January Math Musing – Curiosity
“Curiosity isn’t satisfied with just the facts but hungers for meaning, context, and application beyond the immediate problem. Curiosity is the air that the sciences breathe, but it’s the heart that beats within the humanities.”
– Barry Casey, Ph.D. 2017
The start of the new year is a time for reflection and projection. We roll up our sleeves and return to work and schedules from a break with renewed enthusiasm.
For the past two years, I have harnessed this energy by choosing one word on which to focus.
For 2019 my one word is CURIOSITY.
This quote of Albert Einstein comes to mind, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious,”
When it comes to education, psychologist Dr. Matthias Gruber of University of California at Davis tells us, “If a teacher inspires curiosity, learning is so much easier.” TedX talk 2015. Gruber explains that intellectual curiosity predicts success in school as it leads to greater learning and retention. In his recent study, Gruber and colleagues found that “Curiosity may put the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it … the team discovered that when curiosity motivated learning, there was increased activity in the hippocampus, a brain region that is important for forming new memories, as well as increased interactions between the hippocampus and the reward circuit. So curiosity recruits the reward system, and interactions between the reward system and the hippocampus seem to put the brain in a state in which you are more likely to learn and retain information.”
So how do we work to intentionally create curiosity in our classrooms?
Max Ray and Annie Fretter of the former Math Forum promote the use of two very simple questions.
What do you notice?
What do you wonder?
Students are given factual information without a math task posed and are asked those two simple questions.
In the context of curiosity research, this makes sense that students would become engaged. They are invited into a scenario and prompted to observe and ask their own question rather than instructed on what they should be looking for. Ray and Fretter explain, “We believe that when students become active doers rather than passive consumers of mathematics the greatest gains of their mathematical thinking can be realized. The process of sense-making truly begins when we create questioning, curious classrooms full of students' own thoughts and ideas. By asking What do you notice? What do you wonder? we give students opportunities to see problems in big-picture ways and discover multiple strategies for tackling a problem. Self-confidence, reflective skills, and engagement soar, and students discover that the goal is not to be "over and done," but to realize the many different ways to approach problems.” from NCTM Math Forum.
Allowing for student choice is another strategy that promotes curiosity. We can think of this as giving our students “voice and choice” where they can tap into what they are uniquely curious about as it relates to the content that is being taught.
Kate Westrich of KnowledgeWorks tells us, “When a student is in charge of their own learning, it forces them to find out what works best for them and gives them opportunities to share their learning in ways that are meaningful.”
This short video clip demonstrates what allowing voice and choice might look like for high school students studying quadratic equations.
An educator’s role in fostering curiosity involves a focus on questioning. Armed with an interesting task, curiosity encourages questions. Questions encourage listening. Listening leads to connections and understanding. Curriculum Associates shares a link to 100 questions that promote mathematical discourse.
A focus in 2019 on curiosity opens doors and opportunities.
I am CURIOUS to see where this focus will take me in 2019!
I am also curious to know what you implement or take away from this mathematical musing.
Call to Action: Creating a Curiosity Component
Incorporate strategies for creating curious students into your lesson plans. Explicitly plan for a curiosity component in your planning. Share the focus on curiosity with your students and ask them what they are curious about.
Call to Action: Choose YOUR OWN one word
Consider sharing the idea of a focus word with your colleagues / faculty / students and create an acrostic poem of your words like this:
C - connections
U - understanding
R - reading and research
I - interest
O - optimism
U - unhurried
S - self-reflection
I - intrigue
T - teaching
Y - yearning
Happy New Year!