I have been teaching an introduction to psychology course for a number of years. It's geared for high school students so the content is abridged and the focus changes from year to year. My first years were following in the footsteps of the teacher who taught it before me. I followed the outline and used the textbook but within two years, found my own way. As my teaching grew and changed because of web 2.0 tools, so did the content of the courses I taught. I abandoned the text book and built my own course using exclusively material from the web. One year I taught the course to a hockey team and so the focus was on sports psychology. Every year, the course has a different 'flavor' and every year, I believe it improves. It is important to be responsive to the population we serve and understand (or at least try to ) what moves our students. What are their big worries? What are their passions?
This past year I learned much about the brain and the impact of early childhood experiences on brain development. From my beloved CBC podcasts (Ideas program, The Brains of Babes, and great books such as John Ratey's Spark and John Medina's Brain Rules I gained a new understanding and appreciation of the importance of the environment and daily physical exercise for healthy brain development and functioning. But the author and book that has had the most formative impact on my thinking and teaching this year has been Dr. Gabor Mate's book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. His insights and writings are powerful, touching and help us understand the dynamics of addiction, in all its forms. I have introduced his ideas in my classroom via the CBC Fifth Estate program where the Portland Hotel and Insite were featured as the context for the debate surrounding government support of these safe injection sites. From there, we found Dr. Mate on YouTube and listened to more of his interviews. Then I introduced them to his book and read from one of the chapters. The section I chose involved the difference between passion and addiction. They listened quietly and watched me with their 'big eyes'. Afterwards, one student confided to me that he feared he was addicted to videogames.
Dr. Mate is continuing his work in my classroom. This is possible because I threw away the textbook and am trying to forge my own path. It's exciting and very, very rewarding. If I ever return to a text book, it would be a digital one (and even then I think I'd feel boxed in). Listen to your students, read the pulse on the web, follow your nose and shake it up. The world is changing so quickly. Our students deserve to have teachers who change and adapt their teaching and content. Go ahead; reach out and bring in some new material. They will thank you for it.
I've included a TVO interview with Dr. Mate so readers can appreciate the humanity, compassion and wisdom of this wonderful man.