Posted in Boys, Education, Learning, STEM, Students, Teaching

Can Curiosity Be Taught?

When my son was very young, he once asked me why the sky is blue.  Being the creative and caring father I am, I made up some elaborate story about a green frog and a blue frog.  To this day, I don’t remember exactly how the story went, but I remember it being very long and in depth.  My son wasn’t very curious and believed my story without asking any follow-up questions.  A few years later, when he was in fourth or fifth grade, his teacher posed the same question to the class, “Why is the sky blue?”  My son, who loves being right and always knows the answer, told his teacher and the class, the story of how the green frog got angry at the blue frog and chucked him into the air, making the sky blue.  He had believed my creative story.  The teacher did a great job of explaining how sometimes parents make up stories to make life seem a bit more interesting.  I’ll never forget when my son came home from school and told me that I had lied to him.  I had completely forgotten that I told him that story.  If I hadn’t been so convincing in how I told that story to my son so many years ago, I wonder if he would have asked me some clarifying questions.  He’s a pretty curious young man, always asking why, and so I wonder if he would have been able to see through my untrue story had I not stated it so matter-of-fact like.  Would he have asked some questions about the frogs and how they were able to throw each other?  How do frogs change color?  Had my son been more curious about my story, I wonder if he would have been able to figure out that I was weaving an elaborate tall tale.  Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it also helps people figure things out.  Why is the sky blue?  Why is the grass green?  How does light work?  The more we know about the world and how it works, the more power we have to solve problems and make the world a better place.

In the sixth grade, I spend a lot of time trying to help my students think critically about the world around them.  Why is it that way?  Why can’t it be this way?  How does that work?  I  want my students to learn something new and then and wonder why.   I want them to be able to make educated hypotheses about new information.  I want them to be curious and question everything.  Knowledge is power, I tell them repeatedly throughout the year, and so, the more you know, the more powerful you will become.  Teaching students to think critically and creatively is not easy and requires much practice and modeling.  Through completing various PBL activities, the students learn how to think critically in order to solve problems.  They learn to persevere and find new solutions to problems.

At this point in the year, I am able to easily track the progress my students have made regarding the skill of critical thinking.  I observe them during STEM and Humanities classes as they work to complete tasks and projects.  I hear them asking insightful questions and working together with their peers to find answers to problems encountered.  Most of them have become creative problem solvers.  This year, though, like every year, I have one student who doesn’t seem to have made any progress in this area.  He doesn’t ask a lot of questions and doesn’t seem to be able to creatively solve problems.  He makes use of a very fixed mindset and frequently gets stuck completing work in and out of the classroom.  Is it because he wasn’t really paying attention when we talked all about how to think critically, how to ask insightful questions, and how to solve problems?  Could that be?  Perhaps he just hasn’t learned those skills yet.  What if it’s something more though?  Sometimes, depending on the problem or topic being discussed, he does display his ability to solve problems and think critically, which leads me to believe that something else is at play here for students like this particular one.  He seems to accept information as is and doesn’t question things.  He doesn’t seem curious and seldom wonders why.  Is this the issue?  Is his inability to think critically about new information due to his lack of curiosity?  If so, what can I do as his teacher to help him?  How can I teach him to be curious?  I feel as though I model it on a regular basis.  I ask tons of questions and always make sure to field questions the students ask as well.  I make noticings and observations as I model the skill of critical thinking.  Nothing I’m doing seems to be helping though.  The bigger question seems to be, can curiosity be taught?  Do students learn to be curious or is it an innate trait?  Are humans born asking why?  If not, then how can we teach our students to be curious?  What else could I be doing to help inspire this student to question the world around him?  How can I help all students not simply accept facts and information at face value?  How can I help them to wonder why and be curious?

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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