Te Miro School (5-057) - The curious classroom Publications
Project Reference: Te Miro School (TLIF 5-057) - Teachers at Te Miro School were concerned that student achievement and wellbeing was being negatively impacted by a lack of curiosity. Research indicates that curiosity and hard work are closely tied to achievement and has other positive outcomes on wellbeing and relationships. But children’s natural curiosity seemed to diminish at school rather than grow, especially among boys.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Fiona Ruthven (Project Lead), Annie Gould, Michaela Phillips, and Laura Edwards
Date Published: February 2019
In the school’s first cycle of inquiry, the focus was on changing teacher pedagogy to improve questioning techniques and encourage sustained thinking.
We were doing the M&M milk experiment and I began to ‘wonder out loud’ what would happen if two colours were closer and then I put an M&M in the experiment to see. At first, the students just watched me but then they too began to give things a go and try things out.
Unfortunately, this had no impact on student outcomes. In the second cycle, the teachers returned to the literature and identified new approaches. These included role modelling curiosity, explicitly encouraging and praising curiosity, and setting up opportunities to spark curiosity. The opportunities included new resources, school trips, and visits from experts. Important, they included allowing the time necessary for students and teachers to follow up on questions, ideas, and wonderings.
The second cycle of inquiry was far more successful than the first, with changes in both teacher pedagogy and student behaviour that were observed and appreciated by whānau and community. Students themselves understand what curiosity is and the importance of questioning, wondering, and inquiring. The inquiry highlights the value of “being the change you seek” through modelling the desired behaviours in your own life.
This project was led by Fiona Ruthven. The rest of the team consisted of teachers Annie Gould and Michaela Phillips, and Laura Edwards.
Brooke Trenwith (Potential to Performance Ltd.) was the project’s external expert and Jeanette Clarkin-Philips (University of Waikato) was its critical friend.
The inquiry story
The inquiry unfolded over two cycles and involved all teachers and all students in years 2–8. Whānau were invited to participate, though not all did.
What was the focus?
Teachers at Te Miro School knew that curiosity was an important part of learning and that people who are curious about a topic tend to be good at retaining new learning. They also knew that research has linked curiosity to a wide range of important adaptive behaviours, including positive emotions, humour, playfulness, out-of-the box thinking, a noncritical attitude, and the ability to tolerate anxiety and uncertainty. The evidence, then, is that curiosity is associated with healthy social outcomes, as well as strengthening achievement outcomes. However, the teachers weren’t seeing curiosity manifest in the majority of their students and especially boys.
In this inquiry, the teachers sought to find out what they could do that would help foster and grow curiosity in their students. They expected to see a shift in their own understanding and practice of what it takes to nurture curious learners, and for this to cause curiosity to flourish among the students.
What did the teachers try?
The inquiry unfolded in two cycles. The first focused on the teachers developing their questioning techniques, extending thinking time, and making their classrooms more creative and student-led. However, when teachers gathered data from their own observations, student interviews, and a parent survey, they found that they had not had any impact. Students still didn’t seem able or willing to wonder for themselves and were not deeply engaged in their learning.
After reading more research, the teachers discovered that curiosity needs more than stimulation and freedom. It also needs teachers to be role models, provide plenty of guidance, and offer lots of opportunities to practice. So, for Cycle Two, they changed their responses to students, both in and out of the classroom. The changes included the following:
- Setting up a ‘wondering wall’ where the students could write down ‘off-the-topic’ wonderings. These questions or interests were then used to either find resources for that student or, if lots of students were interested in a similar topic, to inform the next focus of inquiry.
- Modelling curiosity by asking questions of their own, wondering out loud, and experimenting with equipment. The teachers set up ‘thinking bubbles’ in their classrooms where they would put up their own questions and share their findings, just like the students.
- Praising curiosity, recording students’ questions, and encouraging them to explore their ideas and find answers to their questions.
- Setting up a tinkering table of loose parts or objects that students could take apart to see what was inside.
- Having experts come into school and going out for more trips and class experiences. The purpose was to expose the students to different people, experiences, learning and ideas.
- Connecting learning at home and school by helping parents understand the importance of curiosity and suggest ways to foster it at home. The teachers did this with frequent comments in the school newsletter and on the Facebook Page. They used the school sign, to ask the question, “What are you curious about?”
- Using other resources to spark curiosity These included ideas and materials the students brought from home or found in nature. They also used digital resources, such as Kiwi Kids News, Mystery Science, and TedEx.
- Prompting critical thinking through questions such as, “Is what we read or see always right?”
What happened as a result of this innovation?
After the disappointment of the first cycle, the changed practices soon had visible, positive effects in the classroom. For example:
- students would often pop up during a session, grab a sticky note, and jot a question or wondering on the wondering wall
- the students were interested in the teachers’ questions and helped them find the answers.
- the students are excited each time a new item appeared on the tinkering table and go there at every opportunity
- the expert visits and trips were stimulating and helped the students expand their wonderings.
The teachers discovered it did not take long until curiosity began to be contagious. Students who were initially more curious than others began to ask questions continually. Students who had never expressed any wonderings at school before followed their lead, showing glimpses of curiosity that grew over the cycle.
As students became more curious, they became more engaged and enthusiastic about learning. Student wellbeing increased, and there were very few behavioural problems. Students became braver about taking risks and trying new activities, both inside and outside of school.
The wider community also noticed that the school culture was different and that the teachers were more nurturing and child-centred. Seventy-five percent of parents who answered the survey said their children had become more curious at home. Interestingly, one parent commented: “The change isn’t really with my children; they have always been really curious. It’s with me, and how I am more intentional at asking questions.”
What did they learn?
The major discovery for this inquiry team was that the whole school changed for the better when teachers began to think less about what they taught and more about how they acted. That is, curiosity is fostered when teachers are curious themselves and show that they value it.
The teachers also learned that growing curiosity in a school requires students to have:
- strong attachments and a sense that it is safe to explore and wonder;
- time to explore things they are interested in and opportunities with things that are changeable, dynamic, and unexpected;
- ‘permission’ to be curious from teachers who praise curiosity, actively seek it, keep asking questions, and give them time to think.
Brown, L. (2018). The importance of developing curiosity. Psych Central.
Engel, S. (February 2013). The case for curiosity, Creativity Now! 70(5), pp. 36–40.
Price-Mitchell, M. (April 13 2015). Curiosity: The heart of lifelong learning: How to nurture a child’s hungry mind. Psychology Today.
Price-Mitchell, M. (February 17 2015). Curiosity: The force within a hungry mind. Edutopia.
von Stumm, S., Hell, B., Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2011). The hungry mind: Intellectual curiosity Is the third pillar of academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(6).
For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader, Fiona Ruthven, at firstname.lastname@example.org
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