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School Stories

Chasing Curiosity: The Secret Sauce of Learning

By Parthenia Williams, Associate Head of Lower School, and Kathy Riley, Lower School Counselor
Have you ever wondered if whales sleep? We hadn’t either, but once the question was posed and we saw how it piqued the interest of our Lower School students, we couldn’t resist searching for an answer. This type of curiosity invites engagement and makes learning more effective and enjoyable. According to cognitive scientist and researcher Elizabeth Bonawitz, “Curiosity acts as a kind of filter you put over the world to help the mind decide what information to attend to." 
She says, “It’s a physiological response that helps drive action and decision-making to support learning.” Young children are naturally curious, and at Graland, we try to provide an environment where they feel they can ask questions and have the necessary support to guide their explorations. 

This year, Graland students will be exploring the character and community attributes of curiosity, empathy, adaptability, responsibility, and agency. Students will be introduced to each attribute at Lower School assemblies with follow-up lessons and conversations occurring in classrooms and during buddy activities. In September, Lower School students were introduced to the attribute CURIOSITY. We’ve explored how asking questions and using active listening skills helps us to learn more about ourselves, our community, and the world. 

The world of elementary classrooms is filled with curiosity and wonder. Recently, we had the opportunity to visit second-grade classrooms. In Mrs. Justine Hall’s class, the students were learning about the difference between a statement and a question. She created a lesson involving the students to post sticky notes with questions on wonder walls. The wonder walls hung all around the room with questions the students wanted to learn. There was a sense of exploration and excitement. They were curious. Mrs. Hall knew that to fire up and foster student’s curiosity she needed to encourage her students to ask questions, try to answer them, and seek information. The students were having a blast. Mrs. Hall’s class provided space for authentic meaning and emergent experiences. Second grader Charlie Y. wrote a question about rockets. “How do rockets fly? He has always wanted to learn more about how rockets work. The next step in the lesson was for him to use the digital Encyclopedia of Britannica to research his answer and then, with a different sticky note, put the answer to the inquiry under the question. The wonder wall was bursting with information. When we were exploring their walls, we grew more curious each time we read a question. “Why do puppies have fur?” “Why do pandas love to eat bamboo, and who made the Great Wall of China?” Mrs. Hall had opened a world for her students to pursue curiosity by helping them figure out what they want to know and then showing them how to systematically go about getting the answers to their investigations and explorations.  

In another second-grade classroom, Ms. Jessica Williams’ class explored their classroom community. “What were they noticing about their classmates?” “How could they be supportive of one another?” “Who was going to be their sixth-grade buddy?” “What were they like?” Before seeing their buddies, they created a wonder wall. “What is their favorite food?” “Do they have siblings?” “What do they love to do in school?” Second grader Kate P. was so excited to meet her sixth-grade buddy, Hazel. She learned so much about her. Kate was surprised that she is a twin, loves chocolate cake, and has a hamster who loves to eat Oreos. When seeing Hazel around campus, it makes her feel happy. She feels a connection with her and looks forward to the next meeting. Kate is curious about what Hazel is doing in sixth grade and said it was fun listening and asking her questions. She wonders, “What will I learn next?”

Our hope is that throughout a student’s journey at Graland, they will come to internalize these attributes and behaviors, curiosity, and active listening, which will lead them on a path to becoming engaged, lifelong learners. And if you’re wondering if whales sleep, go ask a Graland Lower School student! 

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.