Preserving the Wonder Within

picassoIt doesn’t take long watching any type of media to be reminded that we change as we get older. There is no shortage of products claiming to help us preserve our youth–dyes for our hair, creams for our wrinkles, and any number of prescriptions about which we are charged to “ask our doctors.” But perhaps more important (and interesting) than examining our graying hair or wrinkles around the eyes is thinking about the ways our thinking develops and changes.

I am not worried about memory here. I am worried about our sense of wonder. In my last post I bemoaned the notion that we leave curiosity in childhood. While I don’t expect adults to approach life with the unbridled exploration of a toddler, I believe learning and joy in adulthood are tied to maintaining our questioning stance in the world.

ASCD’s recent Education Update had five suggestions for helping students “ignite curiosity in the classroom.” I love the ideas, but I’d like to think about how we can expand them to include the adults. Without preserving our sense of wonder, we are poor guides for the students whose curiosity we want to develop. So, in that spirit, here are ASCD’s five suggestions for supporting curiosity in the classroom–with additional thoughts for the adults in the room.

Have students maintain a Wonder journal. This suggestion asks students to jot down things that intrigue them, eventually selecting a question that they want to investigate. You do it, too! What better way to model curiosity and questioning than to investigate something yourself and report back to the class.

bouncycastleSet up a Wonder Counter or a Wonder Station. A Wonder Station is a place students can bring objects that pique their curiosity. The objects can be used to generate questions in a problem-finding lesson. Of course, you can participate in this activity, too. Or what if you set aside a small space at home for topics or skills you’d like to explore one day? I suppose for some people Pinterest fills that gap, but perhaps you’d like something a little smaller.

Help students develop good questioning techniques. The newsletter suggests teaching students about “thin” questions that can be answered in one word, versus “thick” questions that require more detail. I suspect if you teach that lesson, you may become more aware of the questions you are asking people around you. Do they support curiosity—theirs or yours?

Tap students to become experts on a topic of their choice. This is harder for adults than students, I suspect. It is not too challenging to allow space for students to become more expert on parts of the curriculum. It is harder for adults to find time to develop expertise in a new area, with all of us running like crazy to keep up with 21st century life. But think about whether it is possible to have an interest—perhaps a hobby—outside your professional demands. I’ll be honest and say there have been periods of life when that wasn’t possible for me, but now it is. So perhaps a planned interest may have to do.

Allow students to be curious together. It is good for students to explore. It is also good for adults to have curious friends. One of my good friends says when her children were young, they sometimes cringed on museum tours as she had ten times more questions than anyone else. She still does, and it delights me. If you want to maintain your curiosity, find your friends among the curious and questioning. Run from cynics and perpetual nay-sayers like the plague. Life is too short to squelch our inner children. There are questions left to ask.


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