Just curious.

5th Grade Social Studies teacher Connie Fink is starting her year with a new approach to sparking curiosity in her students. She keeps a blog over at http://finkteach.blogspot.com/. Connie believes that blogging is not only a fun way to share and record her experiences teaching and learning, but writing openly about goals, expectations, and experiments with new ideas adds a bit of accountability to her plans and big ideas. (Find her on Twitter, too: @FinkTeach)
Her latest post features a look at each of the the new techniques, apps, and sites she’ll use each day of the week. Check it out, and then go look at some of her other posts and ideas on her blog.
Are you trying something new this year? Do you have questions about finding new ways to spark curiosity in your students? Do you have plans to add new interactive sites or apps in your curriculum this year? Share, comment, and question below!

Sparking Curiosity in the Classroom Daily!

Always aiming to create an engaging learning environment, I kicked off my summer learning by reading The Curious Classroom by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels. Smokey mentions that it’s “often acknowledged that kids’ curiosity somehow disappears by about fourth grade.” Smokey totally hits the mark with this book! He provides easy to implement ideas that are sure to ignite student curiosity way beyond the fourth grade.

Questions are at the core of all of the structures Smokey provides in his book. He suggests that in order to build empathy and a sense of justice, we have students ask “Where do we fit in?” (identity) and “What can we do to help?” (power).  Falls perfectly right in line with my focus of the “identity” and “power” themes I plan to carry out this year. Most of the inquiry models featured are short, five to twenty minutes to a couple of days in length where students use research skills and strategies before digging into a long inquiry unit. Grades and rubrics are not suggested for these types of experiences. Below, I’ve shared some recommendations I plan to try out in my classroom.

Wonder Wall or Notebook 

Provide students with a place to record questions and wonders as they occur throughout the day. Then, reserve time once a week for students to explore these questions during a Wonder Workshop. Students with similar topics can be placed into small teams. However, working independently is fine too. During the workshop, students read articles and record their new learning to share with other classmates. Each member of the groups has to contribute at least one piece of new learning. Students are encouraged to take notes, make illustrations, or create diagrams in order to share their learning/thinking.

Soft Starts

The concepts involves reserving the first 10-15 minutes of class for a quite time so students can explore topics of interest, consider it a scaled down Genius Hour session. It’s a way to begin your inquiry based class in a peaceful and individualized manner. The main idea of these soft starts are that they are simple and repeatable, paving the way for further inquiry. There are different ways to implement this concept. Here is how I plan to structure my “soft start” themes:

MondaysNew York Times “What’s going on in this picture?” Use the provided prompts or simply do a See Think Wonder thinking routine with the class. You will be amazed how much time can be spent analyzing one picture! On Fridays, the details of the photo is revealed.

Tuesdays: “Talking Tuesdays” Students read an article, typically related to an upcoming unit, that’s simply meant for pleasure reading. As they read, they mark important, interesting or puzzling details. Newslea and Commonlit are great sources for these types of articles.

Another option I’m considering is “Traveling Tuesdays.” I am dropping my geography unit and plan to integrate it throughout all of my units. Darcy Nidey, a fourth grade teacher featured in Smokey’s book, incorporates a “destination jar” in her class. She asks the students on the first week of school to “think about the one place in the whole wide world that they would most like to visit someday.” Students record their personal dream destinations and drop it in a jar. Every Tuesday, Darcy pulls out a destination slip. This becomes a whole-class inquiry. Students are given a couple of minutes to take notes on a four-quadrant note-taking form recording:

  1. what they already know about the place
  2. some questions they have about it

Quickly, Darcy requests their research topics so she can partner them up with another student.  Then, a Padlet page is opened with boxes labeled for each research team’s name & topic. Students move on to the other two boxes on the note-taking form to fill in information from at least two other different sources. The final step is to synthesize the most important information they have learned and type it up in the Padlet to share with the class.

Wednesdays: “Wonderopolis Wednesdays” Students read, listen to the article, watch the video clip and/or record questions. These questions can be springboards for future inquiries. Another website similar to Wonderopolis to checkout is the The Curiosity Workshop.

Thursdays“Throwback Thursdays” A fifth-grade teacher, Julie Eisenhauer, in Smokey’s book projects a primary source using Padlet. Once projected, students can post virtual stickies of their thinking. Students work in groups of four or five to process the image posting questions, responding to each other, and sharing theories. This is a wonderful opportunity to highlight content that may not be part of my curriculum. I think This Day in History would be a good source and quick way (one minute videos) to implement this theme.  Of course there is no shortage of digital primary sources either, the Library of Congress is a good place to start.

Fridays: “Friday Headlines” A perfect way to catch up and discuss what’s going on in the world. There also always seems to be a historical connection we can make to the content we are learning in class. Again Newsela is a good source for current events. Also, try checking out TweenTribune. Students LOVE the Week in Rap. While it’s the only source I’ve provided in this post that’s not free, it is well worth the subscription cost.


Leave a Reply