Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. Recently we have made the decision to expand and diversify the blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at We are especially seeking submissions in one of the five topic areas:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research
  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest
  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology
  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom
  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

This blog is intended to be a forum for graduate students and educators to share ideas and express their opinions about tried-and-true modern teaching practices and other currently relevant topics regarding graduate students’ teaching.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf.

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 13 Mar 2015 12:17 PM | Anonymous

    By Anna Schwartz 

    As a new initiative for the Fall 2014 semester, the Graduate Student Teaching Association implemented a graduate student peer-mentoring program through the Graduate Center, CUNY that serves to match experienced graduate student teachers with new graduate student teachers (If you are interested in joining the program email Anna Schwartz here). Mentors provide support to mentees on a range of pedagogical areas such as designing syllabi, creating effective assessments that align with learning objectives, navigating a college campus as an educator, and problem-solving with unexpected student situations. The following narratives were given by a mentoring team consisting of two mentees and one mentor. Each perspective highlights the unique opportunities that graduate student peer mentoring can provide for both the mentees and mentors.

    The peer mentoring program has been really invaluable to me during my first semester teaching at the collegiate level. When you begin teaching, unexpected questions can arise at any time, and it’s comforting to know that you can ask an experienced teacher for advice. Beyond advice on syllabus design and great ideas for classroom activities, mentors can provide advice on how to some of the daily ins and outs of teaching, such as attendance policy, testing/grading and challenging situations with students. I also learned a great deal from conversation and exchange with the mentee in my group, a new teacher like myself who was dealing with the same challenges of setting up classroom and new lectures. I definitely slept better at night knowing I was connected to our mentor group, and I would highly recommend that other CUNY instructors link up through this program!


    I really enjoy being part of the peer mentoring initiative. Despite having the option to take pedagogy courses on how to become more effective instructors before we begin teaching, there are often concerns that are specific (e.g., large classes) to the college where you are adjunct-ing or questions you don’t think of until you’ve begun teaching. The peer mentoring program pairs you with a mentor and mentee that have experienced/are experiencing similar challenges. Given the fact that the group is so small (consisting of two mentees and one mentor), you’ll be able to pose various questions to both the mentor and other mentee in the group. Additionally, as new teachers, your peer mentoring group can serve as the beginnings of teaching community or network at your college. Another of my favorite characteristics about this program is the flexibility. As graduate student instructors, the “teaching hat” is just one of many that we have to wear. In the same day, we may be students, researchers, clinicians-in-training, and teachers. To have the flexibility of meeting in-person, having a phone conversation, or just emailing one another, has been invaluable! Just like my fellow mentee above, I highly recommend the peer-mentoring program to any graduate student instructor or new teacher.


    While there are many advantages to serving as a mentor, my largest benefit from the mentorship program has been via my conversations with my mentees where we problem-solved solutions to classroom-based issues that each of us had encountered. Since we’re all active teachers, it was wonderful to hear the voices of instructors, at varying levels, collaboratively discuss solutions to problems such as giving make-up exams, rationale behind your syllabi structure, and enhancing participation in large classrooms. Similarly, since each of us taught courses with varied titles and class sizes, I was made more aware of the issues that may arise in courses outside of my particular expertise. Overall, the mentorship experience was a huge success this past Fall and I’m thankful that it is already gaining momentum into the Spring 2015 semester.


  • 26 Feb 2015 12:19 PM | Anonymous

    By Ralitsa Todorova

    I had the pleasure (and quite frankly, luck) of teaching a small course last semester with 18 lovely students. I taught Experimental Psychology at Hunter which met for 3 hours, twice a week, so I had to find a number of ways to break up our sessions and keep time moving. One of the techniques I used most was dividing the students into groups and having them work on various activities together. The assignments you give will vary based on your course, but what I want to talk about here is the actual use of groups and ways of breaking students up in to them.

    For starters, I began the semester with a number of ice breakers so that we all got to know each other and our names. This is obviously much easier to do with a class of 20 or so, but can be accomplished with bigger classes as well. Starting the semester off in this way makes students more comfortable and open to various group activities later on, as they are already used to the fact that they will be working with virtually everyone in the class. It also encourages participation from the start, as it gets everyone talking.

    What you’ll find pretty quickly (and all of you know already) is that people tend to sit in one seat on the first day of class and then hold on to that seat dearly for the rest of the semester. So the old count-off-by-4’s trick means that you will end up with the same students in the same groups each time. This is where I encourage you to vary the way you break up your groups. Some suggestions:
    • Have students line up in order of their birthdays – and for a challenge, have them do this without speaking. They can use their fingers or any other gesture, but they should get to down to the month and date! Then, you can have them count off from there, which means they will end up in a different group than usual.
    • Have students line up alphabetically by first name or last name, also without talking. First names will be easy for them if you’ve done ice breakers, but this can be fun even with a group of 40 or so!
    • Have students break out into groups based on their favorite season – spring, summer, winter, and fall can each work together. In my class last semester, 9 of my students chose fall so we had to break up that group into two. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but you can easily adjust and adapt and changing things up makes for a more interesting class session.
    • Be creative! Especially if you have a longer class time, having students move around breaks up these longer sessions.

    The main point here is that varying the groups that students work in means that they will get exposed to different perspectives, ideas, and group dynamics every time they meet. This also fosters a positive classroom environment as a whole, as the group feels closer to one another the more they get to know each other. This will also make students feel more comfortable in participating and asking questions. I’m telling you – this works! My class was at 7 in the morning and 15 out of 18 of my students participated many times per class session. And at the end of the semester, many of them thanked me for creating a classroom environment where they felt comfortable with one another and able to get to know each other.

    So – break students up into diverse groups and let them learn from each other!

  • 26 Nov 2014 12:20 PM | Anonymous

    By Rita Obeid, Christina Shane-Simpson, & Anna Schwartz

    Early in October, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) holds an annual writing workshop which is chaired by Dr. Regan Gurung and designed to support faculty in designing, implementing, and writing up their pedagogy related research (termed SoTL research). This year, three members of the GSTA leadership team were able to attend the workshop and greatly benefited from the structure and goals of this writing workshop.

    Prior to the workshop, each applicant (mentee) was paired with an experienced SoTL mentor that matched the needs of the applicant.  The mentors and mentees met virtually via Skype, e-mail, or the phone over the summer before the conference was scheduled (beginning in June of 2014). The mentees introduced and updated their mentors about their projects. Upon their arrival at the STP Conference, the mentees had developed a draft of a paper or at least a plan for their research. The mentees were each at different stages in their projects where some had began the implementation phase, and others were in the process of writing up their results and conclusions about the work they conducted.  Under the leadership of Regan Gurung and with the support of a statistical consultant (Dr. Georjeanna Wilson), and their mentors, mentees were given additional wrap-around support as they continued to write throughout the three-day conference. This blog highlights the narratives and experiences of the GSTA members who attended the writing workshop.

    “It was nice to get out of the big city for a couple of days, disconnect from everything else you need to do and just be sitting in a nice hotel room filled with people who are passionate about pedagogy research. The writing workshop was a great opportunity to not only meet great people in the SoTL field, but also benefit from their expertise.”  

    “My mentor met with me every three weeks over the course of the summer, edited repeated drafts of my paper, helped me develop future research lines from my project and, although his obligation to me is complete, continues to help me develop the project. At the conference, multiple mentors helped me do statistical tests and explore my data. In general, this experience has taught me more practical skills than all my classes combined, and I hope they can extend this model. My mentor is an angel, as are Dr. Gurung and Dr. Wilson.

    “I couldn’t believe the amount of support that was provided to all of the mentees during the three-day writing workshop.  During the summer I regularly communicated with my SoTL mentor, soliciting her advice on anything from research design to framing my IRB application.  She was immensely helpful in helping me develop my study in a manageable way that didn’t overshadow my teaching responsibilities.  At the writing workshop I received support not only from my mentor, but also from other experienced SoTL researchers and from a statistical consultant.  At the end of the workshop I ended up with two papers in-progress that were ready for data analysis.”

    All graduate student teachers are already busy with program requirements and teaching responsibilities.  However, the writing workshop allowed each of us an opportunity to step back from our busy schedules and never-ending to-do lists, to spend two full days working on our pedagogy-based research. Not only did we each make significant progress on our SoTL research project, but we were also able to benefit from networking with other SoTL researchers and educators passionate about the teaching of psychology.

    **If you are interested in attending the STP Writing Workshop in 2015 the application process will take place in the spring. We will be sure to post links to Facebook and Twitter when it opens.**

  • 20 Nov 2014 1:09 PM | Anonymous

    Noba announced a student video project earlier this Fall with a March 27th 2015 deadline. Be sure to check it out and see if there are ways of incorporating it into the Spring 2015 syllabus! And good luck!


    Noba’s mission is to bring the highest quality psychology learning materials to students everywhere for free ( We also believe in creating opportunities for students to get involved in engaging, active learning. With that goal in mind, Noba is offering $10,000 in student awards for active learning video projects in the 2014-2015 academic year.

    We want students to bring the science of psychology to life in creative and memorable ways. The focus of the 2015 Noba Student Video Award is “Social Influence”. We challenge students to choose a central concept related to social influence from either of two online Noba modules and create a short video that is engaging, memorable and will help other students better understand the concept, phenomenon, or experiment that has been selected.

    The two modules to choose from are . . .

    • 1.      Persuasion:  So Easy Fooled (
    • 2.      Conformity and Obedience (

    Noba will award $6,000 for the top honor and $3,000 and $1,000 for the second and third place submissions. Winning videos will also be featured on the Noba website within the modules they focus on and become a part of the learning experience for other students.

    The Award guidelines and submission form can be found at

    The submission deadline is March 27, 2015.

    Questions can be directed to

  • 18 Nov 2014 4:38 PM | Anonymous

    The Graduate Center, CUNY, just established a Mentorship in Teaching of Psychology Program that will group experienced graduate student teacher-mentors with novice graduate student teacher-mentees to provide support from course set up and classroom management (e.g. syllabus design, textbook choice, classroom activities, scheduling, exam writing, grading/assessment, attendance, problem students, extra credit, change of grade requests).

    While this mentor system is new to The Graduate Center we're wondering whether any other programs have implemented something like it and if so how your experience has been! Comment below.

    In our mentors blogging for this week they discuss their thoughts about student engagement:

    Rita El-Haddad: I give my students weekly, scheduled quizzes. The material of the quiz consists of what we covered in the previous class and I specify which lecture slides students should study. After students hand in their quizzes, we go over the answers as a class. I provide the correct answers and also ask students what they wrote. There is more than one way to get full credit on some questions and students get to hear differing versions of correct answers. I feel that going over the answers and asking students to explain what they wrote is useful because students will reinforce their knowledge about the material and immediately clear up any potential misunderstandings. Students will also see what material will be important for upcoming exams.

    Kim Schanz: I include at least three media clips into every lecture as I feel it helps the students further understand the topics I’m discussing in terms of providing a talking point to explain the topics in a concrete, as opposed to theoretical, manner.  For example, in my class on adult development, we discussed what a “mid-life crisis” was, and while there is a stereotypical notion that most people know, I wanted to make sure the students understood what a “mid-life crisis” actually entailed.  I showed the extended trailer for the movie “This is 40,” which illustrated the main aspects of a “mid-life crisis”: unhappiness with your current life, a desire to change it, and actions towards changing your life as you see fit, despite what others think.

    Rita Obeid:  I teach a three hour class that usually covers one topic in Psychology (e.g., Social Psychology) so it tends to be a bombardment of information. While I do engage the students with discussions, activities, and videos, I decided to embed slides with true or false questions after every small section. The students seem to find this simple technique easy and it allows almost the whole class, even the silent students, to participate. It also seem to capture their interests again if they are starting to get tired and allows me to clear up common misconceptions that they may have missed during the lecture. I mostly like these questions because they’re easy to prep and students get very engaged and interested.

    Justina Oliveira: In my courses, I focus on helping students connect course content to daily experiences. To engage students in this process, they complete journal-entry assignments that consist of informal writing (one page) for which I pay attention to their ideas instead of grammar or structure. These seem most effective when requiring students to define the term/theory and then asking them to describe how either they or someone they know had a real experience related to that topic. This technique pushes students to be agents of learning as opposed to passive learners. If they link psychological terms with real examples, the importance of what they’re learning is made clear to them beyond the purposes of my classroom and they become more interested in the content.

  • 23 Oct 2014 3:08 PM | Anonymous
    The GSTA is proud to announce the launching of a Book Club this semester. Here, we will explore notable works on the theory and practice of teaching.

    Our first book, Ambrose et al. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass ISBN: 978-0-470-48410-4, introduces readers to seven general principles of student learning that are grounded in learning theory and distilled from the research literature and experience. The discussion will begin on December 1st. Be sure to pick up your copy of our first book and join us with other beginner and veteran teachers by contributing you own insights and questions about the book on our blog (!

  • 22 Oct 2014 5:51 PM | Anonymous

    By Peri Ozlem Yuksel-Sokmen, College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center, CUNY

    I study social routines as a framework to examine how children develop communicative skills in various contexts and cultures. In this blog, I will argue that routines are critical components for classroom practices in higher education, too. I will use the analogy of early joint activity to show how routines provide structure and promote a positive learning environment in which learning is made to stick.

    Routines such as getting dressed, pretend play, or joint picture book reading take place in the daily lives of young minds and provide vital contexts for learning to occur in a repetitive and structured, yet fun way. Children learn how their social world is organized, the words and tools experts use in relation to each context, and learn to become a member of their cultural community by participating in daily activities with others. Colleges are also communities of practices. Students come here to continue with the joy of learning to become competent leaders in their communities and future professions.

    Effective teaching starts with clear establishment of rules and procedures crucial to control and engage a crowd in larger lecture halls or to maintain reciprocal responsibilities and roles in smaller class room settings (Hilton, 1999; Schroeder, Stephens, & Williams, 2013). From day one the instructor has to make clear that students are expected to be respectful and will not disturb the learning process at any time.  For instance, a strict rule may apply to cell phone policy, not bursting in or out the room when someone else is presenting, or requiring students to read or complete certain assignments before coming to class. Learning-centered teaching involves that students come prepared to class and know that they have to repeat this to every class session. The same applies to cheating and plagiarism, and making sure that students know from day one that breaking rules for ethical misconduct has consequences. These classroom rules set the parameters for maintaining a learning experience without disruptions and dishonesty (tips for students you should also be aware of:

    Above and beyond these basic regulations for maintaining an ideal learning environment, there is a list of established routines psychology teachers can include into their teaching practices for learning to be more memorable. The easiest one is to start with greeting your students upon entering the classundefined a routine that might even increase student test scores (Weinstein, Laverghetta, Alexander, & Stewart, 2009).  Before you move on to a new class topic or lecture series, it is a good routine to ask students to a) summarize main points from the previous class session and to b) speculate about the upcoming class topic. This can be done as a short writing activity. The activity creates student reflection on past and future learning (metacognition). At the same time the speculation is meant to foster curiosity: It enhances recollection of past materials and excites students for new learning (Bonwell, 1991). Another great routine involves the establishment of ‘circle time’ , especially appropriate for lab classes (seating arrangement matters). Facing peers instead of their back provides students the opportunity to interact with each other and to narrate what they have learned. Because learning sticks if students understand what they have learned.


    “Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just by sitting in class listening to teachers, memorizing pre-packaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987, p. 3)


    The routines presented here are just a few quick and easy conventions to run a class but they also require that students understand the rational behind your established rituals in order to be involved and to become active learning partners. Effective teachers also know that routines or class rituals require time preparation and modifications depending on the class format (lab class vs. large lecture class) and task at hand. Routines establish a culture of practice necessary to acquire knowledge and develop new ones.


    You cannot teach an old dog new tricks but you can teach your students the routines of thinking to remember to remember to learn. And to repeat to think. In this sense, wishing you a happy routining.


    Bonwell, C. C. (1991). Active learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. Active learning workshops. Retrieved on October 11, 2014 from

    Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

    Hilton, J. L. (1999). Teaching large classes. In B. Perlman, L. I. McCann, & S. H. McFadden (Eds.). Lessons learned: Practical advice for the teaching of psychology. Washington, DC: Association for Psychological Science.

    Ruhl, K. L., Hughes, C. A., & Schloss, P. J. (1987). Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14-18.

    Schroeder, J.L., Stephens, R., & Williams, K.L. (2013). Managing the large(r) classroom. Observer, 26(3). Retrieved on October 11, 2014 from

    Weinstein, L., Laverghetta, A., Alexander, R., & Stewart, M. (2009).Teacher greetings increase college students’ test scores. College Student Journal, 43(2). 452-453.

  • 14 Oct 2014 7:51 PM | Anonymous

    By Kasey Powers

    A common conundrum when teaching is how much to give students to go on when it comes to instructions for studying for the exam. As an instructor we want them to learn everything that’s been covered, but it isn’t feasible to cover every concept, term, experiment on an exam, especially a multiple choice exam, which is what I use in my Introductory Psychology classes. Students have often asked for a study guide and want to know exactly what will be on the exam. However, providing an instructor created study guide can be too specific and adding “extras” that were covered in class but aren’t on the exam causes many student complaints. It’s easy to get caught between giving too much or too little. I took an idea from Dr. Dan McCloskey (Powers, Brooks, McCloskey, Sekerina, Cohen, 2013) that he uses in his research methods classes to create a crowd sourced study guide in my Introductory class.

    I do this using the Blackboard Wiki feature, but using your campus’s Course Management System Wiki or Forum or even a Google Doc could work. If you ask students to log in to Google Docs  you can track their revisions as you would on Blackboard. During class the week before we talk about the exam and what will be on it. I open up a new wiki and ask students for major topics that might be covered for each chapter. The students throw out experiments, names, terms, and ideas from the textbook and class discussions. I type in their responses to outline form.  Then after the class I go in to the guide and add anything from the exam students may have missed.

    For example a partial outline for Social Psychology might look like this:

    Social Psychology

    Milgram, Obedience

    Zimbardo, Dindividuation


    Bystander Effect

    Cognitive Dissonance

    The students are then tasked with filling in the information. They write that Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment that covered deindividuation.

    A second student might add that the experiment was made up of college students who were assigned to be prisoners or cops.

    As students fill in the outline they add pieces of information and edit one another’s work. This leaves the burden of studying on the students as they are the ones responsible for creating a detailed study guide and by removing any incorrect information. This solves the problem of providing too much or too little information as students created the outline. To ensure that the outline is complete I go through it and add in any keywords that are on the exam but that students may have missed. I do not remove keywords provided by the students that are not on the exam.

    This is a quick and easy way to give a few class points, or even extra credit.

    Dr. McCloskey will be speaking at Pedagogy Day., October 24, on different ways to utilize Blackboard in the Classroom. If you are in the New York City area you are welcome to join us!

    Powers, K., Brooks, P. J., McCloskey, D., Sekerina, I. A. & Cohen, F. (in press). Hybrid teaching of psychology. To appear in M. Hamada (Ed.) E-Learning: New Technology, Applications and Future Trends. NOVA Science Publishers.

  • 01 Oct 2014 11:32 AM | Anonymous

    By Emily Sharp and Collette Sosnowy, Sarah Lawrence College 

    One of the challenges of teaching a technology-focused course is, of course, the technology. Unless it’s a lab-based course, an instructor needs to keep the time spent setting up, teaching, and troubleshooting the tools to a reasonable amount. It’s all too easy to lose time to spend on developing course content and preparing for class.

    When Collette Sosnowy, visiting faculty in psychology at Sarah Lawrence College, was designing her interdisciplinary seminar “You Are What Your Tweet: Identity and Social Media,” (Spring 2014) these were her concerns. The course centered around using social media to learn about the psychological implications of social media: how we present ourselves online, perceptions of the public and private, and issues of identity and relationships.

    At Sarah Lawrence, independent work is a large component of the curriculum. For this class, each student maintained a blog throughout the semester, which served as an ongoing record of their independent projects. The goal was not only to have them produce the work, but to critically engage with the medium in part through using it, as well as publicly document their research process.


    Collette initially considered using a blogging platform like Wordpress until she attended a workshop with the college’s Web Services Advocate, Emily Sharp, about using the school’s learning management system (Jenzabar eLearning, branded on campus as MySLC). Collette realized that not only could the system meet her technology needs, but could provide institutional tech support as well!

    MySLC is most widely used by faculty for uploading syllabi, emailing students, distributing readings, and moderating online discussion. Far fewer faculty use the blog feature or give students the ability to create and manage content. 

    Emily was on board with the idea and prior to the semester, she and her student workers devoted much time to setting up a subsection in the course webpage. Each student got a page in the section containing a blog area and a place to embed their social media feeds. Permissions were set so that students could only add and edit content on their own pages.

    Emily put together a user guide and gave a workshop on getting started with their blogs, including how to forward their domain name to their page, configuring their blog, posting their first entry, including images, and embedding Twitter feeds, videos and other media.

    Over the next few weeks the students got started while behind the scenes, Emily tweaked the setup of the pages as needs arose - adding a static “About” section and a “Blogroll” (a list of links to their classmates’ and other blogs) to each. Some small technical issues that came up and a few students needed extra help but after the first few weeks, the kinks were worked out and students were blogging prodigiously.

    The way Collette and Emily used MySLC was radically different and focused much more on the social tools and integration capabilities of the system. The collaboration was successful from both perspectives: working with Emily and her staff gave the class a familiar platform to work with and provided much-appreciated tech support. Students saw the experience as both learning important technology skills as well as critically engaging with the very thing they were studying. Emily and her staff were able to stretch MySLC to accommodate an out-of-the-box method of learning, a model that other faculty could adopt in the future.

    Tips for a successful collaboration:


    1. Start early. It takes time to get together, discuss the goals for the class and logistics for the project, set it up, test it, etc.

    2. Establish a good relationship. Emily and Collette got along really well and were equally excited about the project, but even if you don’t become chums with your instructional technology staff, be clear about what you both want from the project and what you can each give to make it a successful collaboration.

    3. Similarly, have clearly defined roles. Emily and her staff set everything up and she visited the class to train students on the platform and had written a detailed instruction guide. She was patient with students who continued to have trouble learning to use it, but since the students had been given the tools to work out problems, the responsibility was theirs.

    4. Give and get feedback. Since this was a new project, it was important to assess how well it worked, how it could be improved in the future, and, if there’s interest, how it could be applied to other types of classes, sizes, etc. It’s also a good idea to keep documentation of communication and resources.

     You can view the archive of blogs at: or see the class Twitter feed: @youtweetSLC #tweetSLC

  • 16 Sep 2014 4:34 PM | Anonymous

    By Naomi J. Aldrich, PhD, Assistant Professor, Grand Valley State University; Developmental Psychology program at the Graduate Center, CUNY Alum

    I have found that one of the most boredom-inducing topics to cover when teaching Introductory Psychology or Child Development is the information on neuropsychology. Over the years, I have tried different ways to cover the material without overwhelming my students or putting them to sleep and have been mostly unsuccessful. However, I think that I have finally found a way to achieve better student understanding and interaction…Zombies!

    Several months ago, I came across a wonderful book The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse by Steven C. Schlozman, M.D. (2012). The book is written from the perspective of a neuroscientist who is keeping a journal of his investigation of the causes of zombiism in hopes to find a cure before the world is overrun with the ravenous undead. The book takes the reader through the different stages of the illness (i.e., Ataxic Neurodegenerative Satiety Deficiency Syndrome, ANSD) and in doing so, emphasizes what makes the zombie brain so different from ours. This is what made me so excited, I felt like I acquired a better understanding of the brain myself by learning about what makes zombies tick, so I did some more research. What I found is that a large number of people have started to teach children about the brain by using this zombie model. Given pop-culture’s focus on zombie’s today I believe this may be a great way to engage our undergraduates.

    This summer I taught a class of 7- to 13-year-olds and their grandparents about the brain using information from this book and it was one of the best classes I have ever taught! I am now planning to incorporate this for all of my neuropsychology undergraduate lectures from now on.

    Here are some main points:

    1) Zombie Stagger:

    - Normal people can walk around with good coordination between their body & brain.

    - Zombies stagger around and seem clumsy. They bump into things and often hold their arms out for balance.

    - Why? Deficient cerebellum

    2) Zombie Appetite:

                - Typically after we eat we get full. We have a varied diet, but we do not eat humans.

                - Zombies are always hungry, even after a huge meal. They also like eating humans, which is a problem.

                - Why? Defective hypothalamus

    3) Zombie Rage:

                - Regular people get angry and there are some situations where they may even feel rage. However, most people feel anger and then return to their normal emotional state.

                - Zombies are aggressive at all times. They are extremely violent and tend to attack humans in an enraged state. They are dangerous and cannot be reasoned with.

                - Why? Enlarged amygdala

    4) Zombie Stupidity:

                - Humans are able to solve problems, talk to each other, and make decisions. These abilities make us unique and have contributed to our success as a species.

                - Zombies are known for their stupidity. They often can’t figure out how to open doors and rarely, if ever, plan ahead. They are terrible problem solvers and seem to lack any ability to communicate except through grunts.

                - Why? Inadequate Frontal Lobe processing

    Here are links for lesson plans (including PowerPoint slides) for teaching the Zombie brain. These were developed for grades 7 to 12, but can be easily adapted for use with undergraduates (created by Katie Gould & Dr. Steven Schlozman). I have only used the first two lessons, but depending on your class you may want to incorporate information from all four:

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson 1: You’ll be Wishin’ for some Neurotransmission and Background Story

    -        This lesson introduces students to neurons and neurotransmission through multi-media and active learning games.

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson 2: The Neuroanatomy of a Zombie

    -        This lesson teaches students about neurotransmitters, neurotransmission and neuroanatomy through multi-media and active learning games.

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson 3: Super Spooky Psychiatric Medicine to Save the World

    -        This lesson introduces students to the concept of medications development and gives students a simulation to apply what they know about neurotransmitters, neurotransmission and zombies.

    Zombie Autopsies Lesson Plan 4: Publish or Perish…for Real

    -        This lesson introduces students to writing an academic journal article and allows them to apply what they have learned during the Neuroscience and Zombies Unit.

    Here is the lesson plan I created for the class with 7- to 13-year-olds. My goal was to make it more interactive and fun. Basically, I first presented the children with information about how the normal human brain functions and then had them conduct a series of mini-experiments in which they had to figure out what lobe of their brain was responsible. Then they identified the lobe of the brain by painting a plaster-of-paris model of the left hemisphere. Next, I presented information about how zombie brains are different from ours and had them design their own zombie and they painted the lobes of their zombie brain (the right hemisphere with black paint indicating a deficient lobe). Finally, they had their grandparent come to the front of the class and demonstrate how their zombie would behave based on what they chose.

    Zombie Brains – Session Outline

    1.     Introduction

    a.      Welcome and thank you for helping us explore the human brain through zombie behavior at GVSU. Today we will talk about how the human brain influences our behaviors and abilities so you will be ready to learn about the brains of zombies. As almost all behavior can be traced back to the brain, scientists believe that zombies have damaged or diseased parts of their brain. If we can figure out what parts have been affected by the disease, then there may be hope that YOU will be able to develop medicine that can cure them if real zombies ever came to exist.

    b.     Warm up (ask the campers & write answers on board):

                                                        i.     How does a zombie look different from a human?

                                                      ii.     How do they behave differently than humans?

    2.     Present “Normal” Brain information

    3.     “Normal” Brain Activity

    a.      Pass out “Brain Tests” packet to each pair & help them get started

    b.     While they are working, pass out “Your Brain” model, paints, etc.

    c.      Discuss their brains and test results

    4.     Present “Zombie” Brain information – try to relate information back to lists on board

    5.     “Zombie” Brain Activity

    a.      Pass out “My Zombie” worksheets

    b.     While they are working, pass out “My Zombie Brain” model, paints, etc.

    c.      Once finished, each pair should come up & explain choices with grandparent acting as zombie

    Even if you choose not to use the Zombie model in your classroom, I would highly recommend the book itself… you will learn a lot, although it’s not for the squeamish J

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software