No question, curiosity is central to learning. Problems arise though, when investigation and discovery fall too far from center at school. Without curiosity’s driving fuel, students and teachers appear instead to foster fears that shut down wonder and kill innovation. Have you seen it? No wonder Einstein thought only a miracle could help curiosity survive our education system.
Teachers, tots and teens all value curiosity! In fact, most people you ask leap at opportunities to play with endless possibilities as part of their learning process. So why isn’t curiosity more on educators’ minds when shaping their lesson plans. Have we allowed indifference to become our new normal?
When young, we’re curious by nature. As adults though? Not so much … What happened? It’s particularly disturbing when you consider that to be curious about any topic is to actively stoke our brains to learn more, apply more, and take keen risks for innovative results.
When you wonder about something, you’re not only more likely to learn it but you tend to apply it in ways that help you to remember and use it as mind-bending tools to improve life beyond class. Curiosity also adds fun. Wonder and investigation lead as much to play as to intriguing insights that arise through unexpected connections that help us to deeply understand.
Given that curiosity clearly enhances learning, it’s significant to see what boosts its adventures. Perhaps equally significant, what shuts down our interest and dampens inquisitiveness?
Check any circle for signs of genuine curiosity, and you’ll find a disappointing absence of it. How can you tell?
Sadly, we’re conditioned to ask very few questions, and we seek minimal exchanges that interest us. And how many classes investigate relevant problems – with solutions in mind? Instead we settle for routine delivery of isolated facts, worksheets that require lock-step responses, and very few innovative responses to questions that could contribute innovation outcomes to our world.
Unfortunately, learners grow accustomed to follow adult instructions, even if teachers offer narrow expectations of what must be achieved from each topic. It’s no surprise that lessons focused on narrow standards or rigid dictates – will rarely include much if anything that learners want to know about.
From the brain’s perspective, it’s a use it or lose it reality. Simply stated, your brain eventually loses its innate and overpowering need to know, through lack of expectation that curiosity will fuel an adventure worth chasing. That voracious appetite for knowledge that defines curiosity and drives innovative learning in a toddler —dwindles as learners encounter fewer unexpected objects or events at school. It also diminishes under the fears that leave students anxious that they will not meet teacher expectations. Yes, even for knowledge that often appears disconnected or unrelated to their lives.
Rather than tell students there is no time for questions, what if we taught them to ask two-footed questions that build their interest for every topic we teach?
Now that brain-compatible learning shows curiosity’s elixir for learning it’s also clear that we should help learners to acquire and retain a thirst to discover and help to improve their world. I’ve observed over 40 years in the field – that curious learners tend to discover novel ways to benefit all concerned. The opposite is also true. Bored students default to stress that can lead to unhealthy competition to out-perform peers simply to stay on top.
In contrast, brain-compatible learning is a matter of making curiosity a central goal for every lesson in ways that help all students to win. You’ve likely guessed it – curious learners compete daily against their own last performance, and tend to support peers along the way. Whether we help them to read with wonder, learn algebra in ways they can apply it beyond class, master scientific concepts as life-long tools, understand fundamentals of history from diverse angles, work things out with peers by building goodwill among those who differ, become motivated to do well on complex tasks by using more working memory in brain-compatible ways, they accomplish more with curiosity at their helm.
Sadly, to ignore a brain’s curiosity factor as part of learning any concept – is to foster its oppose effect – fear. How so? For one thing, a stressed or bored brain defaults to fear and attracts anxiety that kills one’s ability to learn or create.
Given curiosity’s central role to every brain, it’s worth doing what we can to help students become more—rather than less—curious for every topic taught. Here are a few keys to cultivating curiosity and avoiding fear.
Why would an objective observer find you curious during any day? Would you be fanning flames of wonder and discovery – by experiencing their sheer delight? The definition of intelligence has changed, so that curiosity now sits at the top of qualities that trigger cleverness. In your students? Luckily, our own thirst for finding out and theirs, will foster the brain’s wellbeing chemicals such as serotonin well-being by default.
Fear in contrast, for teachers and students comes from an emphasis on following one-size-fits-all routines. And sadly that fear transfers cortisol toxins to our peers and shuts down entire learning communities. The result? Students often compete in cruel and bullying ways when fear drives their learning. They also respond with one-sided or narrow views when they fear taking the kind of risks that cultivate curiosity. Have you seen it in learners or leaders?
If I could go back to my first years as teacher, I’d ask more cool (two-footed) questions and tell far fewer boring facts. How so?
Let’s say the lesson was CLOUD FORMATION. I’d skip listing those common cloud formations in favor of asking a curiosity builder such as: if you were a cloud – how would you impact nature?
Or to launch a lesson on the CIVIL WAR, I’d leapfrog beyond memorized dates, battles and bad boys – to ask instead, If you had been in charge of leading the civil war, what would you have done differently?
Let’s say the lesson covered CHANGE FROM HUNTING TO FARMING. I’d challenge students with the prompt: If you were a hunter, what advantages would you find in farming?
A science class on DISTANCE, SPEED and NATURE might start with a questions such as, What dance would best illustrate distance, speed and nature’s interaction?
Watch for evidence of curiosity as the goal of each educational activity, rather than a luxury by-product. Develop brain compatible learning activities that invite or require students to figure out what they want to know and then chase answers by engaging their strengths or multiple intelligences.
Once activated, learners’ curiosity rarely rests until they satisfy that inner urge to know. So to cultivate students’ curiosity, for deeper and more innovative answers we help them to identify and use their multiple intelligences and guide them to test and try their hypotheses.
If we see IQ as fluid or fixed and it will become just that. Daily choices literally fuel or fail one’s unique multiple intelligences. How so?
The choice to grow curiosity takes less effort and is far more fun than some folks realize. Simply start a schedule to plan your next learning session well, for instance, and you’re already stretching your logical-mathematical skills. Like other intelligences mathematical genius grows more through math or logical choices that start with baby steps and lift off to new flights with use. Einstein put it this way: Education’s what remains after one’s forgotten everything learned in school. Do you agree?
Why not see for yourself as you survey your intelligences – how curiosity comes alive when you simply draw on personal strengths and question possibilities for any topic that arises?
How could curiosity become more central while fear fades from your learning ventures today?
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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset