Educating a tough crowd

April 5, 2019 | Science
Every year, Dr. Rodney Schmaltz emphasizes one key lesson to his 400-level psychology students: the importance of communicating effectively.

The associate professor in psychology advises the students that when they give a presentation about their research, they need to be able to get their message across to everyone in the room (from the most informed experts to proud grandparents in the front row).

To drive the point home and prepare them for giving future talks, Rodney invited over 50 junior high students and their teachers to attend a mini-conference in the Kule Lecture Theatre on April 3 — and Rodney’s PSYC 400 class (Psychology Senior Seminar) had to present demonstrations based on their honours theses to them. (And if you think the word “theses” is funny, then you know what the psych students were up against.)

“If you can engage a junior high student, you know what you're talking about,” says Rodney. “It really shows that you have that mastery of knowledge.”

The junior high students were divided into groups, each of which attended a hands-on demonstration or poster presentation at one of several stations. They heard mini-lectures on the spatial memory of red squirrels and how earworms (those annoying songs that get stuck in your head) relate to anxiety, and played Wii Just Dance to learn about group bonding.

Psychology honours student John Bereti-Moody used a game of Cops and Robbers — with candy! — to teach students about his research on perspective-taking (perceiving a situation from another person’s point of view).

“One of the challenges is getting the right energy level, because if you're too energetic, the junior high students tend to withdraw, but if you're not energetic enough, they don't really get engaged,” he says. “My presentation is not the most complex — I'm getting them to play a game of Cops and Robbers. While the game is simple, it highlights some key psychological concepts related to perspective-taking, and also gives them a basic idea of what some research is like in psychology. I think I've kept mine pretty age appropriate. And I have candy.”

“The honours students did an amazing job engaging the junior high students with creative demonstrations and interesting posters,” says Rodney.

“Our goal was to introduce the junior high students to different areas of psychology, as well as to show them that university is more than sitting in a classroom taking notes. I spoke with one of the teachers who said that he overhead several students saying how ‘cool’ the event was. Other students, who previously hadn’t considered attending university, said that one day they would like to go to MacEwan. It was a rewarding experience.”

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