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When I first started teaching, not as a grad student, but as real live instructor out on my own, I was 24 years old. I was a part-time instructor at a community college near Kansas City. Thinking I had to look the part, I bought some new clothes -- khakis and button-down shirts. It probably didn’t take me more than a couple weeks to realize that wasn’t going to work for me. Most of the students in my classes were older than I was, some by a full generation or two. And a lot of them were scared. They had never been in a college class before, but life circumstances gave them an opportunity – or forced them – to be here. A lot was riding on their being able to do well. Trying to project some sort of authority didn’t mesh with how I walked in the world, and, frankly, I didn’t think it would help my students. Instead, I decided to go where they were. I traded in my new khakis for new jeans. And over time the button-down shirts were gradually replaced by t-shirts. My overarching philosophy to teaching psychology boiled down to this: I know the theory and the research, and you have the life experience; let’s merge them together and see what we can learn from each other.
Long ago I moved on to full-time teaching, currently up here in the Pacific Northwest, and I finally caught up to and then surpassed the average age of my students. Even though I’m now older and my students are now younger, I know that many of them are still afraid. I want to lighten the mood.
Over the last 15 years, I have amassed a t-shirt collection suitable for Intro Psych. Frankly, I don’t know if wearing these t-shirts in class makes me more approachable. I do know that it’s common for students to look forward to seeing the day’s shirt. And if the connection to the material isn’t immediately obvious, they are on the edge of their seats waiting for the connection to become clear. Okay, maybe no one is quite on the edge of their seats, but I have heard audible “Oh!”s after explaining the relevance of the shirt.
Besides, knowing what I’m going to wear on most every class day -- my classes meet on Mondays and Wednesdays -- eliminates having to decide what to wear. I typically wear a denim shirt or a light fleece over top, and then reveal the shirt when it’s relevant to what I’m discussing.
This post will feature nine shirts. Next week will feature an additional ten. [Read that post here.]
First day -- It's in the syllabus
I debated about getting this one. I was concerned it would sound snarkier than I meant it to be. Snarkiness is not the tone I’m after upon meeting my students for the first time. I carefully frame it by asking, by a show of hands, for whom is this their first college term. I explain that I remember by first college term. As I went from class to class, the professors were all talking about the syllabus – a word I had never heard before. Finally I figured out they were referring to these pieces of paper they were handing out. “Any time you have questions about anything related to the course, the answer is probably in the syllabus.” Completely anecdotally, when I wear the shirt on the first day, I seem to get many fewer questions about the course later on.
In Intro, I don’t spend oodles of time on neurons, but this shirt is a handy reminder of the role neurotransmitters play in our everyday lives. Besides, what better way to remember that serotonin and dopamine influence feelings of happiness?
Biopsych - Brain
Sometimes, when teaching, it helps to have an extra brain.
Memory – Les Déspicables
I admit that when I first saw this one, it cracked me up so much I just wanted it. And then I figured out where to fit it into Intro. I use it in the memory chapter when talking about retrieval cues. The image retrieves both memories of Les Misérables and minions from the Despicable Me movies. The juxtaposition of such different memories makes this funny.
Thinking – Penguin experiencing insight
When you have wings, you think you should be able to use them to fly. And this young penguin flaps and flaps, all to no avail. And then with what is apparently a flash of insight given the presence of the lightbulb in panel 8, the penguin dons a jetpack. Easy peasy.
Operant or classical conditioning – Exercise: Some Motivation Required
I love this shirt for both operant and classical conditioning. For operant conditioning, the behavior is running. The t-rex is being positively reinforced (running faster gets t-rex closer to a tasty morsel), and the person is being negatively reinforced (running faster gets the person further away from the t-rex). For classical conditioning, being chased is the unconditioned stimulus and fear is the unconditioned response. Seeing a t-rex in the future would be the conditioned stimulus, and fear at seeing the t-rex is the conditioned response.
Stress or classical conditioning – Godzilla destroying city
If Godzilla destroys your city, you will likely experience stress.
For classical conditioning, Godzilla destroying your city would be the unconditioned stimulus and fear would be the unconditioned response. Seeing Godzilla in the future would be the conditioned stimulus and fear at seeing Godzilla would be the conditioned response.
Stress or operant conditioning – Procrastination… just one more game
For stress, this is a nice example of emotion focused coping. As long as you are playing the game, you can avoid thinking about all the homework you need to do.
For operant conditioning, game play is one big variable ratio schedule of reinforcement. You never know when you’re going to win, but the more you play, the faster you’ll get to that next win.
Attention – Car Talk inattentive driving
[Currently on clearance. Not available much longer.]
When covering attention, the back of this shirt nicely illustrates how we really can’t do two things at once.
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