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Curiosity and Learning: An Explorer's Guide

Posted by Adam Cole on May 12, 2017

This is the third post of an eight-part series about classroom activities that will help raise student engagement and create awesome learning experiences for kids! Check out other posts within this series: Make Sure Students do These 8 Things in your Classroom!, Making Connections, and Reflect.

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I can never walk past a set of coin operated binoculars without dropping a coin in the slot. There is something about the novelty of what awaits on the other side of that lens that creates an undeniable sense of wonder. The gazer gets a new perspective on the world, and a new set of details comes into view for exploration and study. It seems that new things are always more interesting. The heart beats faster during the unboxing.

Every new concept that we deliver to our students has the potential to be a source of wonder and excitement, and an opportunity for exploration. It also has the potential to be an uninteresting snore-fest. So, how we wrap up a lesson up, tease it, and reveal it plays a huge part in the interest a student may show. Curiosity is a learning enhancer. Research at the University of California, Davis suggests that it makes learning more effective and enjoyable. It also goes beyond that. Here are some of the results they found:

  • People are better at learning information that they are curious about
  • Memory for incidental material presented during curious states was also enhanced
  • Curiosity is associated with anticipatory activity in nucleus accumbens and midbrain
  • Memory benefits for incidental material depend on midbrain-hippocampus involvement

If we create the right opportunities in the classroom, sparking curiosity leads to exploration, and exploration leads to learning. Exploring gives kids the opportunity to identify bits of information a little at a time. As they do, they put them into a sequence that makes sense to them, and more often than not, they go back in for more as they create their own questions. Changing the way we deliver a lesson can make a huge difference in what a student retains and the lasting connections they can make. Here are some tips for creating lessons that allow students to explore.

 

Lessons Should Be Based in Inquiry

One of the things that I love about Project Based Learning is its commitment to the challenging question. While you might not have the expertise or time to commit to creating PBL lessons, every teacher can become better at creating a relevant challenging question. Students will find a concept more interesting if it is introduced with a question that is relevant and allows them to explore topics. Try to create challenges that are broad enough to relate to the kids' interests, but still provide a starting place rooted in what they already know. This article from Edutopia is a great place to start honing your question creating skills.

 

Students Should Share Their Discoveries

Exploration is not a solitary act. It takes courage to ask questions and propose new ideas. Not every student is comfortable with this concept. In order to make them comfortable with risks, allow the students to explore together, but most importantly, allow them the time to share their discoveries with each other. Learning through exploration means that each student or group will probably make connections with different concepts that they find important. It is critical that they are given the opportunity to share this with the class and provide support for why it is important. Why not have students blog about their experience? Or, have students record short videos about their discoveries and edit them together in order to create a larger broadcast about the topic. Sharing knowledge leads to even more exploration.


Giving students the opportunity to explore is like giving them a quarter for the coin operated binoculars. Once they drop the coin in the slot, they will be hooked. Things that are new are always more interesting.

 

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Topics: teaching strategies, education, teaching, pyxis, explore

Written by Adam Cole