I am about sixty pages into the book Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It by Ian Leslie at the recommendation of a colleague.
The book starts out talking about the difference between humans and apes. Leslie talks about how an ape might be curious about a computer or a person if placed in its enclosure.
However, an ape doesn’t wonder why a computer works or what kind of life experiences a human has had.
It is our capacity to wonder ‘why’ that is central to our humanity.
Later, Leslie talks about the difference between puzzles and mysteries. He says puzzles are of course, solvable. They have an answer. Whereas mysteries have, either many answers, or no concrete one at all.
Leslie says we have to know a little something about a topic for our curiosity to be piqued. And that often puzzles are connected to ‘Where’ and ‘When’ questions and mysteries to ‘How’ and ‘Why’ questions.
Finally, Leslie shares that the moment a puzzle is solved, is the same moment our curiosity dies.
I highly recommend the book and have been amazed since I began reading how often it has come up in work and everyday life.
In my work with Advanced Learning Partnerships and a large Virginia school district last week, this book came up during Learning Walks with technology coaches and administrators.
Before we began the walks, I had asked about the type of gaps that existed between ideal learning and current state learning. The concept of ‘fear’ came up more than once. Fear of failure, fear of test scores dropping, fear of being penalized for trying something new and it not being perfect right out of the gate, etc.
Afterwards, as we were reflecting about what we noticed during our walks, I asked the group to write down every question they might ask in a reflective discussion.
Some of the initial questions shared were things like:
What are the learning objectives?
Do students know the process?
Did students use podcasts to ____ or ____?
How is this being assessed?
Do students know what they are being graded on?
As we looked through our questions participants evaluated their questions through two lenses- fear and mystery.
We asked ourselves, are the questions we are asking helping to create conditions where fear has no safe harbor? Or are we asking questions that perpetuate that sense of fear?
Do our questions reflect puzzles...with a correct and definitive answer? Or do they honor the mystery and complexity of learning with more than one path and potentially more than one destination?
Some pretty powerful insights emerged as a result.
“What are the learning objectives?” is important for the lesson, sure. But it is uninspiring. What if we asked “Why does this learning matter?” or “How might students know and celebrate success?” instead.
What if instead of “Do students know what they are being graded on?” we asked, “Why are students motivated to engage with this learning?”
If our ability to wonder separates us as humans, how might we put wonder back into our questions?
When we tackle cultural shifts it is easy to get lured by the promise of major policy and structural changes.
What if something as simultaneously innocuous and powerful as our questions is a more impactful lever?
What change are you looking to make in your building or district?
How might curiosity lead?