Photo by Sham Hardy
I’m sending out a list of five curiosities every Friday. You can sign up, for free, at Puzzlements.co!
School is often, quite strangely, not a place where students feel comfortable being curious. But you can change that with a determined and consistent effort. (Want to read more about Curiosity at school? I wrote a whole thing.)
I knew that my students were incredibly curious, but if I asked them, “Hey, what are you interested in? What do you have questions about?” they just blinked at me in confusion.
Let’s intentionally promote curiosity as a classroom habit.
Step One: The Book
Create a Book of Unanswered Questions. This can be as simple as a binder filled with blank pages. We’re going to encourage students to write questions here, whether random and off-topic or directly related to curriculum.
We want them to:
- Be actively curious
- Be aware that they don’t know everything (yet)
- Understand some answers are findable and some are currently unknown
But, if you just say, “Write your questions in this book,” it’s dead in the water. Like anything complex, we’ve got to scaffold it through modeling and structured participation.
Step Two: Scaffold
Start by demonstrating curiosity. Bring in an image, video, song, or object that truly interests you. Have some authentic questions ready.
Here’s a video you might use to tickle your kids’ curiosity.
Take your kids beyond just saying “that’s cool.” Model curiosity for them. Here’s what I might say:
Wasn’t that amazing! When I watched it, I had three big questions:
- How long did this take?
- What else has the director created? I really liked his style.
- I wondered what tools were used to make this video.
Then give them a chance: did you guys have any questions?
Write all questions into The Book of Unanswered Questions.
Now, don’t ask them to look for the answers. Let’s see if anyone satisfies their curiosity on their own.
In the morning, ask if anyone learned how long it took to make the video. I’ll bet at least one person went home and did some research. The others will say, “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.” But they’ll see that you care a bit about asking and answering questions.
- It took more than a year (and she had to wear the same outfit). Wow!
- The director also made this commercial and this music video, both of which are also stop motion.
- They used a regular old laptop, a digital camera, and a spare bedroom.
Now write the answers into The Book of Unanswered Questions.
Of course, when we teach long-division, we don’t just do one example! So cue up your next curiosity tickler, courtesy of National Geographic, a fascinating photo from Robert B. Goodman:
Ask your (genuine) questions:
Isn’t this weird? I wondered: Where is this? What shaped this wall? When was this picture taken? What questions do you guys have about this?
Again, don’t remind them about it at the end of the day, but see if anyone remembers tomorrow.
You guessed it, see if anyone found information about the image of the Australian rock from 1963. Write them into the book. If not, that’s fine. The book is supposed to be filled with unanswered questions.
Share a third curiosity tickler. If you need inspiration, here are some awesome hot air balloons, here’s a mantis that looks like an orchid, and here are surreal images built up from multiple photos. Encourage specific questions.
And the questions can be about anything! In the balloon image, maybe kids are interested in how hot air balloons stay afloat or maybe they’re interested in the structures. Let their curiosity roam freely (and keep encouraging this with your own questions).
On Thursday, instead of sharing your own cool thing, tell your students, “Hey, if you see anything cool on the internet tonight, shoot me an email (my upper-grade bias is coming through here)”. This lets you preview it and possibly figure out how to get around the dreaded district network filter.
Remind them when they leave to keep their eye out for something interesting online.
Even if you only get one example of a curiosity tickler: show it on Friday morning. Let your kids ask questions and, of course, write them in the book.
Now, set up a repeating schedule for this activity. Pick a day (not Monday!) where you schedule five minutes for sharing a cool thing. Yes, it’s a bit like Show-And-Tell, but keep the focus on objects or images that inspire curiosity.
- If it’s very successful, you might need to start a calendar so kids can sign up in advance.
- If it’s very unpopular, you might have to keep sharing your own cool things for a while.
Keep that book updated, too!
Step Three: Curriculum Connections
Now, start connecting The Book Of Unanswered Questions to your curriculum.
- Did you just finish learning about Abe Lincoln? Ask your kids what they still don’t know about him.
- Done with the unit on Ancient Egypt? What didn’t we learn?
- Finished the water cycle? How would it work with less gravity? More gravity? Freezing temperatures?
Keep asking your students! Ask them every day! Write their questions in The Book Of Unanswered Questions.
Step Four: Using the Book of Unanswered Questions
Make sure to revisit the Book of Unanswered Questions. After a few weeks, take a trip back in time and remind students that (hey!) no one figured out where that mantis that looks like an orchid lives. Use the book to keep your students pondering their own unanswered questions.
My students loved this opportunity to look back on things they had wondered in the past. They also really liked showing off this book to their parents at Open House and Back To School night.
Eventually, you can use it to fuel curiosity based research.
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