Deep Noticing

By challenging students to notice deeply, we can build curiosity.

Photo of Lisa Yokana

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High school students don't notice deeply. They look at art work, documents or their surroundings for a few seconds and think that they've seen all they need. Without close observation, it is difficult to be curious about anything. So I create challenges that demand that they look closely in order to successfully complete the challenge. Here's an example from my architecture class. I ask students to map their route through school for one full day. They must show me in a 2D way the path that they took through the building complete with observations about their surroundings like the height of a room or how much light enters the room through the windows at the time of day they are there. Most people don't see the environment they inhabit and without deep noticing they can't identify opportunities to improve it. So I ask students to create this annotated map in any format that conveys their experience. They must "see" the physical space in their heads in order to put it down on paper. And I don't show them examples of past, successful projects. I want them to dream it up themselves. Often, they get mad at me because I won't show them how to do it. "Just tell me what you want," is a familiar lament. And they get frustrated when I make them take their drawing out into the building to check and make sure it's correct, when I know it's not. But gradually they learn to look closely. And notice their surroundings. And then they come into class with statements like, "You know what I noticed today, there's a really cool gargoyle in the second floor lobby." Or, "The third floor has a narrower hallway and it makes traffic jam up between classes." They begin to notice their surroundings, identify problems and then they are ready to look for solutions. 

How does this idea help to spark student curiosity?

By creating experiences that slow students down and make them notice, they can identify opportunities for change.

What grade level is this idea most appropriate for?

  • High School (9-12)

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Photo of Lisa Yokana

Another thought: this could be tweaked for elementary and middle school by making the challenge simpler. For instance, you could ask students to draw the front of their house, or their path to school in the morning if they walk, or the interior plan (bird's eye view) of their house or apartment. It could also be that you give them an object and let them look at it for a short period of time, two minutes say, and then take it away and ask them to draw it. Don't tell them beforehand that they will have to draw it. Then give them a different object and ask them to draw it. You will find that the second set of drawings is much more detailed. Or instead of drawing an object, you could ask them to work in groups and identify as many observations as possible in five minutes. Use Agency by Design's "Parts, Purposes and Complexities" ( to get them to look closely!

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