Curious Minds Want To Know

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BlogPostGraphic_CuriousMindsBy Terra Tarango, President of SDE

I’ve been fortunate in my career. I’ve had some terrific mentors, supportive colleagues, and unique opportunities to learn and grow. I’m ever so grateful for the career that’s developed out of this good fortune, but when I reflect on my part in this growth, what I’ve contributed on my own, what I wish to impart to my children, what I wish all educators to impart to their students, there is one quality to which I attribute most of my success: curiosity.

I’ve always wondered how things work and I’ve never been afraid to ask (or more accurately, my curiosity was stronger than my fear of asking). So there’s my secret. It’s not intellect or skill or even hard work that has brought me most of my success. It’s an insatiable curiosity that I just can’t shake, and I hope I never do.

Curiosity gets a bad rap, killing the cat and all, but I think it’s one of the greatest indicators of success and happiness. It also happens to be one of several qualities (like creativity and playfulness) that is innate in us as children, but too-often is siphoned out of us by our school systems year after year.

Never in our history has there been a better time to be curious. Answers to just about any question are at your fingertips with very little effort. Yet curiosity is an endangered species in most classrooms across the country. In an era of high-stakes testing and standards-based learning, we are constantly being told what to teach. Curriculums even give you a paint-by-numbers roadmap to “hitting” all the required standards, teaching all the “stuff” you must teach.

Assessments are important, especially formative ones. And, while standards-based learning is essential to know where we’re going and what success looks like, I challenge you not to lose sight of what learning is really about. It’s about the satisfaction that comes from the process of moving from curiosity to wonder to investigation to answers. Find ways to engender curiosity within your curriculum. Make time to go outside the curriculum for organic wonderings that capture your students’ minds. If you let the seeds of curiosity take root, it will pay dividends. The students will be engaged; they will appreciate the art of learning; they will see you as a door opener, not a door closer.

Here are some tips for creating a curiosity-friendly classroom:

  • Curiosity Journal—Have students write every day something they wonder about. They needn’t answer every wondering, but acknowledge those that do.
  • Questions Sans Answers—Pose thought-provoking questions daily and allow them to go unanswered. Train students to feel comfortable in the awkward space of not knowing the answer and just wondering.
  • Curiosity Challenge—Whatever your lesson plan, challenge students to find something they are curious about, even if unrelated, and then make a connection back to the lesson plan. This has the added side-effect of buffeting the learning by making an authentic connection.

If you won’t take my word for it, take Jack Johnson’s. Give my theme song a listen:

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6 Responses to Curious Minds Want To Know

  1. Appleseeds is great! Thank you for sharing lots of good ideas.

  2. Donna Whyte says:

    Each of us has our own secret in learning. Mine is that I just don’t quit! I will do anything to find out what I want to know. We all have children that are much like Terra and myself. Although at times, these children make us crazy – understanding that their curiosity or commitment is truly their path to success!

  3. Betsy Chadd says:

    I am fortunate to be co-teaching a graduate level course this summer. My colleague facilitates an online discussion board to connect the assigned readings to the course theme of “collaboration.” Students post three takeaways and one “I wonder…” After reading Terra’s post I thought more deeply of the “I wonder” and how this quick, formative assessment fosters a community of curiosity. By providing a safe environment for “curiosity challenges,” teachers provide many opportunities to extend students’ thinking and equally important, to clarify misconceptions.

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