Cover Story

Teaching psychology as a science has always been important to high school psychology teachers Marie Smith, PhD, and Faye Johnson.

That's why the two led a drive to make APA's National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology a required part of psychology teaching in their Maryland school district, Montgomery County Public Schools. The district is field testing the standards--which emphasize psychology's research and methodology in theories and concepts--in its 23 high schools through Advanced Placement and experimental psychology courses.

"I hope that these standards will make teachers in the county teach psychology in a scientific point of view rather than an emotional point of view," says Johnson, who teaches psychology at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Md. "Sometimes people feel psychology can be more of a way of therapy or support, but that's really not what high school psychology is about at all. We need to encourage students to become better critical thinkers."

The national standards, developed by an APA task force in 1999, serve as a road map to teaching introductory high school psychology in five domains--methods, biopsychological, developmental, cognitive and sociocultural. More specific topics are included under each domain, such as learning and memory under the cognitive domain.

Previously, Montgomery County psychology teachers followed a curriculum developed in 1988 by the district's teachers, but it became outdated and did not reflect psychology's advances in the last decade--such as emphasis on research methods, brain imaging and contemporary issues such as terrorism, AIDS and diversity in cultural, sexual and spiritual contexts, says Smith, a psychology teacher at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, Md.

Rarely does an entire school district decide to adopt the standards, but individual teachers often decide to incorporate them, says Maureen McCarthy, PhD, APA's director of precollege and undergraduate programs. "It's a very remarkable move for a district to adopt these standards," she says.

To ease the Montgomery County schools' transition to the new standards, the two teachers tailored them to fit a similar format as the previous curriculum. For example, they broke down the standards into a lesson-plan format--with objectives and performance indicators--so that the curriculum would be easy to follow. Plus, they hope to eventually supplement the material with ideas for classroom experiments.

These standards are needed for high school teachers to come into the 21st century, Smith says. "Education in the field of psychology based on scientific information is the only way we can make a difference and can strongly influence our ability to address the many issues affecting the world today," she says. "Then we will have the tools to make changes that will improve our society."

Further Reading

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