By Laura Brandt, TOPSS Past-Chair (2008)
Many schools begin psychology clubs to give students a more complete view of the world of psychology. While most of the time in psychology classes is spent reviewing theories and ideas in psychology, psychology clubs tend to focus on the practical application of these theories and ideas. Psychology clubs can be incredibly flexible in their form and function. Some clubs meet on a weekly basis, while others meet only when a special occasion necessitates a meeting.
Teachers often intend for students to learn more about the many facets of psychology through participation in a club. A career panel can be held so that students can learn about various careers in psychology. The panel can represent members from the community who are involved in psychology, including faculty members, clinical therapists, school social workers, human resource managers and local criminal psychologists, to name a few examples. A panel discussion of this sort can demonstrate to students that psychology is not only about the treatment of mental disorders.
Psychology clubs can become involved in many activities. Students can become involved with community service projects, such as volunteering at a mental health care facility, or fundraising for a mental health organization. Students also enjoy guest speakers who can address psychological issues. The Society for Neuroscience has put together a list of neuroscientists in all states who have volunteered to come and speak to schools about their involvement in the sciences. This is also a nice connection to Brain Awareness Week, in which students in psychology classes can disseminate information about the brain by setting up a table at lunch with information regarding the brain, making advertisements for the school announcements, or making posters and other information about brains that can be distributed throughout the school. Students can also visit middle and grade schools to speak to younger students about how the brain functions. More information and free brain pencils and erasers can be found at the Dana Alliance website and the Neuroscience for Kids website.
Students also enjoy films about psychology such as "Awakenings" and "As Good As it Gets" that encourage interesting discussions about psychological concepts. Clubs can visit local sleep labs or university laboratories in which psychological research is being conducted. Guest speakers that use operant conditioning to train dogs or speech pathologists that work with patients who have damage to Broca or Wernicke’s areas often make classroom learning come to life. Much of the work that psychology clubs do is student initiated. Students can also serve as conduits for connections to the community. The rewards of participating in psychology club may be the impetus for many students to pursue a career in the field.
Psychology clubs are relatively easy to create. Basically a committed sponsor and a number of interested students are all that is necessary. While the bureaucracies of schools may differ, most will be excited at the opportunity for students to become involved in academics outside of the classroom.
Sample Materials for Teachers
Sample materials to aid teachers interested in starting a psychology club provided by Laura Brandt: