Using Curiosity to Learn More "Boring" Information

A study on curiosity and how it may support using students' interests in other contexts (such as word problems)

Photo of Jessica Lura
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One thing that many teachers do is to rewrite stories and word problems to include student interests. A bored student in class? Find out what he or she likes and write word problems using that interest as the main topic. Word problems about horses--does it lead to a more interested student? Does he or she learn more about word problems? 

What role does curiosity play in engaging students in ALL subject matter--not just the ones they are passionate about? 

Well, an article on from October 27, quotes a study from October 2014, that examines what is happening when someone is curious and how this has the potential to impact education

What’s Going on Inside the Brain Of A Curious Child? By Maanvi Singh, OCTOBER 27, 2014

From the article (quoting the study on curiosity):

"The researchers were surprised to learn that curious brains are better at learning not only about the subject at hand, but also other stuff — even incidental, boring information.

“Say you’re watching the Breaking Bad finale,” Ranganath explains. If you’re a huge fan of the show, you’re certainly really curious to know what happens to its main character, Walter White.“You’ll undoubtedly remember what happens in the finale,” he says, but you might also remember what you ate before watching the episode, and what you did right after.

This is a phenomenon teachers can use to their advantage in the classroom, says Evie Malaia, an assistant professor at the Southwest Center for Mind, Brain and Education at the University of Texas at Arlington. 

“Say a kid wants to be an astronaut,” she says. “Well, how do you link that goal with learning multiplication tables?” A teacher may choose to ask her class an interesting word problem that involves space exploration, Malaia says.

At the end of the class, students may remember the answer to the word problem, but they’ll also remember how they found the answer through multiplication.

How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

It speaks to spark curiosity (or at least a greater interested/learning in) in subjects/activities that a student is not necessarily curious about.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • All of the above

1 comment

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Photo of Cole Godvin

Hi Jessica,
Thanks so much for posting information about this study. When developing cutting-edge and progressive curricula it can be so helpful to have numbers to back up the progressive approach.
The Nueva School