What is Curiosity?

How do you define curiosity?

How do you encourage and support curiosity?

I saw something on Edutopia this morning that caught my attention: Four Strategies to Spark Curiosity via Student Questioning by Kevin D. Washburn.

I admit that the the way curiosity and questioning are connected in the title is what first caught my eye.

One of the first statements that jumped out at me is “Curiosity is the name we give to the state of having unanswered questions. And unanswered questions, by their nature, help us maintain a learning mindset.”

I talk a lot about encouraging and supporting students to ask questions, to wonder, and explore but I had never really thought of connecting unanswered questions and learning in that way.

Here are the four strategies explored in this article:

  1. Equip Students to Ask Questions
  2. Provide a Launch Pad
  3. Cast a Wide Net
  4. Avoid Cutting the Search Short

I am going to try not to tell you too much about this article since I really want you to go read it for yourself, but I am going to highlight a few of my favorite statements:

  • “At its essence, curiosity is asking questions and pursuing answers.”
  • “Questions ignite curiosity.”
  • If students don’t have much background knowledge, “giving just enough information to launch inquiry can help.”
  • “The brain does its best work in an active and receptive state” so searches need to be both focused and open to discovering new paths.
  •  “A new idea or perspective raises new questions, and since the brain does not like unanswered questions, curiosity continues to motivate the search.”
  •  “We can spark curiosity by engaging students in questioning and in pursuing answers”

The connections between curiosity, learning, and the brain really appeal to me based on my background and interests. (I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in high school and written several previous blog posts about things connected to the brain and learning, especially creativity. ) When I read this article, I immediately think of Wonderopolis, a project of the National Center for Family Literacy.

In my opinion, Wonderopolis does a good job of modeling questioning. I like how the questions posed are not ones that can be answered by just using one word. Their questions lead to other questions … and “ignite curiosity” in many ways. I often tell people that Wonderopolis asks thinking questions …

I also feel that Wonderopolis does a nice job of providing a little background knowledge to help things make sense while still not fully answering the question …. which still allows thinking and wondering to happen. I think there is enough information provided to make you want to know more … and they provide links and ideas for finding out stuff if you want to know more …. which encourages exploration and discovery based on interest!

I think this statement from Kevin D. Washburn’s article sums it up best:

Learning “compelled” by questions is learning driven by curiosity
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The word cloud at the top of this blog was created using the words from the article that inspired this blog post.

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Creating is Different than Taking …

A few weeks ago, I attended a pre-conference session at NCTIES done by Ken Shelton called Visual Artistry and Storytelling Through The Lens.

Here were a few of the objectives for this session:

  • To help you develop a confidence and comfort level such that you can make amazing images that tell great stories
  • To help you develop strategies for building your own stock image library for use in presentations, instruction, and other forms of communication
  • To help you develop creative strategies that you can share with your colleagues and/or students

I have always enjoyed looking at and taking pictures. I even worked at Eckerd Express Photo from the time I was a senior in high school until after I graduated from college. Since I enjoy art, colors, and “playing” with pictures, creating scrapbooks was something that came naturally and served as a stress relief for me for many years. In the last couple of years, I seem to have moved away from all of that …. I am not really sure why, I guess life happened.

So when I saw this preconference session offered, I thought this might be a way to motivate me to get back in to creating and photographs … and it has!!

I also really enjoy finding images to go along with the many blog posts I write. I like to find images that may not look like they really fit with the subject matter at first, but make people think. Images tell a story too … and that story may be different for each person based on their background and experiences.

In Ken’s session, we talked about the difference in taking pictures and creating pictures …it is about composition with a focus. One of the things that jumps out at me from my notes is that I need to develop a vision for making photos rather than just an eye for taking photos.

We talked about the differences in shutter speed, depth of field, magapixels, focus, and the difference in automatic mode and manual mode on camera as well as many other topics. I paid attention and learned how to change a few things on my camera …. I use a point-and-click camera (not a fancy one) but I still learned can change a few things.

Ken Shelton showed us that we don’t have to have a fancy camera to make use of some techniques to compose good photographs. When we went on our photo safari, he took some pictures with his phone and was able to edit and create just using that.

From his session, I took away more about creating/composing the pictures than all the camera settings and stuff. We were encouraged to try different angles and perspectives when taking pictures. We were also encouraged to explore different textures to photograph.

So from our photo safari through downtown Raleigh, NC, I have a large collection of images of doors, windows, chairs, bricks, interesting angles, reflections, light posts, and clouds.  And I have continued to compose photos that way.

My 5 year old and I went out in the yard with our cameras when I got home from NCTIES …. she composed some pretty awesome pictures on her own!

I created a Picasa account to store my images. I can tag them and search through them easily.

I find that it makes me smile when I can find a photograph I took to accompany a blog post that I write … (the images for the my last several posts are ones I did). 🙂

I have a feeling this is just the start of a new learning journey …

What Learning Does the Future Hold for You?

I recently was asked what I felt like I needed to learn next and how I planned to learn that …

I will soon be finished with the classes in my Instructional Technology degree (it is actually called something else but I think that is long and confusing). When I began working on this degree, there was so much that I had no idea of what all I did not know… and now I at least have some idea of what I don’t know …

Do you know where your learning will take you?

There are so many ideas floating through my head about what I feel like I need to learn next that I have a hard time narrowing them down. On the way to take one of my final tests the other morning, I thought about how someone recently told me not to worry too much about that test because that meant the end was in sight.

I am not sure I really feel that way. It may be the end of the program, but through all the things I have experienced, seen, and learned in the program, I see so many more opportunities for more learning.

I have been taking graduate classes since Spring Semester 2004 off and on (actually there is only about 3 semesters since then that I have not been involved in some type of graduate program). So once I graduate, I will have a masters in reading education, graduate classes in gifted education, and this masters degree … but I still want to learn more …. just maybe in a different way …
I have really enjoyed all of the classes and learning experiences, but perhaps it is time for me to do some more learning on my own rather than being in graduate programs (for now anyway … I know my husband will be glad to hear that …. ).
I do a great deal of learning each day from my PLN, on twitter, and from reading blogs. I think I need to pick a specific focus for learning and stay with that for a month or so or until I decide to select a new focus … or maybe not.

Even though I am one who really likes having a plan and working toward a goal, maybe I need to just let go and see what happens next …

Who knows what direction my learning path will go …

Enjoy and Explore the Beauty All Around

My family lives in a town with a historic downtown area. At one end of downtown Kernersville, there is a botanical garden. The Paul J. Ceiner Botanical Garden sent an invitation to teachers in our school district to come for a Tea and See event to tour the garden. Holly DuBois, a media specialist that I have written about before, sent me the invitation saying that it looked like something we might want to explore, so Madalyn and I went!

On our tour, we learned a little bit of the history and the future plan for the site. Before he passed away, Paul J. Ceiner had an idea to create a beautiful place for the residents of Kernersville, a town he loved, to enjoy.

Here is the vision statement of this botanical garden:

The vision of Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden is to create a dynamic public garden in Kernersville, North Carolina that surprises visitors from near and far by its scope, quality, and benefits for tourism, community events, and civic pride.

Right now only 2 of the 7 acres are developed, and they are thoughtfully designed and maintained. There is a kitchen garden area where there are raised plant beds in the design of a Moravian Quilt Pattern (Kernersville is not too far from Winston-Salem … and Salem was orginally a Moravian settlement). There are raised plant beds because Mr. Ceiner wanted them to be accessible for everyone and his family has raised plant beds when he was younger. The vegetables, herbs, and spices from this area are not sold, but non-profit groups can come harvest these things to use.

The botanical garden is working with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Science department to develop field trips and lessons to go along with the curriculum for teachers … fruits, vegetables, nutrients, soil, regional characteristics.

I can’t wait to see what is developed. The tulips in the front garden area should bloom this week or next week, so I also can’t wait for that happen. I have plans for Madalyn and I to return …. and we will both have fully charged cameras (the battery in mine ran out halfway through the tour …)

I searched for Botanical Garden on Thinkfinity and found some great results:

  • Become a Plant Hunter:  Discover 66 plants from around the globe with Plant Hunters, an immersive interactive tool that includes video, fun challenges and images of plants. Check out Plant Hunters, or explore additional classroom resources on botany.
  • Beauty All Around You: This is actually a Parent Guide for a trip families can take to explore the beauty in the landscapes and environments all around:  New experiences and places help children understand how ideas connect with the real world. Learning on field trips can spark curiosity and inspire children to ask better questions about the world around them. The people children meet on field trips can encourage children to think broadly about their own futures and help them to consider other possible job.


Reflections …

Picture I took in downtown Raleigh, NC

While looking through some files and things I have created in graduate school, I came across a reflection of learning that I did using Magnoto: http://mwedwards.magnoto.com/

In this reflection, I point out how I didn’t really learn a new tool or a new presentation mode, but I did learn more about the reflection process …. so I guess it was a reflection on reflection …

The blog posts I write are reflections of my learning all along the way. I think that blogging plays an important role in my life and learning. Writing and creating allows me to work through all the pieces and attempt to make sense of things in ways that work for me.

The two book that I read for that class are ones I constantly refer to now … In many ways, these area anchor books for me now … Now You See It: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we love, work, and learn by Cathy Davidson and 21st Century Skils: Learning for life in our times by Trilling and Fadel

What are some books that you tend to think of and refer back to regularly?

Do you think your “anchor books” change over time?

Do those change based on experiences you have, things you learn, people you encounter, new things you try as well as well as goals you set and achieve?

Or some combination of all or part of that list?

What do you use to help you make sense of what you learn?

Have you made an inference today?

I have had a great time this week sitting in planning meetings with various grade levels at an elementary school. I was able to share resources and take notes on what they discussed so I could search for other things to share.

Although I heard lots of great ideas, there was one topic that really stuck out for me … making inferences. As a former 4th grade teacher, I know this was something my students struggled with also.

The teachers discussed how we tend to teach the making inferences skill in isolation when it really plays a connected and integrated role in so many areas essential for understanding and comprehension.


What inferences can you make about this image?

Here are a few of their ideas for helping students make inferences:

  • stop teaching the skill in isolation
  • use writing
  • teach along with similes and metaphors
  • focus on visualizations
  • parts of speech
  • text structure
  • the author’s presentation of the story
  • highlight the way it helps create accuracy

Each of the teachers in this meeting taught a different subject to the same set of students (departmentalized), but they all talked about how they could point out when students make inferences in their particular area …. our students make so many inferences all the time and don’t even realize it.

I have found a few resources that I plan to share with them that can be used throughout the curriculum areas and not just in English Language Arts:

  • Here is a 3 column graphic organizer I used in that past: Facts, What does this makes me think, Why. I had my students fold a piece of notebook paper to make three columns rather than running them copies all the time … turn the notebook paper sideways and fold the paper so that all the holes line up … I know the columns are not equal, but it works.
  • High Quality Picture Books are great for inferences. There are a lot of great ideas in this ReadWriteThink lesson that could be use with various authors/books. Your media specialist would be a good resource as well.
  • Even having students write a story to go along with the images in a wordless picture book would be great for inferences and noticing detail … then discuss why student included certain things in what they wrote … what from the image cause you to infer that for the story ….
  • Exploring/Discussing/Writing about images (Historical Images, Advertisements, and even Abstract Art) can be a good way to emphasize making inferences …. mood, action, purpose, feeling, time …. even connecting images with text …. talk about the pictures that form in a student’s mind when they read text, why do those particular pictures form …. what in the text makes you think/see that) The Library of Congress site is a good source for historical images and such (there is even a teacher section that talks about using primary sources).  ArtsEdge is a good place to find images of art and information about the arts.

I plan to keep looking and sharing more things teachers can use to help students with the making inferences skill. I would love to hear the things that have worked for you (technology-related or not) ….

Another idea these teachers had was to have a Daily Inference Challenge for their students …. what do you think about that? What types of thing would you use?

Thanks in advance!

image is one that I took in a photography workshop

Memories and Connections with Quilts?

Quilts have a special place in my heart. There are several quilts in my house. My grandmother made a wedding ring quilt for me when I got married using various fabrics I recognized from her home throughout the years.

One of the things I noticed when I looked at Anita Silvey‘s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac today was the box in the sidebar that lists things about that particular day …. author birthdays, important events in books, and special dates the may go unnoticed. (I have a link to her site on the side of my blog …. she features a different children’s book each day). One of the events I noticed today was that it is National Quilting Day!
Anita Silvey lists some great book that go along with quilts:
I shared about today being National Quilting Day on twitter from my Wonderopolis Lead Wonder account. I also shared a past wonder related to quilting:
Lisa Fitzpatrick (@LBFitz3) has wonderful quotes to share each day related to the Wonder-of-the-Day from Wonderopolis, so today she even had the title of a great quilt book title to share:
When I thanked her, I offered a suggestion of another book:
She responded back with another book title: 
Mrs.K.Stephen (@EurekaTeacher) also shared my tweet about National Quilting Day and then added how much she enjoys the way quilting combines art and math!
A search on Thinkfinity for the “quilts” reveals ways art, math, literature, and history are fused together:
Time for me to find a quilt to snuggle under ….
What memories and connections do you have with quilts and quilt stories?

A Series, A Journey, and The End Result

I have heard people talk about how they enjoyed writing (and reading) a blog post series. I have attempted to write one or two series in the past but in some ways it felt both forced and constrained. I think that may have to do with my expectations from the beginning about how the series should go and how many posts should be included.
This past week I started a series of blog posts on my WonderFamilyEdwards blog with no expectations of how many posts would be involved or even how it all would end …. and I LOVED it! My daughter is in Kindergarten, and as a family project, we designed and built a Leprechaun Trap. Instead of retelling the whole story, I will provide links to the posts.

Words are not the only way to tell stories. I have always enjoyed taking pictures but had gone away from that in the last year or so. One of the sessions I recently attended at a recent conference propelled me back into that full force. That is my way of saying there are LOTS of pictures in this series of blog posts, but I think the pictures really help tell the story. I took notice of how I composed pictures to create a focus on certain parts of the pictures. I tried to explore different angles and settings …. those elements can change a photograph just like they can change a story.

I do enjoy telling a good story, which the series of blog posts allowed me to do. I did not feel like I had to fit everything in one post. I could use posts to create reader anticipation for the next post. I could elaborate on some parts and share the experiences the pictures can’t express. I started referring to my continued posts as the next installment in the story when I shared links on twitter and facebook.
I have kept journals and enjoyed creating scrapbooks in the past (and have quite a large collection of beautiful paper to show for it). That is something that I could do with this project, but then the stories and the pictures would be kept inside our house for the most part. By sharing our family project as a journey and allowing people to go on that adventure with us using a blog, twitter, and facebook, this family project became more social. 
People would tell my family as well as send me messages that they could not wait to see what we did next and how the project eventually turned out. I don’t think I would have gotten the same type of response if I had just written one post after we were done with the project sharing the end result. 
The journey and process are at times more interesting and engaging than the end result … I wonder how many other things are like that we ignore each day …

These are pictures from when Madalyn took the project to school. I am glad her teacher helped me share in that part also.

What window have you opened?

image from TechnologyRocksSeriously.com

Do you have a window in your classroom? Can you see outside from your desk?

There are no windows close to my desk at work … unless you count the computer …

I know that I have written about animal webcams before:

But I think I have discovered even more animal videos and webcams almost everywhere I looked this week …
Even though I have been to zoos and seen these types of animals, I still find it very interesting to be able to watch the animals via webcam (and videos). Imagine the wonder and curiosity these images would create for students who have seen animals like this before but especially for those who have not ….

Think about all the doors and windows technology has made accessible for both us and our students …

What do you know about Primary Sources?

Library Of Congress Washington DC
Did you know there is a Teacher’s section and lots of available classroom resources on The Library of Congress website?

The part that really caught my attention was the Using Primary Sources area. When I was in the classroom, helping students use and understand primary sources is something I admit I did not do very well. I really did not know what I was supposed to do and what students were supposed to be able to do …. if I could even find primary sources for us to examine.

Here is a great definition of primary sources from The Library of Congress Site:

Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience.

Just that definition helps me understand the reason for encouraging students to examine and explore primary sources …. we regularly talk about various points of view and perspectives. I have done a  large amount of research on Orville and Wilbur Wright. I loved being able to look at their notes and scrapbooks to see what they thought and how they understood what they did instead of reading an interpretation of their actions.

On the Using Primary Sources page, there are three sections which some direction for teachers and questions for students:

  1. Engaging students with primary sources.
  2. Promote student inquiry.
  3. Assess how students apply critical thinking and analysis skills to primary sources.

Even though those areas generally cover the before, during, and after reading skills, there were a few questions which caught my attention:

  • Where does you eye go first?
  • What do you see that you didn’t expect?
  • What powerful words and ideas are expressed?

Also included in the Primary Sources section of The Library of Congress website is information about:

  • Citing Primary Sources
  • Copyright and Primary Sources
  • Finding Primary Sources
  • Teacher’s Guides and Analysis Tool for a variety of types of Primary Sources

So what do you think? Are you more willing to try using some Primary Sources? Do you understand a bit more about Primary Sources? I do! 🙂