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Schema Demo: The Classroom Is Not a Restaurant

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Theresa Wadkins (University of Nebraska – Kearney) has a quick, but powerful way to demonstrate schemas in action.

On the day she covers schemas, Wadkins walks into class, approaches a student, and asks, “How are you? Are you having a good day?” After the student responds, sometimes in befuddlement, she returns to the front of the room and begins her lecture. A few minutes later, she returns to the student and asks, “How is everything?” Again, the student responds, even more perplexed. And then back to the lecture. For the third and final time, she returns to the same student and asks, “Can I get you anything?”

Wadkins then explains to her students that we have different schemas for what happens in a classroom and what happens in a restaurant. While being asked such questions is peculiar for a classroom, we would be put off if we weren’t asked these very same questions by a server in a restaurant.

If you’d like to expand on this activity, ask students – in small groups or through an online discussion board – to identify the schema characteristics of what happens when a customer visits a sit-down restaurant and the schema characteristics of what happens when a customer visits a fast-food restaurant. Invite students to share the characteristics of each that they generated. Summarize the responses into a coherent schema for each type of restaurant.

Ask students to reflect – in small groups, through an online discussion board, or as a written assignment – on what would happen if they had no schema for a sit-down restaurant when they walked into one. Or if they had no schema for a fast-food restaurant when they walked into one. Or if they walked into one type of restaurant with the schema for the other type of restaurant in mind.

For added discussion or writing assignment, invite students to identify times when a schema they had did not match the situation.

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About the Author
At Highline College near Seattle, Sue Frantz is working on her third decade in the psychology college classroom. Throughout her career, she has been an early adopter of new technologies in which she saw pedagogical potential. In 2009, she founded her blog, Technology for Academics. The blog features both new tech tools and tips for using not-so-new tools effectively. She currently serves as Vice President for Resources for APA Division 2: Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. In 2016, she received the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. As the newest contributor to the Instructor Resource Manual for the David Myers and Nathan DeWall Introduction to Psychology textbooks, she is excited to bring teaching resources to you in this venue.