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Those darn bulletin boards

Sunday 31 August 2014

If your school is like our school, our classrooms are blessed with bulletin boards on the walls of our classrooms. If you are like me, you may wonder what to do with these classroom anachronisms that take up so much wall space. The following activity is what I have done to get students to start one of the most important skills that they will develop in high school – asking questions.

The APA has three great posters that you can print out and put on those bulletin boards. The posters’ theme is: Psychology – it’s more than you think! The three posters claim that psychologists can prevent violence, help people become healthier and help stop the destruction of the environment.

After such bold statements, there are two sample questions on each poster – for example, why do some people refuse to recycle?

At the end of our first full week of school, I had my first-year students start asking some questions. We looked at the posters and the questions that they asked. I then put them into groups and asked them to brainstorm questions that a psychologist would ask relevant to the claim on the poster. So, for example, the health group came up with questions like: What causes depression? Why don’t people exercise? What causes eating disorders? Although not bad for the first week of class, you can see the problem. The questions are “safe.” They don’t take risks and they are too broad. It was clear that students needed some "scripts" to help them write better questions.

Choosing one of the posters (health), I gave them a model question. For example, Do pet owners have better mental health? (actually, it appears they do – see Allen et al, 1999). Instead of a causation question, which is what students seemed to gravitate toward, we are now asking correlation questions. Another example – How can we get people to purchase Fair Trade products, even though they are more expensive? This question asks about changing a behavior, stating both what we would like to see and what we currently observe to be people's behaviour. Once they have a model question, then students can use that model to generate more questions for their topic. It may appear a bit formulaic to some, but we are laying schema which we hope will transfer to asking questions in other situations.

At the end of it all, I had pretty pieces of colored paper and felt-tip pens (that were still brand spanking new) to write their best questions and put them up on the bulletin board around the posters. Question-asking is a fundamental skill for any psychologist or researcher. As teachers, we often assume that students should be able to ask great questions by the time they start IB. But this requires training and practice. If we can help students to ask good, researchable questions, it is not only good for EE, but a valuable life skill, regardless of what they do after graduation. That bulletin board may get a lot more use this year….

Tags: research, introduction, psychology, EE, extended essay, hypothesis, hypotheses


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