Teaching Resources

Drug questions

Today, it is not uncommon for children to regularly take prescription medicine.  To some, this is normal.  Others question what has been deemed a disorder and corresponding treatment.  “The Prescription of a New Generation” (Contexts, Spring 2008) takes a closer look at these and related issues.  Here are some questions to help students think about normalcy, disorders, and medicine today.

1)    Discuss how medical “breakthroughs” like the anti-depressants described in this article or the introduction of a drug like Latisse (which is supposed to treat short eyelashes) are changing ideas of normalcy and self-identity. Is there a stigma attached to either taking such medications or seeking alternative treatments?

2)    The article says that we spend more time and effort getting people onto medications than off of them. What social functions do medications serve?

3)    Near the end of the article, a student questions whether ADD and ADHD are actual problems or normal responses to the increasing—and sometimes overwhelming—demands of work and school. What do you think?

ACTIVITY: Find examples online or in the mainstream media where drugs or medications are being advertised. How do these ads explain and promote their products? To what extent do you think pharmaceutical companies help define “normal” behaviors and states?

Questions and activities like these will be featured in the upcoming Contexts Reader!

Scenes from Baquba suicide bombing
The motives of suicide bombers escape most of our understandings. This confusion presents a significant obstacle for policy makers trying to combat this type of crime. Robert J. Brym tackles this issue in his article “Six Lessons of Suicide Bombers” (Contexts, Fall 2007).  Use the discussion questions or the activity below to help students engage with this topic.

(This article, along with these activities will also be featured in the upcoming Contexts Reader.)

1)    Did it surprise you that suicide bombers tend not to be psychologically unstable or that they are not mainly motivated by religion? How do the facts and findings reported in this article conflict with our usual cultural understanding of terrorists and suicide bombers?

2)    Why don’t terrorist organizations recruit “crazy” people for suicide attacks, according to this article?

3)    Many countries refuse to negotiate with terrorists, stating that negotiation validates terrorism as a form of international relations. Based upon this article, do you think policies like this reduce the “boomerang effect” or make matters worse? Explain your answer.

ACTIVITY: Pretend you are the head of an anti-terrorism advisory board for the United Nations. Using Brym’s six lessons, devise a strategic action plan for combating and reducing instances of suicide bombing.

K-OS on The Come Up Show

It’s one of the most contentious words in America. Who can use? Who can’t? Should its meaning change when used by different people? It’s considered a curse word by a large segment of the United States and is prohibited from our major media and entertainment outlets–except for hip hop. Geoff Harkness explores this issue in his article “Hip Hop Culture and America’s Most Taboo Word” (Contexts, Fall 2008). We’ve put together some ways to use this article in your class on race, music, or popular culture:

  • Use these questions to start a class discussion:

1)    What social factors and cultural ties help explain the bonds Latino and black hip-hoppers express in this article?

2)    As its music and culture has become more mainstream and moved across class and racial boundaries, how has hip-hop changed?

3)    Like the “n-word”, groups sometimes “reclaim” words that are used as slurs to turn them into points of pride. Discuss the history and evolution of words like “ghetto,” “redneck,” “queer,” “faggot,” and “bitch.” Why have people sometimes chosen to reclaim derogatory words like these?

4)    Some words are loaded even if they seem neutral. Consider words like “feminist,” “patriot,” “communist.” What meanings and implications are built into these words? Can you think of similar words that evoke strong feelings?

Check out the article Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women? by Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Paula England, which appears in the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts. This highly accessible  and interesting article will work great in an undergraduate course on sexualities or gender.

Cerro Santa Lucía, SantiagoThe FULL article is available to download on Contexts.org!

The article offers insight on the “hook-up culture” among young people today by examining the Baby Boomers’ panic over teenage casual sex, presenting the data on casual and serious sexual relationships among teens, and examining pros and cons of hook-ups for women.

The authors cite the work of some journalists and others who have commented on “hooking up” among young women in very different ways:

  • Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both (2007)
  • Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women (2010)
  • Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005)

A fun and interesting way to use this article in your class is to allow students to take on the role of commentator by writing a short paper (3-4 pages) on their understanding and opinions on hook-up culture. You could have them read sections from the books above and/or read blog posts like this one from Salon.com in addition to this article from Contexts, and also have them research and cite scholarly work on the subject, like the work cited in the article.

Have them take a position on the issue of “hooking up”/casual sexual interactions in college and use evidence they find in their research to back up their claims.

Lesbian Romance

Questions that could be used to develop their argument include:

Do you think that hook-up culture is empowering for women or not?

Why do you think hooking-up is more common now than ever?

Why do you think young people hooking up causes such a moral panic?

Is sexual interaction within relationships preferable to hook-ups?

Is there a sexual double standard between men and women when it comes to hooking up?

How does the hook-up culture described in this article relate to same-sex relationships?

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.

We all love to hate reality TV. This assignment asks students to watch a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model after reading an interesting and accessible culture review from Contexts. There are many elements in ANTM worth sociological examination: race, gender, and sexuality of contestants and judges, gender performance, use and display of bodies, modeling culture, body image, patriarchal power, infantilizing women, feminism, self-branding and individualized success ideals.  You could even ask students to send you clips of segments they found especially provocative and show some of them in class to spark the discussion.

CS

Read the culture review “The Top Model Life” by Elizabeth Wissinger featured in Contexts magazine’s Spring 2010 issue.

Then, watch an episode (or a few) of America’s Next Top Model online.

Full episodes found here.

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)