Day 224 – Trying not to kill curiosity in our schools

I have to confess I was a little stuck today. I wasn’t sure what to write about so I went to YouTube and searched for “curiosity”. The first couple of pages were full of stuff about NASA and Mars. I didn’t really want to get into that today, so then I searched for “curiosity lecture” and came to “The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity” by Susan Engel, a psychology professor at Williams College. Since part of my work is teaching in the classroom (groups a bit older, though, than the kindergarteners and 5th graders she studied), I thought that would be useful and could be interesting.

Some points I took away from her 20-minute talk:

  • Before they go to school, children ask between 25 and 50 questions per hour about how things work. Once they get to school, that number drops to about two per hour.
  • In studying why this is, Engel and her assistants came to the conclusion that teachers feel so much pressure (presumably from the education system) to solve certain kinds of problems that they don’t feel they can allow children to deviate from the given task.
  • In situations in the lab where teachers and pupils being studied were told to “Have fun learning about science” they were much more likely to go off track and explore, exhibiting more curiosity (and creating more chances for real discovery) than groups told to “Have fun filling out the worksheet”.
  • Clearly, teachers’ behaviors matter to how much curiosity is lived in a classroom.

I believe that not only children, as Engel says, “… learn best when they’re trying to get the answer to their own question ….” I also learn better that way. In fact, as I have gotten older I have become far more resistant to learning what other people think I should, when they think I should. I want to follow my own topics in my own way. Sometimes, like schoolchildren, however, I do need to read up on something assigned. Recently, for example, I was expected to read up on a company, their history, organizational structure, and product lines, before running a workshop for them. Of course it makes perfect sense that I should know something about that if I’m working for them, but it was a real slog–slow and requiring a lot of discipline.

Question to be answered (maybe) later: Is there a way to develop curiosity intentionally about things we need to learn to make learning them more interesting (a balance of exploring and ending up where we should)? If there is, how could we develop or  foster that?

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