Tuesday, March 17, 2009

21st Century Skill: Being Curious

From Angela Maiers on curiosity:

Champion learners are curious about everything. They ask questions and get themselves involved in all stages of learning, without worrying about the answer, but relishing in the process. They have learned that by posing questions, they can generate interest and aliveness in the most exciting or mundane situation. This inquisitive attitude fuels their unrelenting quest for continuous learning.

I use the term curiosity-based education, which is different than outcome-based education. Different, not opposite. We need a clear set of outcomes that we want students to achieve, and we need to measure and give students feedback on their progress toward those outcomes. But, we have to interweave in room for curiosity.

No, not just room, but support. Time. And, purpose. We have to say "this curriculum will be driven partially by student curiosity".

This isn't the same as relevance, where the teacher takes the directed curriculum and tries to make it relevant. In this case, students follow curriculum of their own interest, and teachers follow along, incorporating the necessary skills and knowledge that accompany it.

The principles behind this are seen in both the Montessori method of education, and the work or Joseph Renzulli. It is an essential concept in gifted education. But, as Renzulli attests, it isn't just for gifted students... or if it is, we need to expand our definition of giftedness.

Renzulli advocated for what he labeled as Type III enrichment, where students would embark on self-selected projects, individually or in groups, that they are curious about. Teachers would provide Type I and Type II enrichment, which boils down teachers providing students to understand the necessary content to pursue that activity and give them appropriate experiences (say, for the student who wanted to overhaul an engine, the teacher would provide them not only the specifics on how to do so, but also get them in contact with local mechanics to serve as a mentor).

Not allowing for curiosity to drive the curriculum is sure to stifle it. Look at the relative effect of this over the lifespan of a student, who moves from the most curiosity-driven environments in kindergarten to the least in high school.

Being curious is a critical element to the "life-long learner" mantra that exists ubiquitously in all our vision statements. We need to make sure our curriculum allows for it.

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