Materials

NYC-30

“Communities that Don’t Bowl in the Fog” (Contexts, Winter 2009)
is a great article to use when teaching students about community indicators and similar statistics.  Below are some questions and activities that can be paired with the article.

1)    Community indicators summarize important information in a single statistic. Can you think of other statistics that are commonly used to represent aspects of groups or nations? What information is conveyed in these statistics? What is left out?

2)    What are the benefits of viewing an entire community as a whole? Are there drawbacks as well?

3)     The authors mention “community well-being” often.  In your opinion, what indicators should be included in the definition of community well-being? Are some more important than others?  Can you think of other aspects of well-being that might be more difficult to measure?

In-class activity:

Information needs to be both relevant and implementable for communities and their leaders. Find information from one of projects mentioned in the article to put together a one-page advisory memo on people in that community for one of the following groups: activists calling for a Hispanic community clinic; a multi-national company thinking of moving its headquarters to the city; or a school district considering a proposal for a new elementary school for students with disabilities.

080224Obama0251

With the mid-term elections recently behind us and the 2012 Presidential elections drawing closer, Jeffrey Alexander’s piece “Heroes, Presidents, and Politics” reminds us that political narratives are stories about heroes.  There are many ways you can use the article, which can be read online here, in the classroom.

*Alexander stresses that narratives and images are created.  Gary-Alan Fine’s work on reputational entrepreneurs further elaborates how and why certain reputations are created, and his article on reputational entrepreneurs and the image of President Harding could be used to complement this piece.  Assign both articles to students, and ask your students to discuss who might work as a reputational entrepreneur for Obama or McCain (i.e.. political parties, lobbyists, public officials, etc.).

*Ask students to find pictures, articles, and other campaign materials from recent elections and to discuss what narratives the campaigns were trying to create.

*The lesson could also be combined with Nathan Palmer’s suggestions on how to teach hero-making.

IMG_1021

Below are some discussion questions and an activity that can be used with “Beyond Mendel’s Ghost” by Michael J. Shanahan, Shawn Bauldry, and Jason A. Freeman.  You can find the article  in the Fall 2010 issue of Contexts.

Discussion Questions:

1)    Before reading this article, did you think nature or nurture was a stronger determinant in the lives of human beings? What about now?

2)    The authors stress that sociology and genetics are more intertwined than people realize. If this is the case, should sociologists and geneticists work together? What might this partnership look like?

3)    Some people think genetic research could enable parents to choose their children’s genes, ranging from preventing diseases to choosing skin color, eye color, etc. What are the pros and cons of this possibility? What would the authors most likely say about it?

Activity:

Pretend you have the ability to choose which genetic characteristics you can pass on to your children. List three that you would select. Why? Compare your list to others in the course.

Parque Tsitsernakaberd memorial genocidio armenio Yerevan Armenia 05
Memories of the past are fluid and powerful.  They are influenced by the present and can simultaneously influence the present.  Memories can be manipulated to serve interests and often provide blueprints for social action.  In the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts, two pieces capture these and other nuances of memory.

Barbara Sutton’s photo essay on “Situating Memory in Argentina” highlights pictures of the military dictatorship that disappeared, tortured, and violated the human rights of the people of Argentina.  Robin Autry’s piece, entitled “Memory, Materiality, and the Apartheid Past,” examines processes of constructing memories in South Africa.

These readings could be paired together or could easily be paired with a chapter from Jeffrey Alexander et. al’s  book on Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity, which explores the relationship between collective memory, identity, and trauma.

For an assignment, students could research sites of memory and bring pictures and a historical description of the site to share with a group.

Potential discussion questions include:

How can a memory be shared?  Do you have to experience something in order to have a memory of it?

Do you think collective memory has the ability to deter future atrocities and human rights violations?  Why or why not?

The notion of collective memory often insinuates that a dominant memory exists.  However, Autry’s piece notes that resources and opportunity also play a role in which memory prevails.  Discuss how power can affect collective memory.

How do you view the U.S. treatment of Native Americans, Abraham Lincoln, or more recent events like September 11th?  What factors influence these memories and beliefs about the past?

MuseScore passes 40.000 downloads in June 2010

If undergrads were asked to create a list of the most terrifying things at college, statistics would surely be near the top.  Many students, even in sociology, dread taking any class that mentions the word “statistics” in the title.

But, statistical methodology is an invaluable tool that can be used to explore the social world, and finding ways to illuminate complex concepts and connect the math to students’ daily lives is key.

Sue Hodge recently shared some great resources with us that might make this task a little easier:

ICPSR and SSDAN are partners on two projects to improve the quantitative literacy of students. One of the projects is TeachingWithData.org, a website of resources for faculty and instructors to teach social science concepts through the use of data. It is not exclusive to sociology, but there are many resources for sociologists.  In addition to classroom resources, the site has current news articles that use data to explain a happening or some other news, such as the recent growth enjoyed by Netflix. Very often these articles are accompanied by a chart or table which can be helpful for faculty looking for easy ways to have students practice these skills, and sometimes, they illustrate the incorrect use of data.

Students will eat up this article from the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts: “Sex, Love, and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover” by Amy Schalet. This interesting article compares American and Dutch teenagers and their parents on their opinions on teenage sexuality, including sleepovers with their boyfriends/girlfriends.

215/365 - This Strawberrybananna smoothie is better than the Wildberry (:Get a discussion of teenage sexuality started by giving your students this anonymous survey on their own experiences with and ideas about teenage sexuality. Adapt it to your own tastes and class’ needs. The idea is to keep it anonymous so they answer candidly, and then compile the answers yourself and share them with the class. We would suggest giving this survey at the end of one class and then having the discussion at the beginning of the next.

Another way to use a survey in class is to use the same questions as another survey, like this Gallup Poll on teens and sex, and then compare the class’ answers to the public.

LILY_001
When many of us think of society, animals don’t necessarily come to mind.  But, sociologists have recently begun to explore the relationships between human and non-human animals.  In the most recent issue of Contexts, Arnold Arluke examines the importance of animals in our everyday lives.  All students could find something to resonate with in this piece, whether they associate certain traits with certain animals, have watched television shows about animal hoarders, have lamented that their significant others couldn’t be as “loyal” as their pet, or choose not to eat animals or animal products.

There are many ways this piece could be utilized in the classroom.  Students could be asked to find a news story that focuses on animals and reflect on how the animals are portrayed and what Arluke would say the story reflects about our relationships with animals.  Or, students could choose a particular species and examine people’s relationships with that species over time.  For this example, several international cases would be useful to illustrate the cultural constructions of animals/pets.  Along these lines, students could also research the animal cruelty laws that Arluke mentions.  They can examine which animals are covered by these laws and discuss why some, like farm animals, are not.

Lastly, you could introduce the idea of “speciesism” and take a look at social movements that strive to achieve animal rights or animal liberation.  PETA’s campaigns that juxtapose animal suffering against human slavery and the Holocaust could also spark great discussions, so students could be given the assignment to peruse PETA2’s current Animal Liberation Project’s website.

 

Below is the last (for now) post from our guest blogger, Nathan Palmer.  Nathan’s work can be followed at www.sociologysource.com

Does race still matter? This is my day one question for students in my race & ethnicity courses. Many students walk into my class on the first day thinking that racism, prejudice, and discrimination are issues that were solved in the 1960s. Frequently I hear, “”well things aren’t perfect, but they sure are getting better all the time.”  Countless students have said to me, “How much racism can there be if we have a Black president?” While I see this line of thinking more often from my white students, I have had many students of color share this mindset. Using very recent current events can convince students that racism is not a thing of the past but a very real part of our present.

Even students who believe and know that racism is alive and well are typically unaware of the numerous current events that many feel are clear examples of racism. Students are surprised to hear that just this August a Mississippi middle school barred students of color from running for class president. Most students have not heard about the controversy surrounding the firing of Shirley Sherrod over claims of racism. Students are unaware that two ROTC students spread cotton in front of the Black Culture Center at the University of Missouri in February. They are shocked to learn that, also during this past February, a student hung a noose in the UC San Diego library and shortly thereafter a UCSD fraternity put on a “ghetto themed” party called the “Compton Cookout” where guests were invited to dress like thugs and “Nappy Headed Hoes.” I tell my students that this is by no means an exhaustive list. You could also discuss the recent Arizona Immigration laws, or the recent controversy over “Dr. Laura” using the N-Word multiple times on air.

As we go through each of these news events and facts I say over and over again that I am not saying each of these events is evidence of racism. I am simply showing them examples of what others have called racism. This is crucial, because it avoids any debate about the incidents and it keeps students from feeling bullied or steamrolled. Also, students are savvy enough to draw their own conclusions.

I wrap up the discussion by asking my class, “If racism is a thing of the past, why is it in the news so frequently?” “If we have civil rights laws on the books and a Black president, why do we continue to talk about the dead issue of racism?” Needless to say, my students always seem to see the ridiculousness of these questions.



NYC Pro-Muslim Rally Marching On Sept. 11th, 2010

Below Nathan Palmer, faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Georgia Southern University, shares some great ideas on how to teach students about making heroes, the social construction of reality, and rituals.

DC Hero Minifigs - Wave 11

Students are filing into a large lecture hall. An empty stage in front of them with a simple black text on white background powerpoint slide reads, “What if we treated sociologists as celebrities or sports heroes?” At 9:00 am exactly the lights dim and a hyped up song begins to play. Students are looking around the room for answers when over the speakers they hear, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please as we announce tonight’
s starting lineup for your very own Georgia Southern Eagles! Starting at teacher hailing from the University of Nebraska, it’s NAAATHAAAAN PAAALMEEER!!!” The music reaches a crescendo as I storm in from the back of the auditorium, slapping high fives with students as I make my way to the stage. Once on the stage I pour baby powder in my hands and throw it in the air mimicking LeBron James’s pre-game ritual. Then I point both my fingers to one side of the room just like the fastest man in the world Usain Bolt does.

Heroes, Celebrities, and Constructing Reality
The music stops. When the students stop laughing hysterically I start a discussion about how we “make sports heroes.” We talk about the lights, music, the announcer’s tone of voice, the crowd participation and all the other rituals we do across the country at sporting events. This is a great way to discuss the social construction of reality in a way that students really connect with. I also bring in Durkheim’s insights about rituals and community building. Nowhere in the United States is there a more naked concerted effort to clearly define an “us” and a “them” as there is at sporting events.

Typically my students want to take the conversation beyond sports and look at pop-culture celebrity making. This is an easy transition given that the way we make pop-culture celebrities is very similar to sports hero making. Students talk about movie trailers with quick cuts and a dramatic voice over. They talk about TMZ, Extra!, and other celebrity news magazines that prop up the most mundane behaviors as being amazing and trend setting.

Inevitably, one student will say, “I hate celebrities and sports heroes. The real heroes of the world are Pat Tillman and the men and women who serve our country.” This is a excellent opportunity to talk about the rhetorical frames we use to describe soldiers. I will ask the class, “How do we talk about soldiers and the military in the United States when we want to honor them?” The class is quick to use words like sacrifice, bravery, courage, and honor. This demonstrates to the class that even when talk about people who do more than score a touchdown or star in a movie, we still use symbols and rhetorical devices to socially construct a heroic reality for them.

Making Your Intro Music
Creating your audio introduction is fairly easy. I buy a high energy top 40 song off of iTunes each semester so that my students will immediately recognize the song. iTunes is great because you can buy a “clean” or censored version of the song and it will only cost you $1.29. Most recently I used the song “Winner” by Jamie Foxx. After you pick a song you can use free programs like Audacity on a PC or GarageBand on a Mac to record your “announcer intro” and then mix the track with the song you’ve chosen.

Teaching symbolic interaction is typically something we all do during the first weeks of a introduction to sociology course. This activity is especially good because it affords us an opportunity to break student expectations early. As I am sure is apparent by now, this activity takes a fair amount of courage on your part. However, by putting yourself out there, so to speak, you can shatter student preconceptions about professors and college classes. You can also rest assured that your students will leave class and tell all their friends about what they learned in sociology today.

Teaching as Theater
The reality is, if you are teaching 100+ students in a large lecture hall you are doing performance theater like it or not. When students walk into a theater sized classroom and when you stand on a stage with a microphone, it should surprise no one that students expect to be entertained. As sociologists we have a unique opportunity to play with student expectations and violate norms in a way that both makes for good pedagogy and good theater.

Please welcome Guest Blogger, Nathan Palmer. Nathan is faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Georgia Southern University, where he teaches Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, and Environmental Sociology. Nathan’s research interests are focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, inequality, education, and environmental sociology.

Nathan is also the editor of the teaching sociology focused blog SociologySource.com.  The post below is the first in a series of 3 posts by Nathan.

2010 Census

Teaching students how to design a survey can be tricky because the process is deceptively easy. Students think, “Hey, I have taken tons of surveys before. How hard can it be?” They then proceed to break every rule of good design that you discussed in class.

A simple, quick, yet effective activity to teach good survey design is to have your students take a survey that is horribly designed. I tell my students that I want no talking and then pass out a survey about internet usage (download it here). Every question on the survey is either double barreled, leading, biased, or has response options that make no sense or overlap. After a few minutes I tell them to stop and ask what they think of the survey. They uniformly say it’s awful.

Students really like this activity. Typically they laugh out loud when reading the questions. I have them pair up and identify everything that is wrong with the questions. As a class we go through each question picking it apart. We then formulate new questions that don’t violate any of the basic survey design rules.

The activity is also beneficial because students get to take home an example of what not to do that they can compare their work against when creating their own survey. Pedagogically I really like this activity because it has the students playing an active role in their education. Also, the “bad survey” is formatted well so you can tell your students that their survey should look like the example you gave them, but with much better questions.

Download the Survey (pdf Version)