Issue 98 / March - April 2014
Sustainable Curiosity: How to Invigorate Curiosity for Scientific Literacy
"Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning"
William A. Ward
When I visited my family last time, I realized that my two-year old nephew, who could not speak fluently and knew only a few words, wanted to learn about everything he saw. For instance, while I was using an iPhone, he wanted me to show him how to unlock its screen. I taught him how; he tried to use it and started asking questions about the applications: What is that? What is it doing? In fact, he sometimes couldn't speak, but he implied what he wanted to ask. Moreover, he could easily learn and repeat what I said and did.
He is a curious bundle of joy, and so are most toddlers. I believe that if toddlers - who are usually defined as being between the ages of one and three - don't lose their curiosity, each of them will grow into accomplished members of our future's intellectual society.
Curiosity: What is it?
Curiosity basically means a desire to know or learn. Dr. Reiss states that curiosity is one of the 16 basic desires which guide human behaviors, and comes from the need to learn . Curiosity triggers various questions about events around us, and in a broader perspective, about the universe. The interaction between the desire to learn and the universe usually brings about scientific development. So, curiosity is the key to learning and science. And talking about children, curiosity is imperative to their learning.
"What is that?" is a phrase that is usually heard from a toddler who can speak at least a few words. Toddlers have a great curiosity to understand what happens around them. They are new in this world and everything grabs their attention. Because of this curiosity, they want to learn. According to Bruce Perry, there is a big learning cycle , which starts with curiosity and exploration, and goes on to discovery, pleasure, repetition, mastery, new skills, confidence, self esteem, security and more exploration. While one of the main characteristics of mankind is learning by curiosity early in his life, as time passes, his curiosity fades. What causes this change? Why does it fade away? Can it be delayed? What can be done to invigorate his passion for learning, exploring and discovering if it fades? How can schools, as a secondary environment for learning after the family, be designed so that the initial curiosity is not lost?
Why does curiosity fade?
The eagerness of children to scientifically understand the world is restrained by various factors. These factors vary due to the complex nature of human beings and the environment they live in. The three significant and common factors are fear, disapproval, and absence .
One of the common factors is fear that can arise implicitly or explicitly. The definition of fear is "a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid". It causes uncomfortable conditions for people. When experiencing fear, a human cannot act normally until either the fear subsides or he deals with the cause of the fear. For example, parenting styles, events that cause internal family distress, violence, a teacher's disciplinary style, restrictions, rules, and an unhealthy classroom environment can be some of the reasons behind fear. Human curiosity is fostered by healthy, comfortable environments .
The second factor behind fading curiosity is disapproval. If a child is raised by phrases that start with "don't," he will learn not to do things. He will not be eager to attempt to learn new, different ways. For instance: If a child is raised by saying don't do this, don't do that, don't get dirty, don't take that apart, don't touch, don't, don't, and don't... To learn, they need to try these things. These attempts can be wrong or not essential, but children achieve a great sense of learning by doing.
The last, but certainly not least factor, of losing curiosity is absence. The meaning of absence is that the child has no sense of safety and opportunity to share new discoveries. The existence of caring people around them provides the optimal environment for exploration, discovering new things and increasing the capacity of sharing one's discoveries. This is because of the sense of safety.
Invigorating faded curiosity
In terms of renewing curiosity for a child who has lost his passion for examination and critical observation of the world, we can start by eliminating the reasons for faded curiosity: fear, disapproval and absence. Eliminating these factors will give children a chance to reconstruct their passion, safety, and courage to repair their lost and curiosity to learn.
One who is responsible for a child needs to recognize individual differences in them, and to encourage their unique kinds of curiosity. Each individual is recognized as a different world; therefore, each individual has his or her own unique framework about the world. In some points, there can be similar and overlapping ideas but it does not mean their conceptual framework is the same. Curiosity triggers them to enhance their conceptual framework by learning with understanding. So we need to let them run after their different styles of learning, which will help them to advance in a discipline without enforcement. By doing so, children feel free to choose their area of interest and with a strong sense of their curiosity, they will move forward in that discipline.
At this point, we come up with a question: what can be done for timid children? Being timid does not mean that they are not curious. They just require more encouragement and reinforcement to feel safe and familiar with situations.
Generally, parents or teachers assume that some creative attempts of children are failures; thus, we need to redefine "failure." If a child wants to learn to jump rope, which is not an easy task for younger children, he or she can do it hundreds of times, and trip every one of them. On one hand, this can be defined as failure; on the other hand, parents can think that it is a determination to reach success and that these trials and trips are necessary to develop that skill.
Another mistake, which can hinder a child's curiosity, is that parents mostly make a judgment about a child's larger personality rather than their specific behaviors. If we continue on the same example: jump rope, to encourage and reinforce them to learn, we can judge their behavior and lead them how to overcome it rather than critiquing their personality.
New approaches in the scientific environment in Curiosity is a common topic, not only for children but also within scientific communities. Through curiosity, human beings start to understand the universe and realize its wonderful and unique design. When you scientifically dig deeper into the environment and the world, your astonishment will increase about how perfectly designed things are. For instance: while I was watching a documentary, a man was interested in cobra snakes, and he dedicated 40 years of his life to exploring snake's hidden and mysterious world. He was still so excited about talking about snakes and the details of their life; moreover, he mentioned that he needed to do more exploration to master his knowledge about snakes. You can easily catch the point: 40 years to explore only snakes, but it is not enough.
To raise a scientifically literate generation, to make them well skilled in understanding the world and willing to explore the world and universe, just like the man who is interested in snakes, the classroom environment needs to change. There should be a focus on the students and their learning with understanding, rather than being teacher-centered and based on rote learning. The United States and other countries have passed various reform acts in education to have more student-centered classrooms and better environments for learning with understanding. The most popular term in reform acts is inquiry. Although a century has passed since first appearance of the term "inquiry" in the science-education literature, there is no compromise on inquiry; you can find a lot of definition and different types of inquiry.
In a general perspective, inquiry is not only a method to teaching science, but also a result of teaching science. Learners have hands-on and minds-on activities both during the process, and after teaching and learning; learners should be able to imply new situations of scientific inquiry in their daily life. The inquiry should start with curiosity and a question about phenomena. Curiosity and the questioning phase start with some awareness of phenomena, and continue with experiments, research, observations, designs, and so on. Moreover, according to previous activities, students have some evidence, results, or assumptions to answer the initial questions, then give an explanation in keeping with his or her findings. Students need to make a comparison between his or her answers, peers, and the larger scientific literature, and also be able to justify their findings and answers.
After this process, the student learns both the scientific concepts and scientific process, and, as a member of a scientifically-literate society, uses it in new conditions in daily life. This process is a kind of imitation of what scientists do in their research. Moreover, these activities provide high retention later in the learning process. Increasing average retention rates would make students more proficient with science, keep them familiar with scientific content, and the scientific method; thus, they may keep their curiosity vigorous to sustain their scientific readings and investigations. By doing so, little students are going to be little scientists based on the strength of their curiosity.
To sum it up, curiosity is a significant factor for learning and science; it's an essential part of human behavior. Most of the explorations, inventions and discoveries originate with curiosity. But curiosity is not a static power; most of us can lose our curiosity about the universe and the world because of various reasons, including fear, disapproval, and absence. To invigorate faded curiosity we need to eliminate the factors that are the reason for such lapses. Moreover, parents and teachers should be careful about individual differences, and we need to redefine the term "failure." Finally, curiosity is the feature of scientific communities that are eager to understand the world and the universe. If their scientific method, which is known as "learning with inquiry," can be applied in the classroom, children can follow the mysteries of the world and universe. Throughout little students' journey, and during their studies, curiosity, as a wick in a candle, will enlighten our world. Let them to keep their candle sparkling!
1- Reiss, Steven (March 5, 2002). Who am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities. Berkley Trade. ISBN 978-0425183403.
2- Perry, Bruce Duncan. http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/curiosity.htm
4- Berlyne, D. E. 1960. Conflict, Arousal, and Curiosity. New York: McGrawhill.