Are You Encouraging Curiosity in Your Classroom?

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Classroom Application
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Children are curious by nature. How many times have you heard parents comment on the number of questions asked daily by two- and three-year-olds? Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to go to bed? That’s how young children learn about the world around them.

As children grow past the toddler stage, it seems sometimes that their curious nature goes away. Perhaps it is because they are more aware of their surroundings, or maybe it because they sense that adults become frustrated with constant questions or don’t have all of the answers.

Whatever the reason, students don’t always have a sense of curiosity as it relates to lessons learned in the classroom, and that is disappointing. We know that curiosity leads to discovery and motivates learning, so it is essential to consider how to thoughtfully encourage curiosity in our students. TeachersFirst ® is conducting an OK2Ask®️ workshop on this topic, “TeachersFirst Exclusives that Spark Curiosity in the Classroom,”this month. You can find session details and enrollment information here or watch the archived recording when it’s posted.

How can I define curiosity?

This article from TeachThought discusses ideas about understanding and developing curiosity in students. It takes readers through the four stages of curiosity, beginning with procedural knowledge and leading to self knowledge. Let’s take a look at each of those stages:

  1. Process – This is the beginning stage of learning. At this point, the students’ focus is on the actual task and they aren’t focused on (or aware of) the learning objectives. Students just want to know what to do and how to complete the task without taking any ownership of the learning process.
    • Support students in this stage by providing clear instructions and using different methods to create learning opportunities that encourage and motivate students in the learning process.
  2. Content – This next stage of learning builds upon the process, and students begin to move toward wanting to learn more. They may ask questions beyond the process of completing the task that help them understand the content more thoroughly. It is one of the first steps toward independent learning.
    • Support students in this stage by providing learning materials with interesting content, including teaching materials that support the abilities of each student, and beginning to move students away from consuming content and toward content creation. 
  3. Transfer – This stage is a transformational point in learning where students begin to apply their current knowledge to new information. To develop curiosity, they need opportunities for more independent learning rather than structured learning.
    • Support students at this stage by providing independent learning opportunities like research projects, makerspace activities, or group activities. Support student success in these independent activities by providing a well-defined rubric, encouraging collaboration, and using questioning techniques that help students focus on the learning. 
  4. Self – The final stage of curiosity is the awareness of self. Upon the presentation of new materials, the learner thinks inwardly about how it applies to themselves. They independently think about ways that the information integrates with their current knowledge. 
    • Support students at this stage by giving them opportunities to create. Although students still need rubrics and independent learning support, as an inward thinker, they are ready to create and share their learning with others. Use digital creation tools such as presentation software, movie creation tools, digital books, or coding activities to encourage students to share knowledge in creative ways.

What are some TeachersFirst resources I can use to encourage curiosity?

  1. Across the World Once a Week (XW1W) – Participate in this global collaboration created to promoted cross-cultural understanding. Each week from October through April, XW1W shares a collaborative question on Twitter. Choose from two levels of questions – one for elementary, the other for middle school students. Respond with data from your classroom using the hashtag #XW1W-E or #XW1W-M, then use other classrooms’ responses to learn about different cultures from peers around the globe. 
  2. GlobeTrackers Mission – Join Geo and Meri in an episodic mission around the world, created to help students in grades 2-6 learn geography skills. Each episode follows the teens in their adventure to find Louie, the missing mapmaker, and includes interactive maps and annotated vocabulary that engages learners in the mission. 
  3. Reading Treks – TeachersFirst Reading Treks provide virtual field trips to accompany a variety of books for all grade levels. Using the My Maps feature of Google Maps, participants travel to “stops” along the way that highlight locations featured in the book, with informative pop-ups.
  4. Gettysburg by the Numbers – Take a journey to the Battle of Gettysburg and learn about the battle through the numbers. Discover distances and dimensions of the battlefield. Explore the demographics of Gettysburg soldiers or go back in time to learn about the weather in Gettysburg during those three days in July. Use this information to develop curiosity by holistically understanding the numbers. 

Suggestions for deliberately encouraging curiosity

  1. Model curiosity and asking questions. Use strategies like asking, “What questions do you have?” instead of “Does anyone have any questions?”
  2. Allow student choice whenever possible.
  3. Reward and highlight student curiosity.
  4. Teach students how to ask productive questions.
  5. Incorporate inquiry-based lessons.
  6. Allow students to fail – then teach how to reflect upon that failure.
  7. Encourage active listening.

One final thought: more than anything else, always reflect upon your practices to make sure you aren’t killing curiosity by enforcing rigid procedures or restricting creativity. Take the time to encourage curiosity and independent thinking and see where it leads – to students who become better problem solvers and critical thinkers, two of the most important 20th-century learning skills necessary for present and future careers. 

Do you have ideas on how to encourage curiosity? What has worked in your classroom? Share your thoughts with our readers in the comments below.

About the author: Sharon Hall

Sharon Hall was a recipient of the Presidential Award of Excellence in Math teaching. With over 15 years of classroom experience as a National Board Certified teacher, Sharon shares her content knowledge and reflections on ideas for basic classroom technology integration with us.

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