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COMMUNITY NOTEBOOK: Local students featured as 'Everyday Geniuses'

Project reveals the study habits of top high schoolers

Two recent graduates of Palo Alto High School were featured in the San Francisco-based Everyday Genius Institute's "Think Like A Genius Straight A+ Student" project, which sought to uncover the learning and studying strategies of top high school students.

Two of the three students chosen for the study were recent Paly graduates Jenner Fox, now a freshman at Yale, and Alex Freeman, now a freshman at Georgetown.

The third student, Andrea Vallone, grew up in Palo Alto and now attends the Chinese International School.

The Everyday Genius Institute's purpose is to deconstruct the behaviors of masters of a particular skill, such as studying or wine tasting, and re-package it so other people can learn these genius strategies, said Taryn Voget, Co-Founder and CEO of the institute.

Voget said she was searching for students who were efficient.

"A lot of students get straight As just by a sheer number of hours of studying. We wanted the well-rounded students, not the typical stressed-out students."

She pointed to Fox as a particularly well-organized student.

"He's awesome, so efficient, and it gave him time to start a band, play soccer and do yoga," she said.

Another key characteristic that Voget looked for in the students was self-awareness.

"We had to find people who could put themselves back in the classroom, imagine back to that biology class. There's a lot of power in that," she said.

Voget explained there is a difference between what people think they do and what they actually do. Because of this, the strategy employed in the study was to simulate what the students actually do when they are learning, rather than having the students try to teach their learning strategies to others.

"We use a modeling methodology that gets people to slow down their process," Voget said. "We have a specific series of questions but we are also scanning for other things than words, eyes, body movements."

The study took place in the Institute's studio, where researchers observed the students' eye movements, for example, as they re-lived classroom scenarios.

"The eyes are the window to the mind," Voget said. She said that by slowing down Freeman's eye movements, they uncovered one of his subtle learning strategies.

"For a split second, he was imagining himself as being the teacher," she said.

Voget also wanted to study students who were relatable.

"We wanted students who were really likeable and articulate that you could be friends with on your soccer team."

The study used a student perspective rather than a teacher's or tutor's perspective. Voget said there is something powerful in hearing a fellow 16 or 17-year-old student say, "I turn off my cell phone so that I can get my work done," versus a parent telling their child to turn off their cell phone.

"Teachers don't necessarily know how to teach you how to study," she said.

The study revealed innovative time-management, memorization and learning strategies that students tailored to the individual teacher's goals.

"(Freeman) in biology, for example, studying cells, would literally imagine himself as a tourist in a cell, engage several senses, and get a different point of view, touch it, and feel how it interacts. It was a way for him to remember," Voget said.

"They were good at picking out what was relevant. They didn't do all reading or take endless notes. They paid attention to what each teacher wanted and picked out important things to do," she said.

The Institute's "Think Like A Genius Straight A+ Student" book and a 45-minute DVD, which features the students talking about their strategies, is available now for $99.

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