November 19, 2018

Curious about Curiosity?

As humans, we are all born curious. Our very nature compels us to make sense of our experiences and environments. This is obvious when you watch young children. They are intensely focused and curious as they discover new toys, flip through books, or try to figure out how the faucet or remote control works. However, after the first few years of life, curiosity starts to dwindle—for some more than others. To become a lifelong learner and critical thinker who adds value to the world, one must cultivate curiosity over time. This is why Quest Forward Learning includes “Be Curious” as one of the six Essential Habits.

When people are curious, their brains are more receptive to learning and they retain more information.  Curiosity promotes spontaneous exploration, active learning, and inquiry. Curiosity is so important that some believe it is “essential to the survival not only of the individual but of the species.” The scientific community does not yet have consensus on what it means to be curious, or how to measure it. However, most agree that curiosity is associated with interest in activities, information and events that are surprising, new, or moderately complex, and the desire to reduce gaps in knowledge. Curiosity and the resulting exploratory behavior have been linked to social, emotional, spiritual, and physical development and the very related concept of intrinsic motivation is linked to well-being and achievement. Being curious can also help individuals adapt to different environments and a rapidly changing world.

Quests are designed to promote curiosity, but we have also developed the short course “Be Curious,” specifically designed to encourage and inspire curiosity. In the course, students explore various definitions of curiosity and its benefits. They also have the chance to practice three key behaviors: asking questions, being resourceful, and moving outside their comfort zone. In the choice quests, students practice being curious in different contexts:

  • What Kind of Tree is That? Students practice curiosity by exploring different trees in their neighborhood.
  • My Drawing Looks Like Music: Students practice curiosity by listening to a variety of music and creating images that represent music.
  • Behind the Curtain of the Great and Powerful Computer: Students practice curiosity by asking questions about coding and play a game to create their own code.

With this essential habit as a guide through the Be Curious course, Quest Forward Learning students incorporate curiosity into their daily lives, both inside and outside of school. As mentors and role models, we can support students’ curiosity by encouraging them to ask increasingly complex questions; to be resourceful and seek out answers to their questions; and to continue to try things outside of their comfort zone. The world is full of unknown possibilities, as well as questions to be asked and answered. With more curiosity, we can all fully experience its wonder and complexity.

1 Gruber, Matthias J., Bernard D. Gelman, &  C. Ranganath. (2014). States of curiosity modulate hippocampus-dependent learning via the dopaminergic circuit.” Neuron, 84(2): 486–96. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2014.08.060.

2 Engel, S. (2015). The Hungry Mind: The Origins of Curiosity in Childhood. Harvard University Press.

3 Freeman, S., Eddy, S.L., McDonough, M., Smith, M.K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & M.P. Wenderoth (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS 111 (23), 8410–8415.

4 Oudeyer, P. Y., J. Gottlieb, & M. Lopes. (2016). Intrinsic motivation, curiosity, and learning: Theory and applications in educational technologies. In Chapter 11 in Progress in Brain Research, edited by Bettina Studer and Stefan Knecht, 229:257–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.pbr.2016.05.005.

5  Berlyne, D. (1960). Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity. McGraw-Hill, New York. p115

6 Barto, A., Mirolli, M., & G. Baldasarre (2013). Novelty or surprise? Frontiers in Psychology. 11. 1–15. http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00907.

7 Oudeyer, P.-Y., & Kaplan, F. (2007). What is intrinsic motivation? A typology of computational approaches. Frontiers in Neurorobotics. 1 (6). http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/neuro.12.006.2007.

8 Schmidhuber, J. (1991). Curious model-building control systems. Proceedings of the International Joint Conference on Neural Network, vol. 2, Singapore. pp. 1458–1463.

9 Berlyne, D. (1960). Conflict, Arousal and Curiosity. McGraw-Hill, New York.

10 Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (1985). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. New York, NY: Plenum.

11 Voss, H. & Keller, H. (1983). Curiosity and Exploration: Theories and Results. New York. Academic Press.

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