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Thoughts on starting up a new Psychology course

Introducing a new subject into a school is always going to be a challenge. There is no doubt that psychology is an incredibly popular area of study with both students and increasingly parents as it becomes essential knowledge in an ever-growing range of professions. It has been an extremely popular subject for many years at tertiary level here in New Zealand and has been one of the most popular subjects at secondary school in comparable cultures such as the UK, US and Australia. Implementing psychology within your school can help enhance the understanding of the scientific method by engaging students in critical analysis of historical as well as contemporary research from a range of cultures identifying the many issues that are at the forefront of current scientific research such as ethics, the replication crisis, cultural as well as gender bias and issues around socially sensitive research. Psychology is directly relevant to both the students as individuals, and their understanding of the social dynamics and stereotypes as they view the world around them. When planning to introduce psychology there are many options to consider. You may wish to enhance an existing course with specific standards. Schools have introduced relevant standards within their senior Social Studies courses, Health, P.E., Business and Science courses. Psychology has also been included within junior Social Science programmes for example when trying to understand the social conformity and obedience exhibited in Europe during the Holocaust. If you are planning a full psychology course it is important to lay out the standards matrix for the levels that you plan to teach. Against these standards identify the contexts and key areas of study that you wish to share with your students. Researching current courses at tertiary level and also knowing your students can be especially helpful in this process. When considering which topics would fit best with which standards, consider looking at the achievement criteria of the standards. For example, if are going to teach the Approaches standards at level 2 and 3 be aware that a focus at level 3 is how the Approaches interact. This may mean some topics where the theories of the different approaches integrate in a given context will be more suitable, this doesn’t need to be a restriction at level 2. A further tip is to think about combining standards within one topic. This might be from other subject areas such as Statistics within the psychology research unit or assessing multiple psychology standards within one topic. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach but worth considering when planning a new course or improving an existing one. If you would like support in developing your course NZAPT, with the help of submissions from its membership, have developed a bank of moderation which gives examples and feedback for assessments across the range of standards. There are also resources for a range of possible teaching topics within the members area of the website. Further to this we will be running workshops in course planning and assessment design in our annual NZAPT conference which is a fantastic opportunity to discuss ideas with teachers with experience from a wide range of schools implementing psychology standards in a variety of ways, a great way to learn from our collective experience. As always questions are warmly welcomed on our Facebook page throughout the year!

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Eric Wheater

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