Last week I posted a list of resources and technology I learned about at ACT, so I thought I would follow it up this week with a list of activities and assignments that I learned about at the conference. In no particular order, here they are!
Peer writing workshop
A great writing activity I learn about during the poster session was a peer writing workshop. Brien Ashdown and Jana Hackathorn designed this workshop with one main point of focus: mapping student writing with a flow chart. They have students pair up, read through each other’s papers (noting any errors along the way), then map the argument in a flow chart. Doing this last step will make it obvious to students if the paper has no clear argument. Afterwards the students are able to communicate that to their partner. This activity is effective for demonstrating to students the importance of having a well-structured argument with a clear flow. This concept can be difficult to teach, and this could be an easier way to communicate this to students.
Writing that taps into critical thinking
As psychology instructors we want students to develop a healthy amount of skepticism. One way to help them achieve this is to further hone their critical thinking skills. In his talk, Daniel Benkendorf presented on 2 writing assignments that tap into critical thinking. For the first assignment, he has students review a self-help book. In the instructions for this assignment, he has students answer 6 questions that serve as an analysis of the book. He asks questions like the following: Does the author avoid using psychobabble? Does the book provide a detailed explanation for how you should alter your behavior? What are the credentials of the authors? Do the authors mention the theoretical or research basis of the program? Then taking all of this information into consideration, he asks the students to provide an overall recommendation for the book. For the second assignment, he has students complete “in the news” discussions. He has students find New York Times articles published within the past year that relate to the current topic in lecture. Then he has students report on what the article says about the topic, whether they cite any research, and whether the topic is portrayed appropriately. Students post these on a discussion board in the LMS; other students can comment on it, and it becomes interactive. These are both assignments that are a little different than the normal writing assignment, but they can get students thinking critically about their world around them. I’m excited to use at least one of these in my future intro courses.
Diagnostic hat exercise
Karen Marsh presented on an activity she commonly uses in her abnormal psychology course. A few days before the final, she asks students to wear a hat to class. Upon their arrival, students are given a sticker with a disorder written on it that’s stuck to their hat. Their job during the class period is to figure out what disorder they have. She has a series of 8 questions they are supposed to ask different members of their class. Once they ask all of the questions, they can venture a guess or ask more questions. Everyone is held accountable as each student turns in a form that includes who answered their questions and what their answer was. Later she can correct for any inconsistencies in their knowledge. Karen noted that students tend to enjoy the activity as it helps them discover gaps in their learning.
Another fun activity I learned about from Christina Ragan is great for teaching about thought, intelligence, and functional fixedness. She has students break up into small groups and gives them these instructions: “Using only the paper, you must get your paper to fly the farthest out of all the groups. You can make two designs.” After a few minutes, she has a representative from each group come to the front of the class with one of their designs. Each group throws their design separately (or they could throw at the same time to save on time). She notes that the form of paper that flies the farthest is actually the paper ball. If she notices a group using this design, she’ll pick them to throw last. Once the class has discussed the interpretation of the winning group, she asks the groups to reflect and name a barrier they encountered to problem solving/decision making and also name a type of intelligence they used.
Collaborative drawing exercise
A great activity used to help students learn to communicate more effectively is this collaborative drawing exercise presented by Tanner Babb. He uses this in courses on relationships (e.g., Psychology of Relationships or Interpersonal Relationships). For this activity, he has students pair up and draw something that is meaningful to them. The catch is they are drawing on opposite sides of the same paper, and their drawings eventually have to connect in a meaningful way. Also, they can’t talk while they’re doing this, but they can use other means of communication/observation. This activity nicely highlights the importance of non-verbal communication, and it’s a good way to get your students interacting with one another.
Informational Social Influence
The last (but certainly not least) activity I was going to highlight is from Joshua Fetterman. This activity nicely demonstrates how folks can be influenced by others when they are unsure of themselves (informational social influence). What he does is he shows the class a picture of circle with a moderate amount of dots on the page and asks them to write down their prediction for how many dots there are. Then he shows them another picture of a circle with a large amount of dots on the page, but this time he asks them to say their prediction out loud. He records these predictions in Excel. Next, he has the students read aloud their initial predictions and also records these in Excel. Because of what we know about informational social influence, predictions on the second circle should be closer together (i.e., students were unsure of the correct answer, and they were aware of their peer’s estimates and tailored their responses accordingly). He confirms this by calculating the standard deviations for both sets of predictions. To wrap it up, he opens the class up for a reflection/discussion of their behavior.
These were only some of the activities and assignments I learned about at ACT, but they’re definitely worth sharing. Thanks to the authors for their permission and for the wonderful talks they gave!
Do you have an activity or assignment you want to share? Send us an email!
written by Jen Blush