Developing Curiosity

Each of us is born curious. As little kids we constantly looked for ways to explore the world around us. While some curious actions can be a little dangerous, like trying to figure out what happens when you stick a paperclip in an electrical outlet, curiosity in general is a good thing. In fact, it is one of the driving forces of creativity, which happens to be on the top of many lists for most in demand skills desired by employers.

So how do we develop curiosity and creativity in young people. While there are nearly infinite approaches that could work, we have found with middle and high school students that talking to them about things they are already interested in is a solid place to start. 

I was recently talking with a student that was looking for a project idea. After talking to her for a few minutes, she mentioned she was Croatian, a fact I was unaware of. As she described her family’s heritage, she lamented that not enough people know about Croatian culture. She was clearly interested in Croatian culture and had just identified a felt need around that interest – to share her experiences with others. This is a breeding ground for curiosity – an interest in finding a solution for a felt need or problem around a topic a student is interested in. 

I told her I wondered how she could fix the problem. Then I asked her if she wanted to fix that particular problem. Of course she said yes and we quickly began brainstorming how she could make that happen. Curiosity and purpose many times go hand in hand. For the youngster with the paper clip, their purpose is to experience what happens when you stick it in certain places. For the young lady I talked to about Croatia, her purpose is to share her heritage and culture with others that might not know anything about Croatia. Once a meaningful topic or problem is identified, then we can do the work of developing curiosity. 

Here are some questions that could help move her in the right direction:

Why do you think the general public isn’t all that aware of Croatian culture?

What tool or mechanism would you use to teach people about Croatian culture?

If you could only communicate one piece of information around Croatian culture, what would it be?

What other cultures are similar to that of Croatia?

What are 10, 15, or 20 things that make Croatian culture particularly special?

There is nothing unique about these questions, they simply make the student think more about the thing they already care about. They do help refine the problem slightly and can steer how she approaches solving the problem, but essentially all they do is drive her learning in the direction she already stated she wanted to go. 

Here’s a quick recap of one approach you can take If you are looking to develop your student’s curiosity:

  1. Start with something they already care about. 
  2. Identify (or ideally listen for) a felt need or problem within that space and state it out loud to them.
  3. Ask some follow up questions that could drive their learning.

Whether or not this student develops a project around the promotion of Croatian culture isn’t nearly as important as the time she spends thinking about her approach and coming up with other tangents she is curious about. This is how curiosity is maintained and developed, by digging deeper into things we care about. Creativity comes out of that curiosity, many times, by the approaches we use to solve problems around areas we care about. 

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