In this research project, we sought participant responses to the question, “What tools and strategies are you using in your classroom to cultivate student curiosity?” This data was collected from the Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning conference held in Detroit, Michigan, in March 2019, at the Michigan State University’s Master’s of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program booth. Participants were informed that their responses were being collected and used by MAET students and would be made public in the form of a podcast. If they wished, they could share their name and contact information, but it was not required. 34 people submitted responses during the conference and these clips ranged from two sentences to several minutes of dialogue.
With this study, we sought to provide a description of the ways teachers are cultivating curiosity in the classroom. This is a descriptive study and we are using qualitative methods to look for trends in the data to discover how this group of participants are cultivating curiosity in their classrooms.
As we looked at commonalities within the data, we decided upon 6 broad categories which reflected the trends in the data. These six categories are:
Digital Tools was defined as integration of any digital technology tools in the classroom to cultivate curiosity. It could be an app, a program, tech-based games, etc. Participants used terms for specific digital tools such as “Google Earth,” “Screencastify,” “YouTube,” and “FlipGrid.”
Evidence of Learning was defined as systems teachers use to analyze students’ growth and performance through a multitude of different mediums. Participants used terms for ways in which students demonstrate their thinking to others including: “their photography or their films,” “provide a physical model of their thinking,” and “asking kids to show me what they learned.”
Collaboration is defined as students working/discussing or sharing their work with each other. Participants used phrases such as “small collaboration groups and then large group discussions,” and “technology to collaborate”
Student Voice/Choice is defined as allowing students to have a say in the learning process and allowing students to have a say in the learning process. One participant gave the example that “…in trying to take the emphasis off of grades we were able to really put the emphasis on learning and curiosity and asking questions.”
Content is defined here as addressing specifically how teachers are incorporating their content area into cultivating curiosity and or specific skills that can relate to a content area. Some participants discussed “reading the book To Kill a Mockingbird,” while another shared that “”…another way is through genius hour projects where they are learning research skills and collaboration skills..”
Approach is defined here as addressing specifically how teachers are incorporating their content area into cultivating curiosity and or specific skills that can relate to a content area. Participants shared that “…they love it when I stand back and am a curious observer of their own creation process;” while another participant felt it is important for students “to be bored…;” and a third felt creativity is cultivated “just asking the question, “Why?”
We reviewed each participant’s statement and located data points looked at the frequency that each category was represented. With this information, we were able to draw conclusions about how this group of participants cultivates curiosity in the classroom. Teaching approaches and pedagogy was referenced by 61% of participants. The second-most commonly referenced category was student voice/choice at 41%. It is important to note that the percentages do not equal 100% because each category was not mutually exclusive. In fact, most participants shared several ways they cultivate curiosity and covered several categories.
The majority of participants stated that their own pedagogical approach and instructional strategies are a way in which they cultivate curiosity in their classrooms. By “stand[ing] back and…[being] a curious observer of their own creation process,” teachers cultivate student curiosity, but also “hold them to a very high standard for their creations.” With the second highest category being Student Voice/Choice, one possible conclusion is that classroom conditions for curiosity are at their best when teachers approach lessons with an aim to give students a voice and choice in their learning. By giving up control in this area, teachers become co-learners and embark on a journey of learning together.
This study is limited by the type of participant that was included in the data. All participants were attendees at a conference which attracted teachers and school leaders passionate about technology integration in the classroom. This may have led to a great number of participants referencing a specific digital technology tool (41%) that they feel is having a positive impact on their classroom environment.
IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE
To continue this research, we could follow up with each participant and clarify statements to make sure our interpretation matches their intent. It would be helpful to conduct a literature review of other studies that have conducted similar research among other groups of adults to see if the categories we used in this study aligns with other research. It would be interesting to focus future research on the top two categories (approach, student voice/choice) and learn more about the kinds of approaches and learning theories are most effective in cultivating curiosity. This research could also be extended by surveying students about the times when they are most engaged in activities that spark their curiosity. Do these moments occur in specific environments or with specific individuals? There are a wide variety of options for continuing research.