High school psychology teacher Amy C. Fineburg wants to "make psychology a household name" among high school students. And it seems she and her colleagues may be on the right path given the surge in high school students enrolled in psychology classes over the last few years-nearly 1 million in 2006, according to the Nation's Report Card.
Fineburg was among those who spoke at an APA 2007 Annual Convention session celebrating the 15th anniversary of APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS), sponsored by APA's Board of Educational Affairs.
While the topic of teaching psychology in high schools has been broadly discussed within APA for nearly 70 years, only since 1992-the year TOPSS was first established-have high school teachers had much influence on those discussions, said former APA president Charles D. Spielberger, PhD. Presenter Randy Ernst, a high school teacher at Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Neb.-a TOPSS founder and former chair-reminisced about the establishment of TOPSS in an effort to improve the teaching of psychology in high schools.
"The biggest challenge in the beginning was just educating APA members about who we were and what we were trying to do," he noted.
Ernst also discussed the committee's success in boosting student interest in the field-which by all accounts was highly successful given the 30-fold increase in advanced placement psychology exams taken since 1992.
Fineburg, a former TOPSS chair, reviewed the committee's recent successes, including the 1999 acceptance of National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula. The project aids teachers by recommending textbooks and listing learning objectives. Another TOPSS goal, said Fineburg, has been to build regional networks among high school psychology teachers to share innovative class activities and stay connected.
"Good teaching transcends curriculum, but for specifics, you need partners," she noted.
Immediate past chair of TOPSS Mary Jean Voigt, of Boylan High School in Rockford, Ill., further expanded on some recent TOPSS accomplishments, including the development of high school lesson plans for 16 fundamental psychology concepts and the creation of a speakers bureau where the committee's 2,000 APA high school teacher affiliates can find local psychologists to serve as guest speakers at their schools. But as more high schools add psychology to their course lists, Voigt emphasized the need for the committee to continue to foster preparation and support, especially among those teachers without a psychology background asked to teach the course. After 15 years, it seems like TOPSS is still a hit, said session chair Charles L. Brewer, PhD.
"Even a bulb as dim as I can see that TOPSS has a history of doing wonderful work," he joked.