Curiosity can make all the difference in your students' ability to excel in their learning.
One of the most inspiring “edtech” moments I've had so far this year was the interview I conducted with Ramsay Musallem for the Winter 2018 Edition of “Flipped Learning TODAY”. Musallam is a high school science teacher, a TED Talk alumnus, and recent author of Spark Learning: 3 Keys to Embracing the Power of Student Curiosity.
I have just started reading Spark Learning and look forward to sharing more about it in the coming weeks, but if it plays out like his TED Talk on the same subject, I have no doubt he will make a convincing case for the vital importance of working to raise student curiosity as a pre-cursor to delivery of learning content. As he stated in our interview,
“When they are motivated to the task and when their interest is piqued, when there is tension between what they know and what they don’t know, and more importantly, when they are aware of that tension, then things like video can work really well. The real ‘flip' in flipped learning is flipping when the lecture happens, not where it happens … delaying direct instruction, waiting for a time when students have laid down enough pathways that say, ‘I don’t know this, I need information.'”
Certainly, motivating students to want to learn is an overarching goal of education, and I think many teachers struggle with this (and many who don't have sadly lost the desire to try). Musallam provides ideas that we can all use – its not as hard to trigger curiosity as we might think.
For example, if you simply hide part of something someone is looking at (a projection on a screen perhaps), you trigger an innate desire to know, “what's behind there?” Or ask, “what would happen if we ________?” (Even the simple act of reading these ideas as I write them seems to trigger a familiar, curious response in my brain.) Of course, it takes effort to figure out how to apply these ideas within the context of how we teach.
Excited and reflecting on this, I was compelled to do a quick Google search around the subject. I searched “motivating students to learn by raising curiosity” and similar phrases and found some good resources I'd like to share with readers interested in exploring this further. I provide a linked title and an excerpt from each article.
- Curiosity Is a Unique Marker of Academic Success (from The Atlantic)
“In the school context, conceptualized as a “character strength,” curiosity has also received heightened research attention. Having a “hungry mind” has been shown to be a core determinant of academic achievement, rivaling the prediction power of IQ.”
- 5 Strategies to Inspire Curiosity in Students (from Connections Academy)
“Consider the format FQR: Fact, Question, Response. When presenting a new fact, expand with a question. For example, “Beethoven kept composing as his hearing was getting worse. I wonder how he felt about that?” A student’s response might be, “I’d be scared and angry.” With you as a model, students will learn to frame their own questions and even go on to question the answers.
- How to Stimulate Curiosity (from Time Magazine)
“Prime the pump. In his 1994 paper, George Loewenstein noted that curiosity requires some initial knowledge. We’re not curious about something we know absolutely nothing about. But as soon as we know even a little bit, our curiosity is piqued and we want to learn more … to get this process started, Loewenstein suggests, “prime the pump” with some intriguing but incomplete information.”
- Curiosity: The Force Within a Hungry Mind (from Edutopia)
“Teach students to be skeptics. The term skeptic is derived from the Greek skeptikos, meaning “to inquire” or “to look around.” A skeptic requires additional evidence before accepting someone's claims as true. He or she is willing to challenge the status quo with open-minded, deep questioning. Galileo was a skeptic. So was Steve Jobs.”
- Six ways to build greater curiosity in students from ASCD Edge
“Focus learning around essential, driving questions. ‘If the textbook has the answers, then what were the questions?' The development of essential questions as the starting points for units, and the development of driving questions as the starting points for projects, are both good ways to encourage students to see questions as the starting points for learning.”
It is far too easy as an educator to take the default position of simply being the purveyor of knowledge, and being satisfied to leave it to students to decide if they are motivated to learn. This is a real travesty. Not only does the struggling student stand to suffer greatly from this uncaring perspective, but the advanced student may also be de-motivated by this sad state of affairs. I know that there were plenty of times as a young student that I was bored stiff by having information thrown at me to simply memorize and regurgitate.
If part of our job as educators isn't to inspire learning, then I guess all professionals should just sit back and stick with a “SSDD” approach, right? Wouldn't that be great? Of course, we all know that far too many professionals of all stripes do just that. But not you (otherwise you probably wouldn't have read this far!). It has been my pleasure to interact with so many educators who are striving to bring it every day. And your students, and parents like myself, thank you for that (even you may not here it often).
So, how do YOU make students curious? How do you strive to get them to realize there are things they don't know and get them hungry to know those things?