To encourage curiosity in education while maintaining your sanity, consider implementing some of these ideas into your lesson planning.
As teachers, we say we want students to be curious and engaged in the content we’re teaching, but in truth, we usually mean that we want them to sit up and pay attention. We feel put out when they ask questions that aren’t in line with our lesson plan and tell them to stay focused on the topic at hand. Do we really encourage curiosity in our classrooms? It’s time to re-evaluate our commitment to sparking curiosity in our students and make room for it in our classroom. If you truly want to instill a lifelong love of learning in your students, curiosity in education is key.
Here are some simple tips to bring back real curiosity in education.
1. Plan for questions.
In an article on fostering curiosity in education, Erik Shonstrom writes about his own experience as a STEM teacher in an urban middle school. He writes:
“Because all students can learn, much of educational reform has been dedicated to bolstering numbers in the ‘meets expectation’ category of student assessment. We have lost sight of an important clue in helping our students succeed—that curiosity is an essential ingredient in wanting to learn.”
He found that the best way to encourage curiosity is to allow students more freedom in the classroom, to give them space to explore, wonder, and ask questions. If you find questions distracting other students or delaying your lesson, plan for extra time at the end of each activity or at the end of class. Carving out specific time will affirm students in their desire to learn while not adding stress to your day. Also remember to actually come back to a student’s question if you tell them to hold on until the end.
2. Encourage creativity in a meaningful way.
Creativity does not just belong in art class; encourage your STEM students to think and learn creatively in the classroom. Engage the minds of your students by asking probing questions about the material. Rather than just telling, ask them to come up with real life application examples and describe how they would teach the material to someone else. While creativity applies to problem solving and discussions in the classroom, encourage it outside of the classroom as well. When you assign homework, think outside the box and plan a variety of assignments to ensure every student has the opportunity to learn in a way that is best for him or her.
3. Model curiosity and demonstrate ways to be a lifelong learner.
One of the best ways to encourage curiosity in education is to model it yourself. While it is valuable to rely on tried and true lesson plans, don’t be afraid to take risks in the classroom. It’s ok if you pose a question that you don’t know the answer to and it’s alright to let the students have control of the classroom. Don’t let your desire for a perfect classroom outweigh your own passion for learning. Stay curious. Learn something new every day.
4. Pay attention.
Encouraging curiosity in education might not come naturally. As you attempt to create space for curiosity, pay attention to your students and the environment of your classroom. If there’s a topic or activity your students really enjoy, linger rather than rushing to the next thing on your agenda. Uncovering and encouraging passion and curiosity takes time and patience and grace. When you see frowns, vacant stares, or puzzled brows, engage with them. And, likewise, when you see smiles and sparks, encourage them in their discovery.
As you rethink curiosity in education, give yourself room to fail. Some students will be more innately curious and some will seemingly not have a curious bone in their bodies. Whoever is in your classroom this year, simply stay present with them and fight to create curious, passionate students one day at a time.