Behavior, Ethology-Animal Behavior                                                

    Average class size: 35-40 students

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

    “Learn all your student’s names. Acknowledging their real presence in your classroom assists in building an environment of mutual respect and collaboration. Sometimes the simplest gestures can have the biggest impact.” From a presentation by Kathleen Cumiskey, Chair of the Psychology Department at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.

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

    Not a book or an article, but an event, Pedagogy Day (2015) at the CUNY Graduate Center was where I found a community of like-minded professors. Professor Aaron S. Richmond (Educational Psychology and Human Development at Metropolitan State University of Denver) presented an evidence-based guide to university teaching which has served as a foundation for my growth as an educator.

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

    My favorite course to teach is Learning Theories 350. There are usually about 35 students and for most of them it’s their last year and often their last class. I see this as an opportunity to make sure that students leave school knowing how learning has been studied, how to learn, and most importantly, loving to learn.  My not-so-secret goal is to create lifelong learners.

    Since most students are very interested in how they can learn better, we start the term with a study skills exercise including a reading, creating their own PowerPoint on the reading, and presenting it. After all that talk about deep encoding, the bounce back to Aristotle’s “Laws of Association” makes sense and Pavlov’s cortical mosaic concept is more accessible. From there-on-in the class follows the association theme from anticipatory association, to associations between behaviors and outcomes, right through to Hebbian synapses and all bright lights in the brain.

    The syllabus progresses from lecture/discussion to an experiential assignment for each learning theory. Supplementing these basic elements are frequent 10 question quizzes and opportunities for extra credit. The quizzes serve to keep everyone’s “head in the game”. As experienced students, they know that if quiz grades get wobbly they need to study more. They can also take advantage of extra credit opportunities that may include three paragraph responses to “thought questions” like; “How has learning changed your behavior?”; or respond to a posted NY Times editorial on lecturing vs active learning.

    Learning is a topic that has strong personal connections for my students and in many cases for their children. Many of the students are the first in their families to go to college, often their parents have worked very hard to give them this chance. A student of mine once commented that I teach like there is something at stake. I replied, “There is” and we both knew what I meant.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    One of the challenges of this course is that a lot of the content has been covered in other classes. They already know about salivating dogs and Bobo dolls. This is where the experiential part of the lesson comes in.  In writing about this aspect of the course one student commented; “With every new lecture, followed a discussion or a group assignment that would demonstrate why a particular school of learning theory was beneficial and what importance it holds in terms of application to the real world, as well as how we as students can benefit from it.”

    An example of these group assignments is, “Operant Conditioning for a Better World”. This team project asks students to identify an issue, (like recycling, or people standing front of the subway doors) and create a strategy to change behavior using stimulus, response, and outcome. Students love activism and this project brings out some great ideas. For instance: A proposal to place specially designed recycling bins outside the subway entrance that dispense a free 1-way subway pass to recyclers.  The subway pass was also suggested as a reinforcer at polling places to increase voting. (This is NYC we spend a lot of time on the subway.)

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    Early in the class I set a simple framework in place. I call roll for the first two weeks. There is so much power in connecting a name to a face and it’s a sign of respect. That shared smile of recognition is so comforting.

    The second structural element, is establishing teams of four to five students. These teams are not self-selected; everyone starts as strangers and through the term they become friends and study partners. Many students don’t like teamwork, which I understand, but as someone who worked in the outside world, I know that learning how to collaborate is a skill that will be useful for the rest of their lives. I share this with the class and I’m met with a sea of “nobody’s messing with my grade” stares. Class discussions about team dynamics and learning are helpful and by the end of the term, we have a classroom full of vibrant ideas and just the right amount of competition between the teams. Team projects are a significant percentage of their grade.

    With this framework we build a community, where everyone has a role and a path to success. I teach, they learn; we all understand that neither role is passive.

    What’s your workspace like?  

    Most of my class prep is done in my office at home. There is a window, a desk, my laptop, a view of the sky, and carefully managed piles of materials for each class. At my desk is an old-style metal office chair covered with this wonderful teal leatherette. Oh, and lots of books.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. 

    Intense, Engaging, Responsive

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? 

    Learning is a Life Skill.

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

    No disasters really, and embarrassment is an everyday fact of my teaching life. It is unfortunately true that I do not know everything about everything.

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

    My students are pretty unflappable, but this might interest them-When I was 6 months old I moved to Shiraz, Iran for a year.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I read a lot of everything both highbrow and low. Just finished “The Pyramid of Mud” a mafia mystery by Andrea Camilleri. Before that, Joan Didion’s amazing essays on California in the sixties: “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.”

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Blackboard and My iPhone make life so much easier. With mobile apps I can work wherever I am – a mixed blessing.

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

    We often talk about how to get enough sleep.

  • 15 Mar 2018 1:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Carleton College

    Type of school: private liberal arts college

    School locale: small town (~20k) Northfield, Minnesota

    Classes you teach:

    Principles of Psychology, Sensation & Perception with lab, Human Expertise, Psychology of Spoken Words

    Average class size: 15 (seminar) – 35 (introductory course)

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

    “Bring yourself into the classroom.” When I first started teaching I felt like I had to maintain a formal, professorial demeanor. Once I gave that up and embraced my more informal, zany style, I had more fun, and the students did too. I regularly give examples from my own life - sharing my perspectives and being open with students seems to help them be more comfortable with me and willing to ask for help.

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

    Teaching Introductory Psychology: Survival Tips from the Experts. It was the first teaching book I ever read and I still regularly think of the advice in it. One suggestion it gives that I try to use regularly is to teach by telling stories. For instance, when I introduce the idea of localization of function in our neuroanatomy unit, I begin with, “In the spring of 1861, a man was admitted to a hospital outside Paris. He was only able to speak a single syllable, but could do it with inflection and expressive hand gestures,” and then go on to describe Leborgne meeting Broca and what we have since come to learn about the neuroanatomy of language production. Telling the detailed story of a single person seems to engage students and make them more curious about a particular phenomenon.

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

    I love all my courses equally, but Sensation & Perception is a favorite. This involves teaching students basic, factual information (e.g., anatomy of the inner ear), processes (e.g., how acoustic signals are translated into neural code in the inner ear), and more high-level abstract concepts (e.g., how we recognize spoken words). Sensation & Perception is also quite interdisciplinary, and I like getting to draw on psychology, neuroscience, physics, and philosophy all in the same course. It's also a lot of fun to get to explain familiar phenomena like why people have the flavor preferences they do, why being drunk makes you dizzy, why spicy food burns, etc. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    On the first day of my intro psych class, I give small groups of students a fictional research summary to evaluate. They all receive the same brief introduction and methods section, but different groups get different (contradictory) results. I ask students to explain why the outcome occurred and whether it is what they would have predicted. Over the years I’ve been doing the exercise, 76% of students have reported that they would have predicted the results, despite the fact that there the two outcomes were contradictory. I use this to demonstrate hindsight bias and emphasize the importance of empirical testing, because our intuitions can’t always be trusted. (If any future students are reading this - don’t wreck my demo, ok?)

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    In a typical class period, I’ll lecture for 10-15 minutes, then ask students to work in small groups to answer discussion questions, solve a problem, design an experiment, or apply something from the reading or lecture to a novel issue. We then discuss as a class and repeat the process. I like moving back and forth between a more traditional lecture format and more flexible, small group work. The discussion time also gives students who are nervous about asking questions in front of the whole class an opportunity to talk to me one-on-one.

    What’s your workspace like?

    Typically tidy, but with cups of tea and whatever I’m reading close to my computer.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Enthusiastic, interactive, rigorous.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Hook ‘em and they’ll work to learn it.

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

    The teaching issues that stick with me tend to be the minor, but more frequent missed opportunities. I’ll sometimes realize after a class period (or even a whole course) that there was a much better way to present information, a clearer example to give, or a more interesting way to frame a problem. I have to work hard not to kick myself for missing an opportunity to have done something better. Luckily, there’s always next time!

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

    In college, I was premed until I failed the first few tests in intro bio. I considered going to grad school for linguistics.  I came very close to quitting my PhD program. I think career paths are much less straight than students assume.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Vacationland by John Hodgman

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I rely on GQueues for task management, Slack for team communication, GoogleDocs for collaboration, Dropbox for storage, and R for data analysis.

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

    These days it’s mostly about my two small kiddos and who is sick with what that day. When it’s not the middle of Minnesota winter, I also find myself talking about running and outdoor adventures, movies, my art, and what is going on around town.

  • 28 Feb 2018 11:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Lake Forest College

    Type of school: Small Liberal Arts College

    School locale: Near a major city

    Classes you teach:

    Gender-Based Violence, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Community Psychology, Research Methods & Statistics, Introduction to Psychology Laboratory, First-Year Studies: Social Labels and Identity

    Average class size: 15

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

    Do fewer things well.

    My teaching mentor, Dr. Bette Bottoms, provided this guidance while teaching a “how to teach” course in graduate school. It’s now my mantra – for class lecture, syllabi, research, committee work…and life! Focus on a few things you can do well and farm out the rest!

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

    The classic, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, and recently, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014).

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

    I love teaching z-scores in Research Methods and Statistics. Calculating probability using the Normal Distribution is such an elegant and beautiful visual on the whiteboard. It’s when I can really see statistics beginning to click in my students’ brains. It adds a tangible element to the rather esoteric study of probability theory.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    In my senior seminar, Gender-Based Violence, each student chooses a country and complies data on violence against women, violence prevention, and social services for sexual assault and intimate partner violence in that country. There is little psychological research on these topics, in comparison to the United States. Thus, students use new types of sources (e.g., WHO reports, United Nations Reports) to summarize the state of sexual violence globally. This assignment is eye-opening to cultural differences and attitudes about violence against women and children.

    Students write up a report on their chosen country, and we hold a session of the United Nations in our classroom. During the most recent session, we discussed how the refugee crisis intersects with violence against women, and what each welcoming country could do to address that violence.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    When I write my lectures, I always consider the question, “Why is this important?” I’m an applied community psychologist, so it’s hard for me *not* to think about real world applications of the material. For students, I think this grounds the lectures in the real world.

    What’s your workspace like?

    Standing desk with a table for meetings—I prefer a round table for meetings with my colleagues and students—we’re working TOGETHER.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Energetic, Fair, Clear

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

    Our statistics teaching lab has a telephone. During class the phone rang, and I looked at the students bewilderedly and asked, “Should I answer it?” They were just as surprised as I was, so I picked up the phone, turned on my pre-grad school telemarketer voice, and answered, “Hotchkiss Hall, Room 9.” It was a fax sent to the wrong number. The students cracked up and remarked on that day throughout the semester.

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

    I see many, many concerts and host bands passing through Chicago.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My iphone

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

    Gardening, kids, and future avenues for students.

  • 15 Feb 2018 1:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: The Ohio State University

    Type of school: Large, public university

    School locale: Columbus, Ohio

    Classes you teach: Introduction to Psychology

    Average class size: 60

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  Wow, it’s hard to think of just one piece of advice! My mentor, Missy Beers, always has nuggets of teaching wisdom that I take away from my conversations with her. One that sticks out to me is that there is no “perfect” teacher, and that the best teachers are the ones who are always assessing their effectiveness and adapting to meet the needs of their students.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Mindset by Carol Dweck. It helped me to adopt a growth mindset as a teacher and gave me tools to help my students develop a growth mindset as well.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. I teach Introduction to Psychology and my favorite topic to teach is Memory. I love how relevant the chapter is to students' lives, as well as all the fun and memorable activities and demonstrations.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. My favorite in-class activity is one that I took from another instructor, Kristin Supe. On the first day of class, I ask my students to get into small groups and think of as many subjects/areas of study that are NOT related to psychology. Then, each group presents their list of topics to the class. If anyone in class can think of a way that a specific topic listed relates to psychology, we cross it off our list. By the end of the first day, our list is quite short. I take a picture of the list and return to it on the last day of the semester and ask students if, after learning about psychology for the last 12 weeks, they think we can cross any more topics off our list. Each semester I’ve done this, the list is eventually empty and students can see how psychology relates to so many other areas of study, often in unexpected ways.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? It really depends on my learning objectives for the topic. In general, using the process of backwards design has been a total game-changer in my teaching. My teaching techniques are now very much driven by my goals and learning objectives, which has led me to be much more intentional about my teaching methods and techniques.

    What’s your workspace like?  Organized! I have a hard time being productive if I don’t have a tidy workspace.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Enthusiastic, supportive, and organized.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Guide students to become curious and compassionate learners.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? That even though I am energized and outgoing when I teach, I am actually an introvert!

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

    What tech tool could you not live without? My apple watch.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? It really varies. Sometimes my colleagues and I are chatting about psychology-related topics, while other times we’re talking about our weekend plans, or just catching each other up on our lives.

  • 31 Jan 2018 8:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Oberlin College

    Type of school: Small liberal arts college

    School locale: Small town: Oberlin, OH (population ~10,000) in a fairly rural area about 45 minutes west of Cleveland, Ohio

    Classes you teach:

    Introduction to Psychology; Research Methods; Cognitive Psychology; A Research Practicum in Cognitive Psychology; a seminar called Language & Thought

    Average class size:

    Intro Psych: 120

    Research Methods / Cognitive Psychology: 40 each

    Research lab / seminar: 15 each

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

    Make sure the students understand the question/problem/issue before you start explaining the answer.

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

    Bain (2004). What the best college teachers do

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

    My favorite course to teach is Research Methods because I love teaching students the analytical and quantitative reasoning skills that research requires. I like to help students who think they hate math develop their ability to make arguments with numbers. I like seeing students feel empowered as a result of learning the material. And I like grading / giving feedback in this class: because it can feel a little more "grounded" or "objective" than in more conceptual classes.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    At the beginning of each Research Methods class, I post a "question of the day." Students have about 10 minutes to work on it. Then we go over the problem together. It helps get the class started. And students show up on time, ready to work.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I try to make my courses as active for the students as I can. I don't love to stand in front of a room and talk at students. It's just not my style. I try to create to develop classes around questions/problems and tasks that are actively engaging for the students -- for which I am more of a facilitator than one-man-show.

    What’s your workspace like?

    I usually work in my office on campus or in my basement at home. My office on campus has a nice desktop computer and a large desk (that ends up sort of messy and cluttered, no matter how hard I try to keep it organized). I also have a nice desktop computer in the basement of my house. I usually work at home for a few hours in the morning before going into the department. It's a little less likely that I'll get distracted when I work at home. 

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Dedicated, student-centered, a-work-in-progress

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Inspire students to become excited about what they are learning.

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

    Every once in a while, there will be a (really bad) typo on a slide or handout. This is especially challenging in research methods, where we're working with formulas that are fairly rigid. I tell students in advance that this may be an issue. When it comes up, I try to be self-aware and self-deprecating -- students seem to appreciate that. Most importantly, I do everything I can to communicate the corrections. 

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

    That I was a pretty decent long distance runner in college (and for a few years after college). I ran a marathon in 2 hours 49 minutes in 2006 (6:30/mile pace).

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach 

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Tile -- which helps me keep track of my keys. 

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

    I have two daughters, 2 and 4. I talk a lot about them. Most of my colleagues also have kids, so it is fun to talk to them about being a parent. 

  • 15 Jan 2018 11:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Spelman College

    Type of school: A private historically Black liberal arts college for women

    School locale: City

    Classes you teach:

    Psychology of Women, Psychology of Racism, Research Methods in Psychology, and Advanced Research Seminar

    Average class size: 20

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

    The best teaching advice I received was that teaching is all about taking risks and failings are essential to bring clarity, understanding, and innovation into the classroom. Also, I was told to be honest and upfront with my students. In addition, it’s important to be thorough when instructing students to help them understand the purpose of assignments, in class activities, and course policies. I always try to reiterate the purpose of an assignment and in class activities.

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

    Two books that have shaped my teaching are Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks and Intersectional Pedagogy: Complicating Identity and Social Justice by Kim Case.

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

    My favorite course to teach is Psychology of Women. This course serves as one of the race and gender required courses for psychology majors and an option for the general women’s studies required courses for all students. I enjoy interacting with students and helping them explore the intersection of their own race, gender, and other cultural identities, while examining the social construction of gender. Specifically, I especially enjoy teaching about the experiences of women in the workplace because this is my area of research interest which focuses on how Black women and other women of color navigate through workplace politics.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    My favorite in class activity is a role playing activity on the topic of gender comparisons in social behavior and communication. The goal of this activity is to encourage students to develop their own critical intellect with regards to culturally inherited gender stereotypes. Also, it helps students look at their own assumptions about what it means to act like a man and what it means to act like a woman. I ask for two volunteers to come up to the front of the room. Using the gender binary framework, I assign the student volunteers to be either the man or woman, and according to their assigned gender, they are asked to do the following: a) walk to the other side of the room, 2) sit in a chair, and 3) and make a comment about a class topic. I then ask students, “Where do we learn gendered behavior?” and “How do your own behaviors relate to the gendered behaviors illustrated in the different scenarios presented?” Students openly express how their own behaviors were consistent or inconsistent with the actions of the student volunteers. At the end of the activity, students identified ways in which their own behaviors have been affected by gender stereotypes.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    Think, pair, and share using a photo, video, or discussion question is my personal preference. This strategy gives students time to think about their responses and helps all students become active participants in learning, especially those who might not feel comfortable sharing their responses with the entire class. Also, peer learning is an effective teaching strategy that I use involving student learning with, and from, each other. I have students serve as “discussants.” In groups of 3-4, students are required to facilitate class discussions based on their selected course topic using supporting materials, such as news, articles, media, and in class activities.

    What’s your workspace like?

    My workspace is cozy, but often times it is messier than I would like for it to be! I wanted to make sure that I created a vibrant office space where I would enjoy completing my work and a space that is a welcoming environment for my students and colleagues. I have inspirational quotes around my office and some of my favorite books. From time to time, I get compliments from students and my colleagues on my office.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Engaging, motivating, and inclusive

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Inspire students to be innovators and change agents.

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

    There’s been days where I could not say anything right. I would mix up my words or could not get the technology in the classroom to work. When it happens, I tell students that I am having an “off” day and I make sure I’m on point for the next class.

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

    If I was not a college professor I would have been the next Misty Copeland! At the age of four, I started taking ballet and tap dance classes. I also was on the dance team my senior year in high school and on the dorm stroll team in college. I always thought that I would become a professional ballerina and teach ballet classes for a living.  

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    My friends and I started a book club and we are currently reading bell hooks’ Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self Recovery.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My laptop and cell phone!

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

    I typically talk to my colleagues about effective classroom management strategies, what’s happening on campus (there are always interesting things happening on campus), and plans for the weekend.

  • 18 Dec 2017 4:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: St. Catherine University

    Type of school: St Kate’s is a private Catholic university. The undergraduate college is for women only; its associates and graduate colleges are co-educational. I teach primarily in the College for Women.

    School locale: urban area

    Classes you teach:

    Seminar courses with service-learning, Learning Principles & Applications, General Psychology with Laboratory, History & Systems

    Average class size: 18

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

    I take a lot of my inspiration from great teachers I’ve had. It isn’t so much what they said or the advice they gave me, but what they did. They valued each student in their classrooms and taught with passion.

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

    Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. I read this book and attended a day-long workshop Fink was facilitating when I was a graduate student. It has shaped how I view the potential opportunities I have to work with students.

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

    My favorite course to teach is Learning Principles and Applications. I love digging deeper into topics students are only able to touch on in introductory psychology courses. I require students to apply and practice everything we learn about and I like to think students have as much fun as I do!

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    In all of my courses students need to work in teams in some capacity and in one of my classes students work together throughout the semester on a research project. One of my favorite in-class activities is building team-work norms and skills. When I introduce that we will work together in teams for the semester, I put students into teams and I give them the task of building the tallest tower out of toothpicks and Dots. It’s fun and silly, but afterwards we have opportunities to debrief and talk about the essential components of team work and face-to-face communication.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I have embraced the flipped teaching style for content-heavy courses. Students tell me they prefer to watch lectures (or professionally produced videos) on their own time as they value the practice and application activities we engage in during class time. The in-class activities also allow me to tailor my instruction to students who are more advanced as well as intervene with students who are struggling with the fundamentals.

    What’s your workspace like?

    I think I’d lose my mind if my office weren’t neat and clean!

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Relational, engaging, humble

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Building relationships, engaging students authentically, learning from students.

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

    In class one day I was going through an example of classical conditioning and it had something to do with sheep in a field with an electric fence. A student made a silly comment about the example and I responded with “Not baaaad.” I flushed at sharing such an awful pun and my students broke out in uproarious laughter. I thanked them for laughing with me at such a bad pun!

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

    In a seminar course in which we explore career options and discuss career preparation, I often tell students about how I worked at a one-hour photo shop after I finished my Master’s degree. (I’m not sure if they are more shocked that there used to be one-hour photo shops or that I had to work there after I earned a Master’s degree, but it opens the door to some great conversations about the paths our careers can take!)

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    The book I’m reading now is kind of “meh.” But I love listening to podcasts! My favorites: More Perfect, Code Switch, and Radio Lab!

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

    It’s Minnesota, so we talk about the weather a lot! I also chat with colleagues about weekend plans, someone’s child care crisis (because there’s always one!), and great restaurants.

  • 29 Nov 2017 2:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Grand Canyon University

    Type of college/university: Private Christian University

    School locale: City; Southwest; Phoenix, AZ

    Classes you teach: General Psychology; Senior Capstone Class; graduate classes in Social Psychology, Human Development, and Ethics.

    Average class size: 90 students in General Psychology classes; 30 students in Capstone classes; 10-20 students in online graduate courses

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. Psychology is such an exciting field. I may be biased, but I think we have the most interesting and relevant topics to present, which leads to really fun and engaging activities for students. I try to meet the needs of every student in class by considering different learning styles and presenting information in various ways. However, I love hands on activities. For that reason, I really like a neuroscience activity that I do at the beginning of the semester in my General Psychology class. Student are asked to create a neuron using every day household items. When they share their projects with their classmates, they are asked to describe how their selected item illustrates and represents the actual neuron and its functions.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. Conditioning videos - Students are asked to create a video that demonstrates classical or operant conditioning. They work in small teams and make short 1 - 3 minute videos that are later shared in class. After presenting their videos, they are responsible to describe the different elements of classical or operant conditioning that were included in their video.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you? Several years ago, I decided to give blended learning a try, and it was worked out really well in my classes. Through the blended learning experience, I have become a more dynamic instructor. My classes have evolved from passive environments where I lectured and students took notes to classes where students are actively involved and engaged. Students still take notes, but they also participate in activities to help to apply the information that is being covered. In all of my classes, I have incorporated more active learning activities and less lecture. In addition to lecture, I incorporate videos, case studies, presentations, technology, and independent and group activities to present and apply the course content.

    What’s your workspace like? I have a variety of work spaces. Pictured is my office on campus. I spend time working with Instructional Assistants and students in my office. I also mentor adjuncts. This provides a nice place to meet and chat with them. My couch at home is another comfy work space that I love! When it comes to grading, this is my workspace of choice.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Active, Engaging, Enthusiastic

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I am not sure if this qualifies as a disaster, but every semester, I fight the technology distraction battle. This semester to overcome this problem, I implemented a technology-free lecture period into my classes. I am working to teach students to use technology as a tool rather than allow it to be a distraction. So far, this new classroom policy has been working very well. Students take notes by hand during lecture. Then when they are participating in classroom activities or assignments, they are permitted to use laptops or tablets. So far…so good!

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I am fluent in American Sign Language. I learned to sign when I was in middle school from a girl who transferred to my school and quickly became my best friend. Learning sign language provided me with more than the ability to communicate in another language. It provided direction and purpose for my life. I earned my bachelor degree in deaf education. Then, I was accepted to a fully funded graduate program in School Counseling at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, which is the only university that fully focuses on education of the deaf and hard of hearing in the world.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon. Gordon describes how important positive energy can be to steer life in a successful direction by sharing a story about George, a hypothetical character, and how is life is changed when he was forced to ride Joy’s Energy Bus. She shares the ten rules he used to turn his professional and personal life around. Every leader should read and implement these rules into running successful teams. Every person should read and implement these rules into relationships with their spouse, family, friends, and coworkers. Focusing on the positive completely changes a situation - perspective is everything.

    What tech tool could you not live without? My clicker! It was not until it ran out of batteries one day that I realized how much I relied on it. A clicker allows me the freedom to move around the classroom as I lecture while easily clicking through PowerPoint slides. I am not tied to the podium in the front of the room, which definitely helps with classroom management and making connections with the students.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? Life events seem to be a popular topic this year. One colleague became a grandparent, one is getting married, one is in the process of adopting, and several have children, so these stories permeate the halls. Occasionally, we will talk about research projects or presentations that we are working on. We often work on these together and so chatting in the hallway quickly between classes may be the only time we can find to collaborate.

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