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In Class: AP Psychology

Oct. 15, 2018 — Bum-da-dum-bum. Bum-da-dum-bum. Three students faced their classmates, pounding out a rhythm on the desktops. Then they started to rap. “This is the story of neurons firing. Listen to us, we swear it won’t be tiring,” they began, as everyone else in Meg Hodgin’s AP Psychology class listened with rapt attention. This wasn’t your standard classroom presentation. 

Neither were those of the five other student groups, each asked to explain how nerve cells work. The twist was that each presentation had to appeal to students who learn best in a particular way. 

Senior Bekah Keator said that “creating a presentation with a specific learning style in mind gave me a different way to approach how I helped to share the information with my class. I had to think about how this way of presenting could be the way that makes it ‘stick’ for someone.” That’s exactly what Hodgin had in mind when she introduced her students to the complex, but potentially dry, topic.

While the basic content about axons and dendrites was the same in every student presentation, the methods of presentation were quite varied. 

  • The intrapersonal learning group asked students to focus on facts about neurons on their own in a quiet space, then write thoughts and questions in a journal.
  • The interpersonal learning group leaders made their presentation into a conversation, then started a wider discussion, and finally led a group-vs.-group competition that ended in cheers and fist-bumps among the winners.
  • The kinesthetic learning group emphasized sensory experiences, passing around a plush model of a neuron, covering the whiteboard with multicolored diagrams, and illustrating the flow of energy through and between nerve cells by tossing an inflatable globe to classmates labeled as a “dendrite” or “axon” or “synapse.” They even distributed sticks of gum so mouths could keep moving while students thought about the lesson. 
  • The naturalistic learners’ group led the group outside on a warm fall day and discussed the trees and falling leaves as a metaphor.
  • The existential learners’ group looked at big-picture questions. They had the class link arms and send a “neural impulse” around the room, noting that every person around the world experiences neuron firing the same way, a small example of “unity between people.” They finished with a “popcorn” activity in which students relayed their neuron knowledge by calling on their classmates to share. 

And then there was the rap, which continued with lines like “the tubelike structure is the myelin sheath. It protects and speeds up what’s underneath.” Lydia Princess Obi ’19 — who helped compose the rap — said the project made her “more aware not only of the various ways in which people learn but also how, in group work especially, I could help others learn.” — By Emily Weir

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Video by Glenn Minshall