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Students Get Hands-On View of Psychology in Yearlong Applied Course
Suzy Logan

More than a dozen juniors and seniors are learning how relevant the study of psychology is to their daily Blair lives and beyond, thanks to a yearlong science elective taught by Associate Dean of Students Caroline Wilson. Having spent the first half of the year studying subjects such as human memory, motivation, interaction and connection, the class is now testing psychological theories and piloting small case studies with their roommates and friends.

Ms. Wilson, who earned an MA in education, policy, organization and leadership studies from Stanford University in 2018, says her graduate studies highlighted many of the topics her course is now exploring. While some of the curriculum touches on subjects studied in AP psychology, students have much more freedom in the applied class, which is driven in part by student interest and has included projects focused on technology, multitasking and wise interventions.

“My overarching goal is to teach students to always be curious and realize how relevant these topics are to their everyday lives,” said Ms. Wilson, who earned her undergraduate degree from Williams College and has worked at Blair since 2013 in the admission office, as a psychology teacher and in the student life office. “I love people and connecting with them, which is my primary job in my current role, so teaching this course dovetails nicely and gives me the chance to teach students new skills and also give them the opportunity to practice them.”

The course is project-based, meaning there are no tests and no memorization, even if, ironically, memory has been an intense area of focus as students consider its role in relationships, the law and our society. The best part for Ms. Wilson has been seeing these connections form as members of the class tackle small and large projects and report back about “conditioning” roommates to clean up or make their beds or documenting the effect of caffeine on behavior. 

Students have found the class offers them “immediate gratification” in the sense that they can explore topics that interest them as they learn to read human behavior and adapt in the face of challenges. “The biggest takeaway from this class is my new knowledge of psychology and how I can apply it to my everyday life,” said Laney Vasseghi ’20. “I am now more aware of my sleep schedule and my nap times based on REM and nREM cycles. This class has really sparked my interest in psychology and taught me in a discussion-based environment without the stress of an AP exam on the horizon.”

The immediate application of what the class is learning to everyday life is also Sejal Grizzetti ’20’s favorite part of the course. For example, she and her classmates have studied the best ways to memorize information for tests, the proper times to sleep and how brains function at different ages. “I've developed better study and sleep habits as a result,” she said. "This is my favorite class because we get to do a lot of cool stuff. I already wish I could take it again."

Given Ms. Wilson’s roles outside of the classroom (as housemaster of Locke Hall and coach of the varsity swim team), she enjoys having the opportunity to get to know her students well. “I love teaching and then seeing students’ lives outside of class,” she said. “If you can understand students and know how they are wired, it helps immensely in your role as teacher. This just gives me another context in which to know them and help them learn more effectively.” 

As the new year got underway, each student picked a developmental theory, some opting to try out the Rouge Test of self-concept, while others are looking at object performance or the theory of conservation. With tests of the theories now in progress, Ms. Wilson is excited for students to report their findings to each other and apply a new understanding of different areas of psychology to their lives at Blair. “This course is an eye-opener because it requires us to stop and think about why we do what we do,” she concluded. “And learning to examine and understand motivation is something that the class will undoubtedly take into many other parts of their lives.”

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Blair Academy’s 172nd commencement ceremony was a tradition- and joy-filled celebration of the class of 2020, as well as the first graduation in School history to take place online. Families and friends from around the world came together virtually on May 21—appropriately a beautiful, sunny day in Blairstown—to listen to words of wisdom, honor the achievements of students and faculty members, and celebrate a truly outstanding senior class.

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