Friday, April 5, 2013

Developing more curious minds

Barell, J. (2003). Developing more curious minds. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

This book jumped out to me with the title alone.  It seemed like the content would be right on with my action research around cultivating curiosity.  The book started off in this vein and then transitioned into a guide on inquiry in classrooms.  Although I plan on using inquiry, I was a bit disappointed that this book didn’t continue to look at the effects of inquiry lessons on the intrinsic quality of curiosity in students.  I will talk more about that later.  First, I would like to go chapter by chapter and talk about the things that did strike me from this book.

Chapter 1:  A culture of inquisitiveness
“What we discover is that our culture in many respects does not value one of humankind’s most cherished gifts, the gift that separates us from other living creatures - our inquisitiveness. ” (p. 2)

“It seems as if at birth we are endowed with the mechanisms and dispositions to discover the world and to make it a meaningful place in which to live.  Without a desire to look, to explore by hand, mouth, eye, and ear, we would not grow up to be the human beings we are.” (p. 12)
The above quotes hit on the idea that curiosity is not always nurtured in our schools, yet it is an important part of being intellectual beings.  This first chapter mentions this several times, that teachers value inquiry yet are forced to put it on the sidelines due to standards and covering all of the content.

“It is significant that within our American scientific community there are expectations that all reasoning is to be challenged.  Part of being a scientist is knowing that whenever you draw conclusions, they are openly questioned.” (p. 9)
Just a quote to drive home the importance of inquiry, especially in the scientific world.  This is a message that I am getting from many of the books that I am reading.  It is difficult since the idea of “inquiry” always seems to default back to science, yet I am interested in curiosity as  a more general topic.

“We should be proud to say, “I don’t know!” Too often we are embarrassed by our ignorance. Unfortunately, schools do not always nurture that sense of being in a state of doubt and then searching for answers.” (p.15)
This is what I want my students to develop.  This sense of doubt and questioning.  I want them to be motivated by doubt.  I want them to feel the urge to fill that gap within them due to the lack of understanding.

Chapter 2:  Models of inquiry
This chapter served as a means to illustrate what inquiry may look like in a classroom.  None of the examples really resonated with me though until the end when they started talking about open ended inquiry lessons.

List of “dispositions” related to inquisitiveness:
  • Openness to Mystery and Novelty
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Collaboration with others
  • Empathy with others

“The world is not painted in black and white.  There are shades of gray to be investigated, nuances of meaning and subtleties of interpretation that invite our inquiries.” (p. 23)

“At the beginning of the year, [Barb Johnson] asks her students two powerful questions:
  • “What questions do you have about yourself?”
  • “What questions do you have about the world?”” (p. 31)
Those two questions I think hit on what I want the role of curiosity to be in my classroom.  I want it to motivate.  I believe that having students ask big questions like that will reveal topics that interest/motivate them and allow me to construct curriculum around them.  The difference in what I want to achieve is that the content (statistics) is the tool used to answer those questions.  The content is not the topic of inquiry as this book seems to suggest.

Chapter 3: Creating schools of inquiry
This chapter outlines the importance of developing a culture of inquiry.  Although I agree this is important, I did not like the way that the author approached it.  A lot of the stuff is also common sense or things we already do regularly in our schools to develop classroom cultures.

Chapter 4: The nature of good questions
This chapter I believe is important to the goals in my class.  The questions they ask is the insight that I will have into their level of curiosity.  This chapter showed me that there are two main things to look at when evaluating a question.  “What is the content of the question?” and “What type of thinking is going on with the question?”  The former is pretty simple.  What is the topic that they are asking about? The latter is slightly trickier.  It relates to Bloom’s Taxonomy and the different levels of thinking.  A question may be very surface level, looking for facts only, or a question may show a higher level of thinking which demonstrates that a student is truly delving into a topic and trying to figure out deeper meanings.

Chapter 5: Writing our curiosities
The main takeaway from this chapter is the idea of “Thinking Journals” (p. 84)  This is a method to allow students to ponder all of their curiosities and ask any questions that they have about anything.  I believe this is a great way to get students into the habit of inquiring and may be a great tool for observing the growth of student curiosity.

Chapter 6: Questioning texts
Little of importance

Chapter 7: An Intelligent Revolution
“If we educate students to become more active in the process of self-government, if we help them ask the kinds of questions that challenge authorities (in person, in books, and on the Internet), we would initiate an intelligent revolution within this country.” (p. 116)
Although I agree with this quote and think that inquiry is important as a habit for future generations, I do not think that this directly jives with my action research.  I chose this quote because I think it demonstrates Barell’s purpose for writing this book and pushing for inquiry in schools.  I feel that my purpose is not so heavy.

Chapter 8:  Inquiry- and Problem-Based Learning
This chapter outlines components of inquiry classrooms and provides several examples.  Not yet of much interest to me, but I should return to if I focus more on inquiry-based learning.

Chapter 9: Wisely using the World Wide Web
Little of importance

Chapter 10: Of museums and field notes
Little of importance

Chapter 11: How we assess our inquisitiveness
“My definition of imaginative thinking was based on the nature of play as a developmental phenomenon that involved intrinsic rewards (fun!), internal reality (you can make a block into a truck or doll), and an internal control (you were in charge and could create anything you wanted). My theory (derived from Erik Erikson) was that playing with blocks and toys in childhood became internalized during adolescence to consist of playing with ideas, exemplified by Einstein’s “combinatory play with ideas”.” (p. 190)
I chose this quote because it demonstrates my own thoughts that curiosity is a natural motivator for learning and something that can be built upon.

In order to assess inquisitiveness, we must define it.  Barell provides a list in this chapter.  Here are a few that stood out to me (p. 192):
  • Student persists in examinations and observations
  • Seeks out a wide variety of resources for projects
  • Is open to a wide variety of interpretations or points of view and ambiguities
  • Pokes, prods, and examines objects and phenomena at length
The rest of the chapter does little to give specifics on how to assess these things.  There was reference to authentic assessment, that I think we are always thinking about at HTH, and assessing the quality of our conclusions based on our evidence.  I think that this will be my focus in statistics.  I will need to assess the ability of students to use statistics to make logical conclusions.

Chapter 12:  The power of leadership
Little of importance

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