APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS) is working to bring its standards on effective teaching methods in psychology to more high school teachers through what TOPSS members hope is a continued collaboration with the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS).

TOPSS drew a crowd of about 60 to its first-ever sponsored session during the NCSS annual conference, Nov. 14-16 in Chicago. During the session, TOPSS members explained how high school teachers can incorporate APA's National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology into their lesson plans. The national standards, developed in 1999 by the APA Task Force on High School Psychology Standards, serve as a road map to teach high school psychology in five domains--methods, biopsychological, developmental, cognitive and sociocultural--and emphasize the scientific basis of psychology.

TOPSS has been pushing for more teachers to adopt the standards nationwide. In its latest effort, the organization took its message to NCSS, the largest association for social studies education with more than 25,000 members, which includes a large component of high school psychology teachers.

"I see this as an open door for TOPSS and APA to build a bridge with NCSS," says TOPSS Chair-elect Amy Fineburg, a psychology teacher at Spain Park High School in Birmingham, Ala. "Many psychology teachers are certified in social studies and not only teach psychology but also history. They are also very eager to build their knowledge base so they can become better and more effective psychology teachers."

Emphasizing science

A scientific approach in psychology--the basis of APA's national standards--is exactly what TOPSS presenters hoped to emphasize to conference-goers.

"We would love for every teacher who teaches psychology to use the standards," says TOPSS Chair Debra Park, a psychology teacher at West Deptford High School in Westville, N.J.

And more schools are beginning to abandon old lesson plans for APA's national standards. In fact, the standards have been adopted statewide by Rhode Island school districts; Alabama is also pushing for a similar statewide action. Regional areas, including Montgomery County, Md., and Lincoln, Neb., have also adopted high school psychology curricula based on the APA standards.

The standards, which will be reviewed every seven to ten years, are currently being revised by the Task Force on High School Standards--made up of three high school teachers and one college faculty representative. They hope to have revisions approved by fall 2005.

TOPSS expands its reach

Park says that she hopes TOPSS's continuing efforts to branch out and speak at such conferences as NCSS will promote the standards' scientific basis of psychology.

During the one-hour TOPSS session at the NCSS conference, co-presenters Fineburg and Park highlighted how the national standards could be used to plan lessons and develop active learning activities. They also presented TOPSS's newest unit lesson plan on positive psychology. They emphasized ways teachers can incorporate concepts related to well-being, optimism, hope and happiness into their curriculum by using the national standards.

"There is a hunger out there for good psychology information among NCSS members," says Hilary Rosenthal, a member of NCSS's planning committee who encouraged TOPSS to submit a proposal to present at the NCSS conference. "The TOPSS member session layered on top of NCSS's normal programming this year really made for a great conference."

Fineburg is also working to keep the NCSS and TOPSS collaboration alive. NCSS invited Fineburg to join the planning committee for NCSS's 2004 annual conference in Baltimore. She will be responsible for helping to monitor the quality and quantity of presentations in the social sciences.

Further Reading

For more information, visit  APA's National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology