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To the extent that we can give a brief answer to the question of where novel ideas come from, it's curiosity. That's what people are usually feeling before having them.
Everyone I know who's independent-minded is deeply curious, and everyone I know who's conventional-minded isn't. Except, curiously, children. All small children are curious. Perhaps the reason is that even the conventional-minded have to be curious in the beginning, in order to learn what the conventions are. Whereas the independent-minded are the gluttons of curiosity, who keep eating even after they're full.
Have you ever wondered why some people are enthusiastic lifelong learners, while others lose interest in learning as they grow older? What is the secret ingredient that keeps some students engaged in the learning process, while others feel bored and disinterested?
The answer is curiosity.
High curiosity is a superpower that can enhance the learning experience. And some would argue, as Paul Graham does above, that curiosity is the key trait that predicts a person’s ability to innovate by coming up with novel ideas.
At Prisma, we believe so strongly in the importance of curiosity in creating future innovators that it is one of the core four traits (called the “Prisma Powers”) that we hope to build in learners.
We believe curiosity is just as important as any one school subject, because having a curious mind means continuous learning. In a world changing as rapidly as our own, where people must constantly adapt and learn, this is a vital capacity.
In this post, we will explore the importance of curiosity and how we can build it in learners, using insights from neuroscience, the education field, and our curriculum.
Curiosity is the desire to seek new information and experiences.
Intellectual curiosity is a natural human trait that has been studied by scientists and philosophers for centuries. According to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, curiosity is "the feeling of being drawn towards something because it is interesting, novel, or challenging".
Having a curious mind is not just about being interested in the subject matter, but it is also about the willingness to ask questions and seek answers. Think about the person you know who always questions the status quo, defies convention, and falls down “rabbit holes” researching areas of interest.
Curious people share several common traits. They are open-minded, observant, and willing to take risks. They have a thirst for knowledge, and are not afraid of making mistakes. In the 5-factor model of personality, they would be high in openness.
Curiosity is associated with higher levels of well-being, better problem-solving skills, and more significant academic achievement. Research has also shown that curious people have higher levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.
Curiosity is essential for learning because it motivates learners to explore new information and ideas. When students are curious, they are more engaged in the learning process.
Neuroscience backs this up, too. A 2014 study by the University of California, Davis, found that when people are curious about a topic, their brains are primed to learn not only about the subject itself but also incidental information. When participants were more curious about a question, they were able to better recall both the answer and the unrelated photograph that preceded it. The research suggests that by piquing student curiosity, educators can prepare students to better remember what they’ve learned!
Research has also shown that curiosity is associated with better academic performance, critical thinking skills, and student engagement.
Curiosity prepares learners for the challenges of daily life. In a world that is constantly changing, learners who are curious and adaptable are better equipped to handle new situations and solve problems creatively. Curiosity also encourages learners to explore their interests and passions, which can lead to fulfilling careers and personal growth.
Despite the many benefits, the traditional education system largely deprioritizes building student curiosity.
Traditional schools stifle curiosity by:
There are some promising approaches in education that better foster curiosity in the learning environment than the traditional model:
There are many practical ways to build and support curiosity in learners. Here are a few tips:
By incorporating these ideas into the learning environment, you can help to build and support curiosity in learners, which can lead to better learning outcomes and lifelong learning.
In a world of infinite information, pure curiosity is not enough. There are certain skills learners need to be able to apply their curiosity. When you ask a question and type it into Google or ChatGPT, how do you know what to do with the answers you receive?
At Prisma, we define Applied Curiosity as the practice of harnessing one's natural curiosity to ask great questions and find the answers.
At Prisma, we develop Applied Curiosity by teaching:
By developing these skills, learners can apply their curiosity to real-world problems and challenges, which can lead to greater innovation, creativity, and success.
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