Promoting Curiosity to Enhance Learning

Filling Students with Wonderment and Awe

As the world continues to shift and change, it is essential for students to be curious and have the ability to learn skills. With so much uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity, plus the speed of innovation, the ability to learn and adapt are fundamental skills for everyone.

Professor Art Costa, cofounder of the Institute for Habits of Mind, and dedicated to improving education through more “thought-full” instruction, advocates for wanting, “Students to feel compelled, enthusiastic and passionate about learning, inquiring and mastering.” Art goes on to explain that an essential Habit of Mind of intelligent people is the being able to, ‘Respond with Wonderment & Awe.’ A quick dictionary search starts to unpack the essence of these words:

Wonderment

– to be filled with admiration, amazement and marvel
– To be filled with curiosity and doubt

Awe

– an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration,
fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime,
extremely powerful, or the like

The words ‘filled’ and ‘feeling’ stand out for me. These suggest responding with wonderment and awe is an internal and individual response to stimuli. Not everyone is going to respond in the same way. People who embody this Habit thrive on the challenges of problem solving, enjoy figuring things out, think outside of norms and
traditions and seek intriguing phen enon. Characterised by an, ‘I can’ attitude, they spend time in reflection and are engaged and passionate about learning. They find beauty in a sunrise, intrigue at the colours of the ocean and find exhilaration in a panoramic view or fireworks display.

Children are born curious. They constantly ask why, how and when as they are making sense of the world. They frequently desire to try new things, test limits to grow and
explore their world. This intrigue is much rarer in adults with some researchers suggesting only two percent of adults find fascination in the world on a daily or weekly basis.

What Stops Curiosity?

One of the key reasons which inhibits intense curiosity is the   thought that you know all the answers. As we age and learn, people often reach a point where they feel they have enough knowledge to live and survive. Learning something new can feel difficult, challenging and hard. At a certain point in the learning journey, it becomes easier to live as the expert rather than the learner who grows.

In her article, Curiosity: Why It Matters, Why We Lose It And How To Get It Back, Christy Geiger gives a list of questions to consider. These could be great to ask yourself and your students:

• Would you rather be the teacher or the student?
• Do you feel the need to correct others?
• Do you need to be right and struggle when made to   feel wrong?
• Do you struggle when you don’t know something?
• Do you silently judge people who do not know?

Another reason curiosity wanes as we get older is an unchecked ego. Not knowing can make you feel vulnerable or small. The ego is not curious – it just wants to be correct. To maintain a sense of wonder, you need humility to say you don’t know and be willing to grow and learn. Failure to do this may result in becoming irrelevant and lacking the skills to thrive in the current climate.

Another factor which contributes to the decrease in curiosity is the school system itself. For many, school has been a place where knowing the right answers was (and still is) highly prized rather than encouraging the intrigue of not knowing and the artistry of questioning.

Perhaps yet another reason promoting students having a lack of joy and excitement is because there seems minimal relevance between what they are learning and their life. If we want to engage students to learn and grow, we must make the learning relevant to their lives.

Researchers also point to the frequent use of technology in the tweens and teen years as a component to the loss of inquisitiveness. On a device, answers are easily searched, content is freely given and often, mindlessly watched. You only have to jump on Tik-Tok or YouTube for a minute to waste an hour, falling down the rabbit hole of ‘just one more.’ The more often people watch, the more dissatisfied they get with their life. They keep scrolling, sensation seeking, in the search of something better. Constantly being on technology can also reduce in-person social interaction and denies the body’s need to move and engage the five senses, causing teens and tweens to frequently say that everything is ‘boring.’

The Benefits of Curiosity

Surprise, surprise – having a curious mindset can make you happier! When you stop and see the joy and wonder around you, the brain produces the feel-good chemical, dopamine! Exploring and satisfying a wonder also pumps these great chemicals into your brain, lifting your mood and perhaps your curiosity further! Being in a state of wonderment and awe opens your mind to further possibilities as well as shifts your thinking from passive to a more active mode. Bringing more excitement into your world and living an adventurous life also creates positive relationships with others.

Ways to Promote Curiosity for Learning

Be the Mirror: Practice responding with wonderment and awe in your life. Excitement and passion are very contagious. Get excited about the world you live in!
Create a Wonder Wall: Not all questions need to be answered. Create a space on your wall for students to add their curiosities, wonderings and questions.
Use Visible Thinking Tools: See, Think, Wonder is a tool which helps to stimulate curiosity by making careful observations and thoughtful interpretations.
Spark Excitement and Wonder: Show videos of magicians, or even learn a few tricks yourself. Listen to the music clip, “What A Wonderful World,” sung by
Louis Armstrong and discuss what makes our world so wonderful.
Engage the Senses: Invite students to use their senses to view the world, to pause and listen, to see the beauty and to soak up the positive feelings of a situation.
Ask Questions: “What intrigues you about this…?”
Broaden Your Sources: Seek out different perspectives and talk to people not in your close circles. Look for alternative sources of information to expand your thinking. Adopt the practice of asking questions to understand how others see the world.
Withhold Judgment: Stop placing a judgment statement on students’ responses such as good, nice, great, brilliant, etc. Instead, create curiosity by asking for more information or showing excitement about a response
Stop Short of Answering Everything: Not all questions need to be answered. This quote attributed to Yeats (and probably not his – although it is still true): “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” let’s us know that perhaps we don’t need to provide an answer to every question, but simply let them ponder instead.
Notice the Little Things: Observation skills can be taught and honed. I enjoy the strategy of looking at a piece of artwork and focusing on one colour at a time. Firstly, focus on green and study the picture for a few minutes. Then focus on a different colour, perhaps blue, and you are likely to see something different.
• Try Something New: Curiosity can be in the form of trying something new and exciting. Testing your limits and stretching your abilities.
• Stay Humble. Acknowledge the brilliance of others and seek to learn from other people. Be open to what you don’t know and be willing to learn.