Part of an educator’s job is to make learners curious about the subjects they teach. It’s that curiosity that inspires enriching learning experiences for every child. Curiosity, after all, resides at the heart of powerful learning. How do we generate curiosity about what we teach and allow it to take hold into something that becomes a passion for lifelong learning?
The suggestions we have for you below are easy to use and can become part of your regular practice. If you’re doing these already, good for you and even better for your students. If not, give them a shot with any of your classes. They are timeless strategies that will succeed in tapping into your learners’ inherent curiosity anytime.
1. Teach Learners to Ask the Best Questions
In our Essential Questions Guide, we define an essential question as one that leads us to explore the problem and choose from plans and strategies to generate an applicable solution. It’s much more than that, though. Solid essential questions inspire a quest for knowledge and discovery. In other words, it’s about possibilities.
It’s the exploration of possibility we’re concerned with here. By exposing our learners to the notion of finding out for themselves what’s possible, we ignite their sense of curiosity. Here’s some even better news—responsibility, ownership of learning, and relevant real-world connections naturally follow. And all because you asked your learners to think “What if …” and “Why not?”
2. Give Learners Opportunities to Think Critically
Critical thinking is one of the most important skills for us to have when we leave school next to problem-solving ability. Curiosity is, fittingly enough, one of what we consider to be the 7 most crucial traits of effective critical thinkers. In fact, it’s first on the list.
By exposing our learners to the notion of finding out for themselves what’s possible, we ignite their sense of curiosity.
It is essentially curiosity that has built our world, and which will continue to build it in the future. After all, everything around us in our daily lives began with the idea that there was a need to be filled somehow. Our curious natures lead us to consider how we can enhance or improve our experience, and this will likely continue as long as humans exist on the planet.
Ultimately, we can also bring this out in our students through how and what we teach with the help of these terrific ways to making learners curious through critical thinking.
3. Use Inquiry-Based Approaches
Nothing engages the modern learner quite like inquiry-based learning. A pedagogy that actually predates the philosopher Socrates, its methodology involves providing opportunities that provoke the asking of deep questions, and that foster meaningful explorations of subjects. All of this is made possible by the unrivalled capacity inquiry-based learning has for stimulating a learner’s curiosity.
Here at Wabisabi Learning, we love inquiry-based learning for that reason. It engages learners like no other teaching we have seen or used, and the modern learner responds to it eagerly. We even went so far as to create a set of inquiry-based learning activities that students all over the world enjoy using. Now yours can, too.
4. Model Curiosity as Much as Possible
As we teach our children, they observe us in ways we don’t even realize. They look to us for the most meaningful learning experiences we can provide. Thus, if we aren't passionate and curious about the subject matter we instruct them in, then they won’t be either.
In the Edutopia article Curiosity: The Force Within a Hungry Mind, Marilyn Price-Mitchell suggests we can make learners curious by “exploring their interests, expanding upon their ideas, and engaging them in meaningful dialogue about what matters most.” In other words, if we openly involve them in their learning by meeting them where they are and then showing them where they can go, we effectively make the learning happen for them.
5. Let Learners Collaborate
Today’s students work in virtual partnerships on projects with kids from across the room, across town, or across the world. The skills they develop from this, embodied within Collaboration Fluency, will help them greatly because the working world is continuously affected by newer communication technology.
However, there’s one other thing about collaboration among students that isn’t often discussed. It’s the fact that curiosity is both multiplied and magnified when like-minded individuals come together in a group to achieve common goals.
... if we aren't passionate and curious about the subject matter we instruct them in, then they won’t be either.
This is the essence of modern-day collaboration. It’s about much more than students sitting around a table working to solve a problem. It also means sharing ideas and experiencing the infectious power of curiosity.
6. Give Them Challenging Problems to Solve
In a modern learning environment, we strive to provide learners with problems that are interesting and relevant to them, and whose solutions involve elements of the mandated curriculum. The point is that as long as we help them build these skills in ways that connect to what matters to them and to the world, they will always be curious.
To guide the students, we provide them with the 6 Ds of Solution Fluency and the ability to use them in an unconscious manner. It’s a process that builds strong problem-solving prowess that becomes more habitual and more versatile the more you use it. It can literally be applied to any challenge you can think of. Also, it naturally amplifies curiosity by putting the responsibility for generating a solution directly into the hands of the learners, where it belongs.
7. Help Them Fail Usefully
When we talk about useful failure, we mean more than just learning from our mistakes. Failure can hurt, but can also be one of the best ways to foster curiosity. Yes, we failed, but why? What was it about our approach or decision that led to failure? What did we miss or not consider? How would that have changed things? What can we do differently, and who can we turn to for help?
Interestingly, these considerations are all part of debriefing learning, and also an integral part of Solution Fluency, which we discussed earlier. The Debrief stage of this process presents the perfect opportunity for students to learn from errors, and to become curious about how to improve in similar and future situations.