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Being Curious About Curiosity

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Thanks

Dave Moursund

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“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” (Albert Einstein; German-born theoretical physicist and 1921 Nobel Prize winner; 1879–1955.)

I have just added a section on Curiosity to my IAE-pedia Brain Science page (Moursund, 2014). The Brain Science page now provides brief introductions to 41 topics that I feel are important to the education of teachers and their students.

Curiosity is a strong desire to know or learn something. A child’s healthy brain has a tremendous capability to learn. It is naturally curious and is always learning—and it learns at an amazing rate. Curiosity is a "natural" driving force, and some people seem to have much more of it than others.

Quoting from a 2014 article by Michael Austin that appeared in Psychology Today:

As children, we were naturally curious about almost everything. This may have annoyed our parents and teachers, but it is also an essential part of human development. If we want to grow intellectually, morally, socially, and spiritually, we need to ask questions and seek answers. We need intellectual curiosity. At some point, however, many of us lost this initial curiosity. Perhaps we feared looking unintelligent or ignorant, or perhaps a peer in school mocked us for our curiosity. Fortunately, it is not too difficult to retrieve this trait.

What is intellectual curiosity? The intellectually curious person has a deep and persistent desire to know. She asks and seeks answers to the “why” questions. And she doesn’t stop asking at a surface level, but instead asks probing questions in order to peel back layers of explanation to get at the foundational ideas concerning a particular issue.

What Makes Others Curious?

Are you curious about what makes others curious? The responses of more than 125 people are given in the following article:

Curiosity.com (n.d.). What makes you curious? Answered by Tiffany Shlain, Dr. Michio Kaku and 125 others. Retrieved 8/15/2024 from http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/what-makes-you-curious .

Here are a two brief quotes from this website:

Dr. Michio Kaku: I've often wondered, "Where did it all come from?" At night, when you look at the stars, you say to yourself, "Wow, the universe is incredible. But where did it come from?" I first bumped up against this when I was a child.

Dr. Dean Ornish: I don't know what makes me curious. I'm curious because the antithesis is being bored, and I think being curious is a lot more fun. I'm always interested in understanding, really, the underlying cause of what causes things to happen. If there's anything that really ties all of my work together, it's that very simple question that I'm curious about, which is, "What is the cause?" There's usually a chain of causation: what causes this and that, and what's behind that, and what's behind that? Then, the questions get very interesting. If we don't treat the underlying cause of a problem—any problem, whether it's a medical problem or a social or a health policy issue —then the same problem tends to come back again.

How Do Researchers Assess a Person’s Level of Curiosity?

Are you interested in assessing your level of curiosity? See the following two articles that discuss a free 30-question self-assessment instrument that is available at http://osuvalleylibrary.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_d0UFfkrEyxorF1X.

Deitering, Anne-Marie (2/6/2014). Curiosity, Browsing & Online Environments—Further Reading. Retrieved 8/15/2014 from http://info-fetishist.org/2014/02/06/onw2014/.

Deitering, Anne-Marie (2/7/2014). Curiosity Self-Assessment—Scoring. Retrieved 8/15/2014 from http://info-fetishist.org/2014/02/07/onw2014b/.

Quoting from the 2/6/2014 site:

There is more than one type of curiosity identified in the literature, and we decided to focus on 3 of those in this instrument: epistemic, perceptual, and interpersonal.

Epistemic curiosity is triggered by a drive to know about things — to know about concepts and ideas, and to understand how things work. This is the type of curiosity that we think probably comes to mind first when people think of school-related work. Some of the items on the self-assessment that point to this type of curiosity are:

* When I see a riddle I am interested in trying to solve it.

* I enjoy discussing abstract concepts

Perceptual curiosity is triggered by a drive to know how things feel, taste, smell, look, and sound. Some of the items that point to this one are:

* I enjoy trying different foods.

* When I see new fabrics, I want to touch and feel it.

We (the general “we” here) don’t usually think about the types of questions that would include a touching or perceiving component when we think of class-related research.

Interpersonal curiosity is triggered by a desire to know more about other people. Some of the items connected to this type have a snooping or spying connotation to them, and others focus more on the type of curiosity that happens during direct interactions with others:

* People open up to me about how they feel.

* I enjoy going into other houses to see how people live.

Curiosity and Education

My 8/16/2014 Google search of the expression curiosity education produced over 37 million hits! The second in the list of hits refers to the following TED Talk that I have viewed several times.

Robinson, Ken (February, 2006). How Schools Kill Ceativity. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.

In revisiting the site, I noticed that the 19-minute talk has had more than 27 million views and it includes subtitles in 58 languages. This data suggests to me that curiosity is an educational topic of worldwide interest.

After giving several examples of children being creative, Robinson continues:

What these things [stories] have in common is that kids will take a chance. If they don't know, they'll have a go. Am I right? They're not frightened of being wrong. Now, I don't mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original—if you're not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this, by the way. We stigmatize mistakes. And we're now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. [Bold added for emphasis.]

My 8/16/2014 Google search on the expression curiosity education materials produced over nine million hits. There are an overwhelming number of commercial and free materials available. Here is one that caught my attention:

Wilson, R. (n.d.). Promoting the Development of Scientific Thinking. Earlychildhood News. Retrieved 8/16/2016 from http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleId=409. Quoting from the article:

Therefore, science for young children should involve asking questions, probing for answers, conducting investigations, and collecting data. Science, rather than being viewed as the memorization of facts, becomes a way of thinking and trying to understand the world. This approach allows children to become engaged in the investigative nature of science (Kilmer & Hofman, 1995; Lind, 1999) and to experience the joy of having wonderful ideas (Duckworth, 1987).

Teachers can’t give children “wonderful ideas”; children need to discover or construct their own ideas. Developing new concepts or ideas is an active process and usually begins with child-centered inquiry, which focuses on the asking of questions relevant to the child. [Bold added for emphasis.]

The key idea is that both the teacher and the students should be asking questions. Indeed, in my opinion one of the important goals in education is to help students learn to pose and then answer “researchable questions.” See Moursund (10/23/2012 and 11/22/2011).

What You Can Do

Think about your teaching and your other “professional” interactions with people. Do you pose researchable questions to them—seeking their help in answering the questions? Do you encourage and facilitate them in posing researchable questions? Here is a suggestion. In your teaching, provide your students with specific instruction in asking researchable questions and ways they can gain information helpful to them in answering their questions. Incorporate this activity into each lesson you teach.

References

Moursund, D. (10/23/2012). In math education and other disciplines: Asking the “right” researchable questions. IAE Blog. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/in-math-education-and-other-disciplines-asking-the-right-researchable-questions.html.

Moursund, D. (11/22/2011).That’s a researchable question. IAE Blog. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/component/easyblog/entry/that-s-a-researchable-question.html?Itemid=58.

Suggested Readings from IAE

Moursund, D. (2014). Brain science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science.

Moursund, D. (2014). Good learners. IAE-Blog. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/good-learners.html.

Moursund, D. (2014). Self-assessment instruments. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Self-assessment_Instruments. (See the Curiosity section.)

Moursund, D. (2013). Education for increasing expertise. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Education_for_Increasing_Expertise.

Moursund, D. (2013). Setting and achieving personal learning goals. IAE Blog. Retrieved 8/16/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/setting-and-achieving-personal-learning-goals.html.

Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D., eds. (March, 2014). Understanding and mastering complexity. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/256-understanding-and-mastering-complexity.html. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/255-understanding-and-mastering-complexity.html.

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Comments

David Moursund (website) on Sunday, 17 August 2014 18:20
Comment submitted from Bob Albrecht

Quote in "Power Tools for Math & Science" in Feb 1993, The Computing Teacher:
Curiosity is the greatest incentive for a long life. What is going to happen? Be curious, exercise, eat well, think a lot, live long and prosper. -- Laran Stardrake

Quote in "Power Tools for Math & Science" in Feb 1993, The Computing Teacher: Curiosity is the greatest incentive for a long life. What is going to happen? Be curious, exercise, eat well, think a lot, live long and prosper. -- Laran Stardrake
David Moursund (website) on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 18:09
Comment from a Professional Colleague

You might recommend the Wikipedia entry on curiosity to your readers, as it discusses various theories of curiosity that seek to explain what it is and why humans and other creatures exhibit it. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity.)

From the perspective of my notions about knowledge theory, my starting point is that reality is inherently mysterious (reality doesn’t explain itself to us), challenging (nature does not make our life easy) and complex, and knowledge about it is always uncertain. If these propositions are true, I’d argue that curiosity has survival value. If we aren’t curious about various aspects of reality, we’re likely to succumb to them or live very limited lives. For example, if some individuals weren’t curious about the obesity epidemic or climate change, many of the present and future generations might succumb to them.

The problem with the school curriculum is that in general it presents a cut-and-dried view of reality that does not provoke curiosity. Also, it doesn’t respect individual differences. I continue to be very curious about the golf swing (particularly my golf swing), but others could care less.

You might recommend the Wikipedia entry on curiosity to your readers, as it discusses various theories of curiosity that seek to explain what it is and why humans and other creatures exhibit it. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curiosity.) From the perspective of my notions about knowledge theory, my starting point is that reality is inherently mysterious (reality doesn’t explain itself to us), challenging (nature does not make our life easy) and complex, and knowledge about it is always uncertain. If these propositions are true, I’d argue that curiosity has survival value. If we aren’t curious about various aspects of reality, we’re likely to succumb to them or live very limited lives. For example, if some individuals weren’t curious about the obesity epidemic or climate change, many of the present and future generations might succumb to them. The problem with the school curriculum is that in general it presents a cut-and-dried view of reality that does not provoke curiosity. Also, it doesn’t respect individual differences. I continue to be very curious about the golf swing (particularly my golf swing), but others could care less.
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