Psychology meets CAS

Wednesday 24 July 2013

One of the most natural ways to link psychology to other parts of the IB diploma program is to incorporate service learning into the curriculum.  This may seem like a daunting task, but it is actually a great way to provide students with rich, meaningful experiences that help to apply what they are learning in psychology while also benefitting the community.

The following four ideas are ways to integrate service learning into your curriculum. Three of them have been done in our school and I going to try one more this year.

Start a buddy program with the elementary school to compliment your development unit.  My students spend a semester with a buddy that we meet once a week.  Each week we spend about 20 minutes with our buddy.  Before going as a group down to the classes, there is a theme for our journal entry.  So, for example, upon returning to class, I may ask them to journal on "play" or on "sharing" as a general theme, or we may have something very specific that we are looking at like "conservation."  The goal is to journal on the child's growth over the year and to have real children to talk about in class discussions. 

Extending that, a number of our students do an "organic farming" project with the 4 and 5 year olds.  They help them to plant and harvest a vegetable and spice garden.  The food that they produce goes to the cafeteria, which buys the food and then that money is put back into the garden as well as used to purchase food for the homeless.  All while learning about development...

Turn your classroom into a café in order to carry out interviews that can then be used to inform your community.  For example, invite in parents with young children, refugees or elderly members of the community.  Set the room up as a café and then have each table carry out an informal interview with the person at their table.  Have a theme decided on before the meetings.

Then, have the students do a very informal content analysis.  What were the quotes that struck them? Then have them print out the quotes and decorate a hallway of the school with "things we learn from refugees about our own community," or have a presentation for the school with a slide show that documents the event and includes quotes on "advice that the elderly would like to give to young high school students today." 

If you have an IB film course in your school (or even if you don't), having students make public service announcements is a great way to bring information to your community.  My own students made films about the stigma associated with mental illness among students. After making the films, they took them to the grade 10 advisory groups, showed the films and then talked about the issues of mental health with the students.

Another topic could easily be on obesity or smoking.  Using film and using the different health campaign strategies to achieve a goal of affecting change is a great way to apply learning and then to use that to get students thinking about how to change their community's behaviour. 

In our school there is now a "cafeteria committee" which gives advice on food and health. 

Having students on that committee who are research based and informed about good eating habits is a great service to the community and forces them to think about what they are learning in class.

Finally, the plan for this year is to have students run a "Winter awareness program" in order to increase our community's mental health during the dark winter season. In order to do this, we are going to have some students do a presentation at the Parent Society coffee in November where they will discuss the research on the effect of darkness on mood and what you can do to limit the effect.  In addition, they will provide resources in the city of Prague for people that want more information.

In addition, some students will lead an "anti-depression league" which will have exercise available every morning before school starts - including tai chi.  Finally, there will be more discussions, surveys and other ways to get people to discuss what they are eating and how they are keeping fit during the winter months in order to counter depression.

All of these projects clearly take student leadership and a lot of risk taking.  The organic farming project above is completely a student initiative, over which I had no role. Often students get an idea and run with it.  The film project and how to use it was completely a student driven project.  Sometimes, I have the idea.  That is the "anti-depression league."  You have to have students who are willing to buy into the idea before you do it - and it is not assessed.  But I have found that these are the kind of projects where students feel proud of their work and it helps to build empathy as well as good psychology skills....

Tags: CAS, interviews, depression, abnormal, development


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