Last night I bought, downloaded and read Can Computers Keep Secrets? How a Six-Year-Old’s Curiosity Could Change the World by Tom Barrett. Stemmed by all the questions his 6 year old son asks, Tom then delves into how we could maintain this natural curiosity that is with all youngsters but seems to disappear as we grow up.
I have long wondered at which point do we stop questioning the world like a 6 year old? When do we start to have more anxiety than curiosity?
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These questions struck me as both an educator and a parent.
I have posted previously about how curiosity is a core educational value of mine: defining the value as “Curiosity empowers students to discover their own learning path” in this post and delving further into the value of curiosity in posts on design thinking as powerful inquiry and bringing discovery back into education.
As a parent I am involved in thinking about this as my 4 year old daughter is also constantly asking questions about the world around her and the way things work. Some of the questions are entertaining, sometimes they are relentless to the point of parental frustration but always I wonder when do the questions stop? As we approach Miss 4 starting school I also wonder about whether she will have teachers that embrace or squash her questions.
As someone with a strong belief that curiosity, discovery can lead to powerful deep learning, I want to see this curiosity continue for Miss 4 and for all children. For this to happen there has to be equal parts encouragement from home and school. If one of these starts turning off the curiosity mindset by discouraging the questioning it makes it difficult for the other to counteract the anxiety or apathy that can kick in.
So, how do we encourage it?
with some simple encouragement and thought we can amplify that beautiful natural curiosity we all have and suggest new places to explore
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Here’s a list of what I consider to be amplifiers of curiosity (with some of Tom’s thoughts in the midst):
- Let children see that their questions are valuable. In his book Tom frequently mentions praising George’s questions. My partner and I almost routinely now comment “That’s a good question” before answering, prompting or returning it back with a “What/why do you think it might be?” Educationally, we should be planning to include the natural questions that students come up with in our classes.
- Let children see you questioning things as well. They need to see that even as an adult we are unsure of things at times and this is an ok state to be in. In fact, learning wise, it’s a great state to be in. Confusion or messiness comes before clarity of understanding. Let your curiosity reignite and share the passions or questions you have with your children or students so they develop a sense of questioning as a positive thing to do.
- Help build their resilience As Tom states:
Social pressures will inevitably dent that curiosity so children need to build a thick skin, resilience and become aware of why questioning is important
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That awareness is vital for the resilience. Help them see why it is important to persevere when things are tough, how to handle setbacks so they can achieve goals. That there are things worth striving for. That we can make an impact on the world around us if we ignore the naysayers and keep working towards that goal. To me, that signals the need to expose young people to the difficult challenges that others face and how they are being overcome. And again, for them to see you role modelling that resilience. (As Lea Vellenoweth‘s favourite of our Hobsonville Habits at our school, I know she will be enjoying me banging on about the importance of developing resilience!)
- Search out opportunities to be curious together When Miss 4 came home last year interested in Science all of a sudden we spent that weekend playing with different science experiments: Magic Wands (milk, food colouring and a cotton bud dipped in detergent) Volcanoes (baking soda and vinegar + addition of food colouring for cool variations of lava) and the one I had always wanted to try Diet Coke and Mentos (as seen below). I have also shared my new hobby of Geocaching with Alana, when doing this together it has morphed into doing a treasure hunt! Another great way to be curious together is the awesomeness of Mission Explore. They create missions (usually aimed at children) to creatively explore various things and places. Their website – http://www.missionexplore.net/ – allows you to search for your area of interest and keep track of the badges you have earned from your exploring. Their Mission: Explore Food book is currently free on Kindle and iBooks and well worth downloading.
As a parent, I am going to take more notice of Miss 4’s questions (and inspired by Tom I might even start recording them somewhere – a new blog to start perhaps?) even in those times that I am busy working, cooking, driving etc. Also we will keep working on her resilience because already we notice her changing behaviours in different situations. Hopefully we can instil a strong sense of self worth so that she continues to be confident in asking her questions.
As a teacher, I am going to continue planning for open-ended learning to occur. Once again Tom’s words:
If we know the outcome it limits our choices and reduces the accessibility for creativity
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How do I do this? I continue developing my Design Thinking inspired inquiry approach to learning. Our Learning Design Model at Hobsonville Point Secondary School really enables staff and students to view learning in all it’s creative potential:
I also continue working on Guerrilla Geography explorations. This year’s Guerrilla Geography Project on the Misplaced offers huge creative potential for students to question the world around them and I look forward to what they and others from around the world achieve.
But, most of all, I will listen to students questions and work out how I can help them to explore the world around them further.
Thank you Tom for the inspiration to start the year that reading your book has provided.