By Joanie Farrow
Ever since I can remember, my mom would tuck me in bed, kiss me on the forehead and whisper “Lead with love.” Long after I grew up and had children of my own, that nighttime ritual continued with a phone call or a text from my mom. When I had my own children I began the same tradition with a little modification; “Lead with love. Stay curious.”
I have always been a bit obsessed with restoring kids’ ability to wonder in school. We are living in an age of complexity, with a global pandemic, rapid technological changes, growing indifference, and ever increasing demands on teachers. Recently I was asked to dive into that complexity and shift from being a math Teacher on Special Assignment to teaching a remote sixth grade class. I had 48 hours to prepare and I was nervous. In 20 years of teaching I had never taught students remotely. I worried about all of the uncertainties and complexities - how would I make this experience joyful and meaningful? As my anxiety and deep sense of being overwhelmed grew, I decided to approach the new journey of keeping my students engaged, motivated, and learning in a remote environment by trusting that if I led with love and fostered curiosity, the rest would come.
Did You Know There Is a CQ?
We have all heard of IQ and EQ. IQ stands for intellectual quotient and refers to mental ability and EQ stands for emotional quotient and concerns our ability to perceive, control, and express emotions. But did you know there is an equally important CQ? CQ, or the curiosity quotient, measures an individual’s desire to know. Knowing there was a lack of student driven curiosity in my past face to face classrooms, I became deeply focused on the importance fostering students’ desire to know in the remote environment. According to the Harvard review, “CQ concerns having a hungry mind. People with higher CQ, or intellectual curiosity, are more inquisitive and open to new experiences. They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist.” CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, especially in formal education (Chamorro-Premuzic, T. , 2014). Many researchers contend that not only does intellectual curiosity make a big difference in learner outcomes, but it also increases overall happiness. So, not only is curiosity linked to better memory and job prospects – it also makes people happier! People who are curious report increased levels of satisfaction and mental well-being (Leslie, 2015).
Ways to Foster Curiosity in the Remote Environment
Although IQ is hard to coach, CQ can be developed. A strong sense of curiosity is the key to student engagement, motivation and developing a lifelong passion for learning. If students are curious, engagement and motivation issues are naturally resolved. This became an important daily goal in my remote classroom. There are numerous ways to foster curiosity in the remote classroom. Here are a few that worked for me.
Science - Begin each topic with a phenomena - Students’ attention is instantly focused when we share the experience of viewing a truly unique scientific phenomena. A phenomenon is simply an observable event. In the science classroom a carefully chosen phenomenon can drive student inquiry. It leads to questions, speculations, and energy you can feel through the screen. Mondays in my virtual classroom became phenomena time, and even the sleepiest of students never missed a Monday morning science class. The phenomena became a launch pad for asynchronous science weekly work, where students did quality problem based learning on their own and couldn't wait to come back together on Fridays and share what they learned and created.
Math - Start with curiosities, puzzlements, logic, riddles etc. We began every single daily lesson with these. Students loved starting math with an atypical math problem, sharing their thinking and asking questions. They learned to love slowing down and enjoying the challenge of maybe only one right answer but so many ways to find it! The few times I tried to skip this and dive right into a mini-lesson, my students were quick to protest.
ELA - Read aloud. No matter what the age of your students, read aloud to them. My students couldn’t wait to curl up with a blanket or a pet or both and listen to the next chapter. This is how I ended my ELA sessions and students looked forward to it. Sometimes we read more than one chapter; and sometimes I stopped in the middle of a chapter. I started each session by having a student share their summary of where we ended the day before. Then we all shared our predictions for what would come next - myself included! Through purposefully questioning and intentionally letting students do the talking before, during, and after a read aloud, my students slowly believed in their ability to wonder in the remote environment. Through daily read alouds we bonded; we shared our predictions and feelings, laughed, cried, and imagined.
Social Studies - Take virtual field trips. Yes we read, and we wrote, and students created amazing projects - but what kept them curious? Inspired? Motivated? Virtual field trips! Take them with your students during synchronous time so you can share the experience in real time. Student choice is key to curiosity. I allowed students to add to our classroom playlist of virtual field trips they would like to take. During the virtual experiences, plan on pausing and reflecting live about what they saw, heard and felt.
My Wish For You...
Albert Einstein famously said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” My experience left me with a renewed appreciation of the impact curiosity has on student engagement, participation, motivation, and overall happiness. When I close my eyes, I can see my now 18 year old daughter when she was two wandering around the house kissing each cat and dog on the forehead and whispering “Lead with Love” and “Stay Curious.” The pets seemed to get it. My remote students got it. My daughter is still curious. And so that is my wish for you...lead with love and keep your students curious. Happy Thanksgiving, Jeffco teachers! I am grateful for you, and the entire Jefferson County community is grateful for you.
For more tips and resources that I used for relevant k-12 phenomena, read alouds, math puzzles and virtual field trips, check out the links below.
The Wonder of Science
Would You Rather?
100 Best Read Alouds
Discovery Ed Virtual Trips
The Nature Conservancy
Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2014). Curiosity is as important as intelligence. Harvard Business Review,24(4), 166–171.
Leslie, Ian. Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. Basic Books, 2015.
Curriculum & Instruction