Why Being Curious Is Essential
At Opportunity Education, we believe that curiosity is one of the most important habits students need to thrive in school and in life. That’s why Be Curious is one of the 6 Essential Habits of Quest Forward Learning. Quest Forward Learning is intentionally designed to encourage and support students in being curious through activities such as the habits program and curriculum, quest-based curricula, projects and electives, the design of Quest Forward schools, and more.
Curiosity in the Classroom
As students move out of elementary school, classrooms in traditional schools become more focused on structured learning, getting through the curriculum, and covering all the required standards. Our current education system is overly focused on testing, making this extremely challenging for teachers.
There is evidence that when teachers feel pressured to cover topics, standards, and curricula, cultivating and sustaining curiosity can become a lower classroom priority. Teachers may feel they do not have time for “unstructured curiosity” and the time it would take to follow students’ interests. Or teachers may feel it is up to more mature learners to “make themselves interested” in whatever topic appears in the curriculum.
As a result, students tend to ask fewer questions and avoid tinkering or experimenting because these activities are often seen as distractions. Curiosity and experimentation become things that get in the way of learning what is required in school and for getting through the curriculum.
Because Quest Forward Learning takes a skills-forward approach, curiosity is baked into the curriculum so the burden to create room for inquiry is not placed on students or teachers. As a result, students that use Quest Forward Learning continuously have the opportunity to pursue what sparks their curiosity and benefit from those opportunities.
The Academic and Long-Term Benefits of Being Curious
Research has shown repeatedly that being curious is beneficial for students. Here are just some of the conclusions that have been linked to curiosity and interest:
- Curiosity has shown to be predictive of academic achievement in math and reading comprehension (Shah, Weeks, Richards, & Kaciroti, 2018; Gurning & Siregar, 2017).
- Individual and situational interests predict academic achievement (Krapp, Hidi, & Renninger, 1992; Rotgans & Schmidt, 2011).
- When a school is more challenging, more curious students performed better on achievement tests than their less curious peers (Kashdan & Yuen, 2007).
- Through the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Kang et al. (2009) concluded that adults show greater long-term memory retention when they expressed high curiosity rather than low curiosity.
Curiosity can help students outside of the classroom as well, whether with personal relationships or career success. Being curious can help students adapt to different environments, including developing tolerance to anxiety and uncertainty. It also promotes thinking unconventionally, expressing positive emotions—including humor and playfulness— and having non-defensive, critical attitudes (Kashdan, Sherman, Yarbro, & Funder, 2013). Finally, curiosity has also been linked to well-being, including life satisfaction and greater sense of purpose.
How Quest Forward Learning Promotes Curiosity
Students choosing to visit a museum, play a video game, search the web based on a question you have, or read a book purely for enjoyment is a result of intrinsic motivation and curiosity. But how can schools promote curiosity?
Students pick up on curiosity when it is modeled for them, as when parents and teachers express their own curiosities. Additionally, friend and peer influences can help students feel a sense of belonging and also expose them to new activities, both of which can motivate students to explore and pursue interests further.
With these motivations in mind, Quest Forward Learning includes many design decisions that create opportunities stimulating and supporting curiosity. These include:
- Quest-Based Curriculum
Quests are made up of a series of activities that support students in exploring topics, practicing skills, creating artifacts or projects, and reflecting on their learning. Quests start with a driving question that guides students, without generally offering one “right” answer to the question. This allows students to ask questions, investigate, and come to their own conclusions through discovery.
- Be Curious Framework
We developed a framework that defines the Be Curious essential habit and its four building blocks. The framework includes indicators such as “student is resourceful” and “student tries new things. These provide clear goals for students, but also allow for flexibility and supporting each student in unique ways.
- Habit Review
The Habit Review is a reflection and self-assessment tool. Students answer a series of questions about how frequently they express certain habits and related behaviors. Teachers review student responses and use information to guide discussions with students and to help students set and achieve goals for making personal improvements.
- City As Campus Programs
Schools see their cities and communities as part of their campuses. Visiting places in the community and working with people in the community helps students to find relevance and make connections between the work being done in school and events and happenings in the community.
- Global Learning Program
Students in the US and Tanzania meet via video to learn more about each other, their schools, and what life is like in their communities. The Global Learning Program activates curiosity by connecting students and building supportive and collaborative relationships.
These opportunities and more, such as the Extraordinary Ordinary Card Game, ensure that curiosity is not overlooked in the classroom. Rather than detract from the day’s lesson, these opportunities can help students see the connections between the different academic disciplines and how their academic work connects to their personal life and passions.
If you’d like to learn more about this topic and the way Quest Forward Learning facilitates curiosity, please download the Be Curious Research Brief in full.
Jolene Zywica, PhD
Dr. Zywica is Opportunity Education's Senior Director of Learning Strategy. She ensures that the resources, tools, and experiences designed for teachers and students effectively support teaching and learning. Prior to joining the team in 2014, Jolene dabbled in teaching both high school and college students, was a high school literacy coach for 5 years, and has spent over 18 years designing and studying the impact of learning programs aimed at engaging students through active learning and technology.