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“Curioser and Curioser!” cried Alice.

Curiosity is the driver for all learning and is something that professional educators strive to maintain in their daily lessons. Curious students ask questions, engage more fully in learning, and actively seek answers and solutions. Want to create a curious classroom? Let’s explore what curiosity is and check out some of the research before we look to create a class that has a zest for curiosity.

The Oxford Dictionary defines curiosity as “a strong desire to know or learn something.” There is quite a bit of research on curiosity and how it relates to learning. In a 2011 study performed by Sophie von Stumm and team, of the University of Edinburgh in the UK, curiosity was analyzed as a factor in learning. The researchers performed a meta-analysis of data from 200 studies that included around 50,000 students. They found that curiosity did, indeed, influence academic performance. Hard work combined with curiosity had as big an effect on performance as intelligence.

Next, a 2014 study performed by Matthias J. Gruber and team used functional magnetic imagery to show how curiosity influences memory. Their findings were that people who were curious about a topic retained what they learned for longer periods of timeMemory is a critical aspect of learning. The idea that curiosity can feed student memory is an important consideration for how we approach teaching.

In addition to those, a 2013 study that was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health Grant linked curiosity to a wide range of important adaptive behaviors.  These included tolerance of anxiety and uncertainty, positive emotions, humor, playfulness, out-of-box thinking, and a noncritical attitude — all attributes associated with healthy social outcomes.

So, knowing a little more background on the power of curiosity, how do we use this to encourage a curious classroom?

7 Considerations to Bring into Your Classroom

  1. Recognize and value curiosity, always. First of all, it’s very easy to recognize and reward students for curiosity that leads to the correct solution, but curiosity should always be recognized and rewarded. Try to respond to as many curious questions and statements as possible today, and offer positive verbal and non-verbal feedback each time.
  2. Model curiosity. In general, modeling is key to so many aspects of teaching and learning. Curiosity is just one more example of something that you, as the leader of the class, need to model for your students. Think out loud by saying things like, “I wonder how long it will take that ice cube to melt in the glass of water,” and “I wonder why the cube floats to the top of the glass.” If you model for your students, they will follow your lead.
  3. Teach students to ask quality questions through critical thinking. Specifically, you should start by teaching that good questions start with words such as ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what if,’ and to use imagery to make inferences and to generate conclusions.
  4. Give students time to work through projects and problems. There is nothing like being given some time for hands on learning. In my elementary science methods course in graduate school, the professor handed us a dozen eggs and paper plates. She gave us nothing else and she asked no questions. The goal was to investigate the eggs and ask questions. By the end of 20 minutes, our group generated an entire whiteboard full of questions, many of them scaffolding off of eachother. It was a simple activity that truly forced us to be curious. Try projects like this with your class. No doubt, they will engage, play, and generate all kinds of critical thinking questions.
  5. Don’t forget your older students. As we age, our curiosity tends to decrease. You can see this if you visit a kindergarten classroom and then a third grade classroom. The questions you hear in the kindergarten class are rapid-fire. As kids age, they tend to ask questions less often. In short, whether you teach lower elementary or high school, intentionally take time on tasks that allow students to exercise curiosity.
  6. Reduce fear of curiosity. Sometimes students are afraid to ask questions because they fear failure or the idea of asking a stupid question. Take the fear away from wrong answers. Look to redefine ‘failure’. “In truth, curiosity often leads to more mess than mastery, but it is how we handle the mess that helps encourage further exploration, and thereby, development.” says Dr. Bruce Perry in the article Curiosity, the Fuel of Development.
  7. Differentiate for diverse learning profiles. Recognize individual differences in students’ styles of curiosity. Some want to explore with their minds, others in more physical ways — touching, smelling, tasting, and climbing. To some degree these differences are related to temperamental differences in the exploratory drive. Some are more timid; others are more comfortable with novelty and physical exploration. Overall, even a timid child will be very curious; he may require more encouragement and reinforcement to leave safe and familiar situations.

In short, there are many benefits to being curious, especially in the classroom. In a room where students are active participants in the learning process, curiosity has a natural place across all coursework and academic subjects. Our goal as teachers is to tap into students’ motivations for success. Finally, encouraging a curious classroom culture will not only help you in your quest for motivating students, but will also allow you all to have some fun in the process.

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