Academia · Contemporary Pedagogy · Coursework

Did curiosity kill the cat?

In my first blog post for this course, I see it only fit to reference my favorite blog on education: Math With Bad Drawings by Ben Orlin. (I expect I will reference it a number of times in this course.)

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Unfortunate Metaphors for Teaching

If our current educational system is dry food, connected learning proposes to be cat nip.

Connected learning, as I understand from the videos we watched in class, is characterized by a deep curiosity that is encouraged and explored in the classroom, in discussions with friends and mentors, and in free time on the internet and in books.

Learning driven by curiosity can be addictive. In fact, it can drive us wild. It led me to read about the Estevez/Sheen family tree while watching West Wing last week. It led me to take a math class that was way over my head last semester. It’s also what has driven me to this point in my education and it continues to lead me on my path toward a career in academia.

I hope that most of us graduate students have felt this curiosity at some point. I hope that we can improve our educational systems to emphasize curiosity and connection. I hope that we as teachers can put away the dry food and find the cat nip.

How do we engage that curiosity? When was a time when you experienced unbridled curiosity? What helped it and/or killed it?

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8 thoughts on “Did curiosity kill the cat?

  1. Curiosity is what landed me in this and many other situations in life. I absolutely agree that curiosity is what should drive education, both the meaningful and frivolous endeavors. Unfortunately, as we discussed some last week, traditional education often stifles curiosity in the name of measuring learning outcomes. (btw, thanks for sharing your favorite education blog, I would have inserted this image https://mathwithbaddrawings.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/20160106084444_00006.jpg if I could have figured out how) I have three teenagers in middle school and high school, so I know this first hand. I think one of the biggest challenges for those of us that are planning academic teaching careers, is how to reignite this curiosity in kids who have had it beaten out of them for 12 years or more. I have seen some of my kids’ teachers attempt to build in creative learning activities, only to be met with groans and protests from the kids that it is not “real” teaching. A phenomena I believe is a close relative to “is this going to be on the test.” That said, my own curiosity has taught me to never back down from a challenge, so let’s see where this rabbit hole leads.

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  2. My curiosity was definitely piqued by this post! I am delighted to discover Math With Bad Drawings and will become a regular visitor there for sure! “Learning driven by curiosity can be addictive.” Couldn’t agree more! And our networked world puts so much at my disposal. I’m much more limited by time (hours in the day) than I am by opportunity at this point. For example, this weekend I saw this notice for a free MOOC on Tensor Flow, Google’s Deep Learning platform, and thought — YES, I’m going to do that! (http://www.fastcompany.com/3055814/fast-feed/google-is-offering-a-free-online-class-about-deep-learning).
    Actually, I’m not. Just not enough hours in the day. But knowing that this is out there, and that I could give it a try is really enticing and encouraging.

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  3. Great points! I definitely think that triggering the curiosity of learners is a great way to let them explore and learn things “on their own”. I think that most of the things that I have learned out of curiosity has stuck better with me. As an example, for the Contemporary Pedagogy class, we could have spent a few sessions learning about the basics of blogging and good blogs vs bad blogs etc. However, this class has been designed in a way to allow for connected learning to happen through reading some of the interfering blogs out of curiosity or for the requirement of the course. This process has definitely made me want to enhance my blog writing skills as I have been inspired by others. On the other hand in some classes when students ask questions out of curiosity, I have seen many times that professors are not really encouraging such question and want the students to just ask questions which are directly related to the context of the course! Curiosity is definitely encouraged in graduate school, however I would like to see undergraduate courses having such open frameworks.

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  4. The cat food metaphor is fantastic and thank you for sharing the “Math with Bad Drawings” site. Curiosity I feel like is key to developing a passion for learning in general. Curiosity has definitely lead me to pursuing a graduate degree. I think curiosity will also help me develop as a researcher. A big part of this I feel like is allowing the students to answer their own questions. Maybe by encouraging students to volunteer or pursue an internship to get involved in a hands on learning environment not specifically related to the university/school. I have had curiosity lead me to some strange places. One time my curiosity lead me to spend several months in a village in Burkina Faso, Africa to learn more about the culture. Although it was hard to communicate at times to the locals since they spoke their tribal language “Gorma,” I learned more than I ever would in a classroom. Without curiosity though I feel like we would remain in a standstill.

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    1. That’s amazing! I would love to hear more about your trip to Burkina Faso! I also really like the way you phrased that we should “allow students to answer their own questions.” I think that if we can get students to do this early, we can teach them to be better learners.

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  5. I agree with you that curiosity can be addictive. Curiosity has the good side that it forces you to learn more and more about even things you never thought in. However, it comes at the expense of wasting working or studying time. If you cannot stop yourself from digging after these information, you will find your self in trouble with a lot of delayed tasks. I say this, as I really have this problem. I could postpone my research tasks which are due in a week to read about the history of languages.

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    1. I think that this “time wasting” is really necessary, though! We just need to be careful about letting it getting away from us. There’s a really good article on the Chronicle called How to Teach in an Age of Distraction. It features this quote (of a quote):

      “A chemistry professor puts it this way: ‘In my class I want students to daydream. They can go back to the text if they missed a key fact. But if they went off in thought … they might be making the private connection that pulls the course together for them.'”

      I think that distraction can be a very good thing. And we’ve kind of lost the art of daydreaming as we constantly check our phones in moments of boredom.

      Count me on team time-wasting.

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