It is crucial that, early in the game, the students understand what is meant by ‘science’ and how this affects psychological research and theory. This is to avoid the students believing that the subject is anything to do with mind reading, etc.
However, if you ask your average Year 12 student what science is, they sometimes struggle to go beyond ‘biology, physics and chemistry’ or ‘understanding the world’.
So what would I prefer them to say?
Something along these lines: Science is the process of discovering knowledge about the world (e.g. behaviour) using objective and non-biased methods like experiments.
So for me, the first lesson of the year must be about science!
After the general introductions to the course and the setting of expectations, sort your students into groups of three or four. Ask them, individually and without discussion, to write a few sentences in response to the following questions:
• What is psychology?
• Why is it a science?
• In what way is it a science?
Once the students have done this individually, they should share with their group and create a group statement that reflects all of their views. As the teacher, you can then explore their views and preconceptions about psychology and science.
I then follow it up with another activity. The students assign themselves numbers in their groups. For two minutes, they must discuss and agree on definitions for the following words:
(Extension activity: Create a sentence that connects these words.)
After the two minutes, I pick random numbers from each groups to feed back (this ensures all students participate and are accountable). The interesting task is the ‘connect these words in a sentence’ task: what you’ll find usually is that the students give you a basic description of the scientific process. This is a good opportunity to reinforce what science is and that it is a process and that we use the process in psychology.
Please note, here is a version of my lesson has been included should you wish to use/edit/amend it.
Main activity ideas
At this point, I like to remind them about the concepts on independent and dependent variables which they should be familiar with in science. In fact, I ask my science department to give me examples they will remember from their lessons. I use these examples to talk about how we use these to establish cause and effect relationships and that we do the same in psychology!
So, I then show them this video and ask them to identify the variables:
– this is a clip from the BBC’s ‘Five steps to tyranny’ documentary and the study I show is at 9:24 minutes.
Here is a worksheet I then use with the students in my first lesson. The idea of the worksheet is to help them connect the concepts of science to what we do in psychology. So on the left hand side of the worksheet the students are reminded of key scientific concepts, on the right hand side, the students fill in how those concepts are relevant to the obedience train study.
At the end of the lesson, I like to have a sense that the students have got the main idea. Usually, I randomly ask one student to give me a number between 25 and 35. Whatever number they choose, I request that students write a summary of the ‘main idea’ in exactly that amount of words. Gimmicky perhaps, but it adds an extra challenge to the activity! I then ask a number of students to read out their summaries.
Now that the first ‘staging’ lesson is completed, I feel more confident that we can start to explore the different research methods… usually starting with lab, field and natural experiments.