Curiosity- A Powerful Driver of Education | Aberdeen Hall Preparatory School

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Curiosity- A Powerful Driver of Education

“I have no special gift, I am only passionately curious.” Albert Einstein.

As a child, Albert Einstein was a quiet and reserved child. One day when Albert was ill, his father Hermann gave him a compass and, as the story goes, the behaviour of the compass needle amazed him, and created a great deal of curiosity. Albert could not understand, that regardless of what he did, the needle would point in the direction of true north. This made him ponder that perhaps there were greater forces “out there.” It had a significant impact on his curiosity and is credited for increasing his desire to learn.

One could argue that curiosity is one of the most powerful drivers of education. A keenly curious individual is also someone who is prepared to learn, because the two go hand-in-hand. 

When I was a young teacher, I had a fantastic opportunity to train at the NASA Space Centre in Huntsville, Alabama. During one of the presentations, a NASA engineer said: “Teaching students how to ask good questions will result in meaningful learning”. 

When teaching, I worked hard to create an atmosphere of curiosity in my classroom. One of the best ways to create curiosity is to have a memorable demonstration at the beginning of a lesson. When done correctly, it creates a “wow moment’ for the students and can serve as a great hook for the lesson. I fondly remember one of my favourite science teachers in high school lighting things on fire and blowing things up to impress us and increase our curiosity!   

Can we teach students to be curious? Of course we can!

As many parents and teachers know first hand, young children are innately curious. Recently I enjoyed hearing a father talk about his son’s “would you rathers”. His 6-year old boy is going through a stage of presenting scenarios such as: “Would you rather drive off a cliff or into a river? or…., Would you rather eat a worm or a snail?.... His father tells me that these are endless and wide ranging! From my experience, this is completely natural.

Casey Turnpenny, our Junior School Vice Principal, Academics, is spearheading a structured curriculum to incorporate inquiry based learning. The following is from an article that she wrote last year:

“Inquiry, -concerns itself with the creative approach of combining the best methods of instruction, including explicit instruction, small-group and guided learning. This is an attempt to build on students’ interests and ideas, ultimately moving students forward in their paths of intellectual curiosity and understanding”.

…...A simple way to support Inquiry learning at home, is by going beyond the proverbial “What did you do today?” conversation, We can use modelling reflection and questioning:

  • Tell me about some of your learning goals today,
  • What was challenging; how did you handle that?
  • What are you wondering about?
  • Where could we find more information (library, speaking to an “expert,” internet source, newspaper or magazine)?
  • Does this topic remind you of something you have read or heard about in the past?
  • How could you teach others or take action in the community based on what you’ve learned? “

In discussion with Ashley Bryden, our Middle School Principal, she explained that in our Middle School Social Studies units, the students contribute to the creation of a “Driving Question,” which is visited regularly and serves to create ownership and guide the learning. One of the goals of the unit is for the students to create a more discerning approach to the incredible amount of information available online. Our individual social media profiles can become quite narrow, and this exercise will hopefully teach the students to sift and interpret data in a more logical and objective manner. 

The link between curiosity and learning is not always linear. Unfortunately, there can be this thing called confusion that sneaks in between the two. Managing, and in fact, learning how to embrace confusion can often lead to a very successful learning profile. When I attended a Tony Robbins seminar, Tony would have the room cheer loudly when someone admitted to confusion. This was quite humorous and had a way of inviting confusion into the learning process.

In the primary years, students explore the concept of numbers increasing and decreasing with the basic operations of addition and subtraction. When we introduce a new operation such as multiplication, it can be confusing (and upsetting). With sequencing from the concrete to the abstract, and practice, we work through the confusion and eventually find clarity. This can often result in a satisfying ‘a-ha’ or ‘eureka’ moment. Appreciating and celebrating these moments is also very important and in fact assists students in their learning.

As always, I welcome your comments.

With warm regards,

Chris Grieve

Head of School

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