Third Curiosity and Learning Conference Inspires Teachers

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Educators paint with a giant roller at Wheelock's Curiosity ConferenceWheelock College’s third annual Curiosity and Learning Conference brought more than 130 educators from all over New England, as well as New York, Chicago, and Denver, to Wheelock’s Boston campus on October 28, 2017, for a high-energy day of hands-on learning.

“This is the third time I have attended this conference,” said one veteran early childhood educator. “But I have to say that the first conference changed my teaching life completely—it blew me away.”

Veteran Educator describes his experience at the conference
Download a Quicktime video of this veteran educator describing his experience at the conference

What is it about the opportunity for educators to play, wonder, and mess about with materials?  Did we forget how important it is to play? Did we forget how important it is to use all our senses to figure out how things work?

Rolling in a tube, cutting open a squash, drawing uninterrupted lines on a group piece of art, weaving, sewing, dancing, building. Dr. Diane Levin, Wheelock Professor of Early Childhood, reminded us at the conference’s opening talk about the importance of play and being unconnected to digital devices and instead interacting with others.

This conference, held October 28, 2017 on Wheelock’s Boston campus, was inspired by the philosophy of David and Frances Hawkins that nurtures curiosity and wonder in both educators and their students. At the conference, educators are encouraged to mess about with materials to make connections, apply meaning, and ask and explore questions.

What do you experience when you have time to mess about with materials with wonder and curiosity?

We welcome your comments and photos! Leave a comment here or email us at curiosityconference@wheelock.edu.

Stephanie Cox SuarezCuriosity and Learning Conference organizer Stephanie Cox Suarez is Associate Professor of Special Education and Director of the Documentation Studio at Wheelock College. Visit the Curiosity and Learning Conference website at wheelock.edu/curiosityconference.

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  1. During the third Curiosity and Learning conference at Wheelock on October 28th, I was again fortunate to be both attendee and station presenter. When I entered the conference this year, I was considering mindsets. In particular, I was thinking about how each attendee brought a cumulative set of experiences and understanding and how these influence and frame the ways we each “see” our world. I wondered what others were curious about, if not now, as adults, then perhaps when they were children. I wondered if some people might hesitate to express curiosity and perhaps struggle to play with materials offered this year.

    In many ways this third event was similar, overall, to the previous two conferences, but it seems my own participation was different. I didn’t visit as many stations this year as before, but I noticed, as during the earlier conferences, that I was strongly drawn to some and then hardly at all to others. It was clear to me that my inherent interests and curiosities pulled me to particular stations. For instance, I happen to collect small things. I like to look at small things. I make small things. So when I came upon a station that had a set of teeny screwdrivers that were being used to disassemble parts of smart phones and computers, I was fascinated—immediately pulled toward this miniature world with all its tiny parts. Incredibly magnetic.

    Open display of curiosity is not something I’ve seen too often in adults, even given that we all enter the world with body and mind at the ready to figure things out—to question—really from the get go. Curiosity is part of our being. Questioning drives us to investigate, wonder, and experiment in order to create a living understanding. In my mind, this biological drive is not with us so that we stockpile information and facts, but so we–grow secure about our place in our world. This understanding then allows us to continue with new questions and curiosities, which again broadens and/or deepens our engagement in our world. It seems as long as we remain curious, we have potential to continue learning—to build and grow—to construct.

    Curiosity seems wrapped in a question that begins with “I wonder…” And so, I wonder why it seems that so many of us stop being openly curious? And why is it so hard to embrace the learning that comes from curiosity, particularly in school settings? Do we become worried that we will somehow be embarrassed in making our questions public? Have we accepted that if we have a question, we are not “educated?” Is a knowledgeable and respected person one who carries around answers and not questions?

    So much of our formal educational systems involve working toward finding answers to questions that someone else has already answered. And I believe that both intentionally and unintentionally, we create situations where learners learn is to stop asking questions—that an individual’s questions do not hold value and can actually get in the way of the “program.” On a number of occasions, I’ve seen very young children, even as young as two years old, shut down and become anxious or outright fearful because their own curiosities or thinking had been met with a negative response at best, as in “you’re wrong, that’s not the way it works,” to outright ridicule, as in “how can you ask such a stupid question?” or “only a dumb person would ask a question like that!” My personal favorite? “What is wrong with you?!”

    It is so clear to me that one of the earliest realizations for a child is the importance of giving a “teacher” the answer the teacher wants. This creates the potential for questioning to become buried. Curiosity can fizzle and ultimately die. And with the death, the learner loses an internal, intrinsic, very valuable part of himself—a part that embraces and defines who he is. When learning becomes “tell me what you want me to know, and I’ll show you that I know what you want me to know, a system is created in which the child spends energy on working toward Other. This takes away time and energy for personal wonderings—for Self.

    And yet it’s hard to argue that there is so much learning—really applicable learning—that happens from questioning. It’s fascinating to think of all the answers waiting on questions that have yet to be formed–questions that will help us to be in our future.

    Chris Anderson, the curator of TED Conferences, has this to say about his own questioning:

    “Most…questions [from childhood] puzzle me more now than ever, but diving into them is exciting, because it takes you to the edge of knowledge, and you never know what you’ll find there.”

    In the vimeo Curious by Nature, Kate Kato, a paper sculptor and naturalist says:

    “I think it’s good to be curious. You learn a lot when you are a curious person.”

    Her story is very interesting, and it’s clear that she has maintained curiosity and learned a great deal over many years. She notes this about herself:

    “When I’m interested in something like the plants and the beetles, I just need to know everything about them, and I think what I do with my work is I sort of document my knowledge, so whenever I discover a new species of something and I really like it, I’ll go and make it. And then that’s it. I know everything about that species and it’s sort of like, I don’t know, it must lodge it in my brain somehow.”

    How wonderful is this?

    Now I’m really curious about how she was supported and if/how her formal schooling embraced her curiosity.

    I think I will ask her. No. I’ll ask her.

    And wouldn’t it be fascinating to collect stories about individuals’ curiosities…when they were children…or as adults??

    I wonder…what is YOUR wonder?

    Links:
    https://www.exploratorium.edu/education/ifi/constructivist-learning
    https://www.ted.com/talks/questions_no_one_knows_the_answers_to

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    https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_firestein_the_pursuit_of_ignorance

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