is to provide students with meaningful feedback on their
go on to pursue psychology as a career,” she says. “The results
projects — something they don’t always receive at other science
are impressive in terms of how it motivates the students.”
competitions — so the judges fill out comment sheets that the
One such student is Ben Basile. At the Bozeman High School
presenters later get to read.
Psychology Fair 14 years ago, he played a clip from the movie
At St. Paul’s School for Girls in Brooklandville, Md.,
“Goodfellas” as part of a demonstration on how exposure to
psychology teacher Jeanne Blakeslee has similar goals with
violent movie scenes affect heart rate and pulse. “Hands-on,
her psychology convention. Most of all, she
wants her students to apply what they’re
learning in class to real-life problems. Seniors
in her Advanced Placement (AP) psychology
class and from five other local schools choose
a topic related to the theme “How to Make
the World a Better Place for Adolescents.”
They do a literature review and make a
40-minute presentation on their research at
the AP Psychology Convention, held each
year in April. This year’s projects included
ones on how to create a better atmosphere
in schools and society for transgender teens
and the impact of different parenting styles
on adolescent behavior. “At the convention,
these kids act like professional psychologists,”
says Blakeslee, chair of APA’s Teachers of
Psychology in Secondary Schools.
In Bozeman, Mont., the annual AP
psychology fair at Bozeman High School
is so popular that it attracts 1,500 guests.
High school seniors Rabia Ahmad, Sina Gebre-ab and Kayla Alevizatos.
Like Blakeslee, AP psychology teacher Joyce
Hannula requires her students to enter a project in an annual
psychology fair. During the all-day event, her students set up
booths in the school’s gym. Guests who visit their booths are
given a hands-on activity that demonstrates a psychological
concept, such as short-term memory, operant conditioning
or reaction time.
“The projects are amazing — complex and very involving,”
says Hannula. For example, some students who wanted to
demonstrate the concept of memory construction set up a
maze. After visitors exited the maze, they were asked a series of
questions to determine whether items they believed they saw
displayed along the walls were actually present.
A launching pad
The psychology fair experience seems to pay off for students
and the psychology field. When Weseley surveyed teachers
at schools that participated in the Long Island High School
Psychology Fair during the past three years, she found that
more than two-thirds of the students who competed in the fair
take psychology classes when they head to college. More than a
third are involved in psychology research.
Hannula says she has also seen how presenting in a
psychology fair can make a lasting impression on a student.
“I’ve seen that it helps them understand what research really
involves and they become excited about it. In some cases, they
interactive learning experiences like this inspired me to pursue a
career in psychology,” says Basile, now a doctoral student in the
neuroscience and animal behavior program in the psychology
department at Emory University.
Meghan Smith, who graduated from St. Paul’s School for
Girls five years ago, says she knew she wanted to continue
studying psychology in college after she presented on
the history and neurobiological basis of shyness at the
AP Psychology Convention. Later, while working on her
undergraduate honors thesis at the University of Virginia, she
appreciated that the convention prepared her to do college-level research. Starting this fall, she’ll be applying those skills
in the clinical child psychology doctoral program at Virginia
“The convention really opened my eyes to how exciting it is
to dig into psychological concepts,” she says. n
Jen Uscher is a writer in Brooklyn, N. Y.
Want to set up your own psychology science
fair? For ideas, go to the APA’s Education
Directorate’s Science Fairs page at www.apa.org/