Ignite a Curious Light
Back to school pictures are flooding our social media accounts, stores are full of school supplies, and teachers are preparing for students arrival on our campuses and in our classrooms.
I came across the following quote last weekend,
“Every student can learn just not on the same day or in the same way.” - George Evans, Cartoonist
As I prepare for the beginning of each semester and the first day of class my mind is always on how I will ignite curiosity in the classroom and engage students in building a learning community.
Earlier this week I shared a video to share how my mother who was a K-12 teacher inspires me daily as a role model for engaging students, igniting curiosity and challenging the status quo.
Also, I shared a time when I was an undergrad about taking research methods and not doing well on my first test. The faculty member could have given up on me, but he didn’t. I visited office hours to learn more and to discuss strategies for preparing for the next test. The faculty member believed in me, I may not have figured it out the first, second, or third day but he knew that I would and gave me enough challenge and support to develop my research methods skill set. Little did I know that having that faculty member believe in me would lead me to taking 21 research credit hours in a doctoral program at Virginia Tech and eventually conducting and publishing research.
Next Wednesday is my first day of class.
Since we are at the beginning of the semester I want to focus today’s post on creating a learning environment that promotes curiosity.
So how does this work?
On the first day and following days throughout the semester, it is important to find a hook to introduce the content for the day and to ignite curiosity in students.
The hook may be storytelling, changing the classroom environment, brainteasers, videos, or a thought provoking question (these are only a few).
On the first day, starting off with a hot topic and jumping right into content before going over the syllabus can excite students about what is to come next.
As a faculty member my responsibility is to encourage students to be part of the learning process on the first day and to share with students how everyone in the room including myself are accountable for the learning that takes place during the semester (or year).
At the beginning of every semester I share a Ted Talk by Clint Smith titled, “The Danger of Silence” that sets the ground rules for our experiences in and out of the classroom.
We are all responsible for reading critically, writing consciously, speaking clearly and telling our truth.
I believe as a teacher we must be vulnerable and role model our ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable to tackle difficult problems in our industry.
For example, in my facilities course we talk quite a bit about safety and risk management. I share with students my story about when I was a doctoral student at Virginia Tech during the active shooter situation. The story ignites the “why” it is important to have active shooter protocols in our sport facility emergency action plans.
I share Smith’s video because it assists in explaining our responsibilities (read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, and tell your truth) as a learning community and hones in on the fact that we will not avoid diving in to difficult topics.
Here are a few examples of how I incorporated hooks in the classroom over the past 10 years to entice students to want to learn more and to have a memorable experience.
At James Madison University (JMU), I taught in the Sport and Recreation Management program. One of the courses I taught was an introductory course for the major.
An area of content we studied in the course was the formation of the national parks in the United States. When it was time for the lesson, I would change the classroom environment to an actual campsite indoors. I would get there early enough to move all of the desks and place sleeping bags all over the floor in a circle formation. In the center of the floor were sleeping bags and a camp fire. The camp fire was made from sticks, red and orange tissue paper and string lights. All of the lights would be turned off in the classroom and as students arrived they would receive a capri sun and a smores poptart. We would watch portions of Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea as we sat on the floor watching the meeting of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in the redwood forest.
We followed up with discussions related to the importance of national parks and discussed the future of the park system. I taught this multiple times during my time at JMU and it became known as the camp fire class. I still have students reach out to me about the experience. .
During my time at Elon University I have taught the Facility and Venue Management course in the sport management program for three and a half years. The course is dedicated to students learning about the planning process, operations, financing, sustainability, universal design, event management, and marketing of sport facilities.
Early on in the semester I believe it is important to start off with students getting to know one another and to communicate the importance of everyone being a contributor to the learning environment.
Over the years I would incorporate the balloon tower activity or the marshmallow challenge. Both activities have a common goal to build the tallest freestanding tower possible in the time allotted. While teaching my facilities course I have added components to the activity to connect to learning outcomes in the course (planning process and financing facilities). I have multiple supplies the students may select from to construct their facility. Each supply item has a cost associated with it. The students are responsible for constructing the tallest freestanding facility as well as the most cost effective. Items students can use to construct these facilities are things such as tape, marshmallows, spaghetti, Legos, balloons, and so on. However, the students have to be cautious when watching the pricing of certain items.
So how do we ignite curiosity?
...with patience and igniting a thirst for more.
In 1994, George Lowenstein published an article titled, “The Psychology of Curiosity: A Review and Reinterpretation.” His account interprets curiosity as a form of induced deprivation that arises from the perception of gaps in knowledge and understanding.
Lowenstein (1994) shares that throughout history the descriptions by many authors fall among the following three attributes:
We must be patient, knowing that every student will not always grab a hold of the content on the first day and that our students learn in different ways.
Quench their thirst and ignite their curiosity!