Children amaze me with their curiosity. They lack barriers when they think and can generate ideas outside the box that adults can often not fathom. Somewhere we, as adults, have forgotten how to open our minds to capture imagination and wonder.
Wonder…a powerful verb.
Brain research shows that when given an interesting question or image the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that actually gives you a bump in mood and seems to stimulate the cells that are associated with learning. According to LA Johnson (2014) at NPR (www.npr.org), curiosity increases retention of information, the ability to remember minor details and increases the ability to make connections. Each child has a different level of motivation and degree of curiosity which can be impacted by factors such as stress, medications, genetics, etc.
Brain studies show that a person’s attention and engagement lapses throughout a lesson depending on their interest. You have about 2 minutes to engage a student in a lesson. We often call this first few minutes of the lesson—the hook. If you don’t hook a student quickly—they will not engage as sufficiently as they could even with redirecting. To encourage the engagement we need to hook them with WONDER and curiosity to want to learn more.
How can we as educators cultivate this wonder? Here are 3 tips!
Tip#1: Start with a related image or video that provides information about the topic but without text. By providing a visual for students it helps them to begin brainstorming, categorizing information and synthesizing that information. By encouraging students to think and discover—you are stimulating divergent thinking.
Example: Begin a unit on plate tectonics by showing this graphic from National Geographic.
- Have students write all the words that come to their mind when they look at this photograph. (Give them one minute)
- Pair students with a partner and have them discuss the words they chose and why. (2 minutes)
- Discuss whole group the words they brainstormed and list them on the board.
- Then put 4 key vocabulary words for the unit (related to the picture) on the board. Such as fissure, plate, lava, molten and valley. Challenge students to talk to their partners and see if they can match the word or concept to the photograph. They need to be able to explain their thinking. (Give them 3 minutes)
- Partner students up with someone new and let them repeat their discussion and change or add any ideas. (2 minutes)
- Discuss whole group and label the vocabulary to the photograph. (5-7 minutes)
This activity challenges students to use their background knowledge to apply new vocabulary. As you discuss vocabulary you can reinforce suffixes, prefixes, root words or examples to help students make connections from the word to the concept. This allows students to discover new ideas, utilize what they know and make sense of new ideas by talking through their own ideas. This activity cultivates wonder because students are able to begin with their own knowledge and “thoughts” and then build on those ideas with academic vocabulary. We must allow students to access their own knowledge, learn new information and then make this information their own.
Tip #2: Have props or realia around the room prior to a unit or lesson. Do not provide information and do not answer questions—just simply let students investigate.
Example 1: Prior to a Native American Unit have pottery, baskets, Native American blanket, arrowheads, pumpkins, corn, etc. on a table or around the room.
Example 2: Tape maps to the floor prior to an explorer unit. Be sure that the maps represent different time periods.
Example 3: When reading a book, create a collection of items so that as you read the book—students can discover what the items represent. (For the book Blue by Joyce Hostetter you could create a basket with blue overalls, a blue glass bottle, a penny, five dollar bill, ration coupon, dried wisteria, seeds, quarantine sign, etc.)
When someone asks a question—what is this for? What is this? Shrug your shoulders and respond—what do you think? Allow students to discover and make connections. You don’t have to engage, just direct them to investigate and ask—what do you think?
Tip #3: Use thought provoking questions. There is an art in questioning. If I ask, “what, who, where, when and how (“how does” requires students to explain but “how would” begins to think outside the box) questions…your brain immediately seeks to answer the question However, when you ask, “WHY” you are immediately demanding the brain to problem solve. Use question starters like—
- Can you find evidence to prove (disprove) _______________?
- Why would _______________________occur?
- Why would _____________think this way? (make this mistake)
- How would you _______________________?
As you plan, think about a way to “hook” your students and excite them about the topic. Encourage their discovery. Pictures, video, realia and asking the right questions can help students want to find out and engage rather than regurgitate back information. Learning is discovery which must start with curiosity. It is time to help our students “find wonder!”
- Have students close their eyes and tell them “a story” that could describe a character, historical event, dilemma or controversy, etc. This allows students to build a visual image of what you will be talking about.
- Play a song that has a connection to the topic as students come in the classroom.
- Use an analogy to create a comparison for students
- Dress up or act something out for students
- PHOTOGRAPH Gallery Walk
- Start with a demonstration or a experiment
Share any ideas you have to hook students in the comment section!