Guest Blogger! K Griffiths: Curiosity and Coronavirus

So, week one of Coronavirus shutdown arrives.  I go about setting work on Google classroom for all my classes. Check.  Reply to emails.  Check.  Eat lunch (important).  Check.  Finish a project that I had been working on.  Check.  And… now what?

As I look ahead at the vast expanse of the week ahead, I feel lost.  My norm is staring at my page long ‘To Do’ list and clamour for time so that I can start ticking things off this list.  And yet, now I have all the time… and very little to fill it.  So, I think to myself, how can I make this time valuable?  The lightbulb goes on – I can finally catch up with all the TES magazines that I never have time to read.

So, I start reading a relatively recent edition (you don’t want to know how big the backlog pile is) and am instantly intrigued by the editorial by Ed Dorrell.  He talks about how during the cholera pandemic in 1854, it was down to curiosity by John Snow (the physician, not of Game of Thrones) that breakthroughs were made in tracing the outbreak of the deadly disease.  If he had not been curious, thousands more would certainly have died.  He revolutionised the field of epidemiology (which we must be grateful for now, more so than ever what with COVID-19 spreading so quickly) because of curiosity.  And when I reflect on my own subject, where would science be without curiosity?  Nowhere.  We rely on curiosity for all advancements and progress.  It will be our students today that we are relying on to become the next John Snows (again, the physician).  Further, I reflect – do I think that all of my students have the curiosity and resilience to achieve this?  Hmm, perhaps.  I scoot along to the research article written by Chris Parr.

At first, I find myself despairing as I read that researchers and psychologists struggle to even agree on a definition of curiosity.  Definitions such as that from citing curiosity as ‘the desire to learn or know about anything’ don’t cover the scope required in education.  It doesn’t encompass how this can be measured or impacted.  If we can’t even say what it is, how can we foster and nurture it?  I falter even more when I read that research suggests that a child’s ‘trait curiosity’ (natural inquisitiveness) may already be heavily influenced by the age of 4 – long before they arrive to me.

However, some things provide me with food for thought.  Here are my 3 nuggets:

1.Information-gap theory

Curiosity often stems from wanting to resolve a gap in our knowledge – which surely works out great for us as we are constantly showing students the gaps in their knowledge, right?  Wrong.  Whilst some students may be exhilarated and leap at the chance to fill in that gap, others will not – the gap is too daunting.  Students prefer different size gaps, with different levels of scaffolding provided in order to cross that gap.  For some, if the gap is too large or too little support provided, they become anxious and switch off.  What’s more, the article reminds us that a student will not be curious about all things – someone who delves into a new concept in science may do the opposite in history.

2.The unintended impact we have

Parr cites research from Engel who says that a common mistake by teachers is to expect all students to become curious about the same things.  It just won’t happen, but if we can help breed curiosity within each student about a few things then we are on the right lines.  However, we must also reflect as educators whether teaching practise naturally smothers curiosity.  If a child shows evidence of curious behaviour, do we tell them to stop and sit down?  Possibly regularly.

3.Curiosity fostering

So what can we do?  We want to build an atmosphere where it is encouraged to ask questions and that actually it can be really enjoyable and rewarding to find out new things.  We are warned by Jamie Jirout to avoid a “short-lived spark of curiosity”, but to have this built in as more of an attitude in our classrooms.  Teachers need to consider who may need some scaffolding for crossing the gap (not giving information/answers, but support for how to get there).  We as teachers need to model curiosity for the students and show them that we enjoy finding out about new things.

Offering students regular opportunities to investigate, experiment and ask questions about multifaceted or mystifying concepts is a good start point for fostering curiosity but we await further research to give us more useful implications for teaching.  I found the image below on Twitter (thank you @MrCleator) which turned the science curriculum into a series of questions instead of knowledge statements, which I think could be a brilliant resource to encourage curiosity.

We just need to make sure that we help the students ‘mind the gap’.


Published by Natalie Reed

Assistant Headteacher - Teaching & Learning

2 thoughts on “Guest Blogger! K Griffiths: Curiosity and Coronavirus

  1. Loving your science journey. I’ve just finished one for history and geography! Hopefully will have intended impact! Good work!
    I enjoyed reading your article!


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