I used to fall back on a fairly formulaic first lesson to introduce the course. With new AS classes that are not yet a cohesive group and who have little real understanding of what the study of Psychology entails (despite taster lessons, prior access to course booklets or lengthy course descriptions) it is often easier to repeat information they have already heard or read and give a diluted potted history of Psychology that is somewhat lost on the students at this stage. Whilst this has proved perfectly adequate and served its purpose it has always felt a bit too predictable for me, and I had grown tired of this first lesson which I felt should be full of surprise, intrigue and set the tone of A Level Psychology and Psychology as a discipline.
New direction: Fact or fake
Last year I took the plunge and changed tack completely. I placed 6 pieces of research around the room stuck up on the walls. I asked students (usually 20 – 25 in my classes at AS) to get up and go and stand next to one of the pieces of research in groups of about 4. All the pieces of research, bar one, were genuine findings from studies, from a variety of research areas (most of these were deliberately not in the spec to give a wider insight into the scope of Psychology). All the students had to do was work their way round each one in their group at timed intervals and work out which was the fake. The fake was a piece of “research” which was entirely a figment of my imagination (I hope).
Opportunity to raise some of the issues in research in Psychology
As I had hoped, the students plucked for different pieces of research as their offering for the “fake”. We talked about why they were suspicious about the research they picked and why they trusted those that they rejected. Most justifications centred on the suggestion that some of the pieces of research were either flawed and so no “real researcher” would really use the method, or a concept would be difficult to test objectively. One students picked a piece of research where the finding was counter intuitive and therefore said that as they knew the opposite was true it must be the fake – it wasn’t so this turned into an excellent opportunity to discuss what we regard as common sense and why we need evidence to support what we think we know.
Student centred activity
The activity was fun and the discussion had a relaxed feel. The task was very definitely student centred and students spontaneously raised a number of issues in research – without knowing it – which allowed me to introduce the study of Psychology effectively and more naturally.
Reflections and set up
I would definitely use this activity again. It had the added bonus of getting the group to know each other and integrate new students as discussion was easier standing and chatting, feeling more sociable. I also think the students benefited from the greater non-verbal communication that is possible when they are able to move freely and face each other. To set up this activity identify 5 pieces of research that interested or intrigued you in your study of Psychology, put a brief synopsis of the research and its findings on a large sheet of paper, stick these on your walls or place on desks to create “stations” around the room; oh and don’t forget to let your mind wander to make up your fictional study making sure there is an air of plausibility about it. I allowed each group the opportunity to ask me one question (not “is this one the fake?” obviously) at each station.