Portrait of a Learner 4-8

Systems Change

Factor Connections

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Curiosity is a multifaceted concept, but at its core can be considered the desire for and perseverance in exploration and information seeking, particularly in response to uncertainty or information gaps. Curiosity is essential for students to learn how to learn about the world around them, to test and discover physical and social norms, and is a key predictor of academic success. Younger learners are naturally curious, and as they move further into their formal schooling through late elementary and middle school, they begin to internalize cues from their new environment on how curious they can/should be. That is, without an engaging and curiosity-positive environment, learners' Curiosity in the classroom can appear to dissipate with schooling. However, when learners are encouraged and scaffolded in their inquiry, exploration, and experimentation, these experiences can develop into more advanced Critical Thinking and reasoning skills they can use to explore increasingly complex questions about how the world works.

Main Ideas

Researchers have broken down the multifaceted concept of curiosity into types of curiosity to better understand why and how curiosity presents itself. For instance, joyous exploration is a state of wonder, and is important for seeking out and engaging in learning experiences. Social Curiosity is wanting to learn about other people through talking, listening, and observing. This type of Curiosity can help teachers to learn about learners and learners to learn about each other, helping to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels they can share, question, and belong.

Importantly, Curiosity acts on an inverted “U-shaped” curve - wherein Curiosity tends to be higher when there is some minor level of familiarity while leaving much to be discovered. If there is too little to be learned, it might not be interesting enough for students to want to engage in information seeking, but if there is too much uncertainty, learners might be intimidated about how much effort it would take to fill the gap in their knowledge. What is ‘too little' or ‘too much' varies across individuals, and likely across contexts (e.g., at school vs. in a science museum).

While some Curiosity is dependent on the task at hand, creating a classroom climate that is supportive of Curiosity will help support learners' curious learning in the classroom more broadly. For example, when learners have positive experiences around uncertainty (e.g., not getting punished for making mistakes, seeing examples of others valuing uncertainty as opportunities to learn, etc) they develop a more general comfort with uncertainty. This can increase the likelihood that learners will engage in exploration when they encounter uncertainty in the future. Students with ADHD or learning disabilities who have experienced repeated failure may be less willing to explore when they encounter uncertainty because they're unwilling to potentially fail again. Providing opportunities for success by tapping into children's Curiosity about a topic of interest can be a way to engage these reluctant learners.

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