Richard Martin

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How do we cultivate curiosity?

During his TED talk Ramsey Musallam outlined his "3 rules to spark learning" as follows:

1. Curiosity comes first
2. Embrace the mess
3. Practice reflection

Of course, Ramsey had the classroom in mind when he came up with these rules but I feel as if workplaces and businesses can benefit from cultivating curiosity as well.

My Questions:
1. How do we make curiosity the focal point of classrooms and/or businesses?

2. What are some of your experiences? Have you ever had an awesome lecturer or teacher that really sparked your imagination? Has your workplace ever done something to welcome your creativity?

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    Nov 14 2013: Hi Richard,
    I never felt that I had to cultivate curiosity....curiosity cultivates (to foster the growth of) me!

    Kids are naturally curious. Then, as we grow, we are often told to "grow up", so we give up curiosity, as well as many other child-like characteristics, which people then spend a life time trying to reconnect with! I thought humans are supposed to be the most intelligent creatures on our earth??? LOL!

    I agree with Scott...there is no better way to encourage, teach and support something, other then modeling it....."BE" what we want to "SEE" in our world.

    I was very lucky to grow up with a mom who never lost touch with her humor, joy and curiosity, so I had it modeled for me from the time I was a wee little lass, until my mom died at 87, years of age.....still connected with the child parts of her "self", which included curiosity.

    My creativity and curiosity has been welcomed most of my life because being genuinely curious is joyful:>)
  • Nov 14 2013: Model it. There is no substitute.
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      Nov 15 2013: With modeling a practice, we explore and encourage it in ourselves, as well as all those we interact situation...I LOVE it:>)
      • Nov 16 2013: Infinite possibilities beyond which the mind might conceive :-)
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          Nov 16 2013: Yes indeed Scott!

          "Only as high as I reach can I grow,
          Only as far as I seek can I go,
          Only as deep as I look can I see,
          Only as much as I dream can I be...."
          (Karen Ravin)

          In my humble perception and experience, it is curiosity that supports the quest in a most delightful way:>)
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    Nov 14 2013: I agree with Colleen. I never had to cultivate curiosity, it just comes automatically for me. However, I'm aware that not everybody is like that.
    I think in order to cultivate curiosity in people for which it doesn't come naturally is exposing them to new and surprising things, ideas, concepts, etc.
    In that sense, TED is actually a good place to be.
    For example, if you teach mathematics, include things like the Fibonacci numbers (refer to the TED talk that was just published a few days ago). That's something that could awaken curiosity in people especially if you give them assignments of finding those numbers in nature.
    Teaching often is to theoretical and students often don't understand why they have to learn whatever they are thought. Often there is a disconnect between classroom teaching and real life applications and that's when curiosity starts to dry up.
    In the workplace it's not much different. I think it's important to keep employees challenged all the time. Give them new things to do. Don't allow them to fall into a routine. This stimulus keeps curiosity alive I think.
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      Nov 15 2013: Excellent point Harald....teaching is often theoretical, with a disconnect between classroom teaching and real life applications. We know that different people learn differently, and I am one who likes hands on experiences, rather than simply reading about something. So, I often felt stifled in a classroom. Thankfully, that experience did not totally crush my curiosity!

      I agree that it is not much different in other life is much more fun to encourage, reinforce and support curiosity. You know how kids are often asking why....why....why? Some folks get a little frustrated with that, and I believe it is something we can encourage. I still like asking is A connected with and why does that connect the "whole"? I think/feel that is how we cultivate curiosity:>)
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        Nov 15 2013: I painfully remember my English classes. We had to memorize vocabulary, read uninteresting texts and so on.
        It was awfully boring, let alone not very efficient in teaching a language.
        When I learned other languages later, I just immersed myself in the culture and basically learned the language automatically without feeling tortured. Learning that way, I never felt the need to memorize vocabulary and it was much more fun too.
        The same is true for mathematics. The theoretical teaching should be accompanied by practical applications that can be used on a daily basis.
        Not only would students see more meaning in learning stuff, but it's also much more fun.
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          Nov 16 2013: I agree Harald.....I don't like simply memorizing anything just for the sake of memorizing.....I prefer and enjoy applying information, and I also learn languages much easier when immersed in a culture.... enjoying and learning other things about the culture and people:>)
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    Nov 14 2013: "How do we cultivate curiosity?" is an outstanding question because it really goes to the heart of teaching and why we are teachers in the first place. As Ramsey Musallam puts it "it shouldn't take a life-threatening situation to move us from pseudo-teaching to teaching."Once passion is placed behind the right job, everything goes spectacularly. Teaching is a passion. When we love what we do, it is fun. I love all animals and for me the human child is the most remarkable and awesome creature that I have ever met on this Earth.. Children are naturally born with curiosity. We either provide the "safe" space for them to flourish or we create environments that constrict their natural wonders and squander the gifts they bring to humanity.

    "Every Child deserves a champion. We are born to make a difference."
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      Nov 14 2013: Your post triggered a thought. While there are likely some teachers who choose that profession because their educations don't lead them to any other work they would find more interesting, those who pursue teaching intentionally (rather than by default) typically are drawn to that career precisely because they are brimming with curiosity, are passionate about learning, and want to provide for students an environment that both allows them to feel those same exhilerating feelings and to learn to build a life in which they continue to gather stimulating learning experiences for perpetuity through their own initiative.

      Over a half century since I first set foot in a classroom, I feel and see the signs of Fall and immediately am overcome with the joy of the start of school, even though it has been a long time since I walked to school through falling leaves with my lunch sack.
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        Nov 14 2013: I love it:-) & totally relate to the special excitement of autumn and that familiar walk through the leaves…maybe that too adds to the joy of being a teacher…this time being there at the welcoming end of those curious new eyes and ushering beautiful new minds along their way.….Thank you!!
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          Nov 14 2013: I am unable to enlarge your avatar to see more clearly. Is that a baby elephant rolling on a soccer ball?
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        Nov 14 2013: yes♡ a baby elephant rolling on a soccer ball:)
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        Nov 15 2013: Is that avatar a portrait of a terrier!
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        Nov 16 2013: Some more thoughts (on your question)...a baby elephant rolling on a soccer ball is a reminder for me that learning comes. It comes by itself.

        Baby elephants learn to play soccer..with a little bit of practice:)...which means so can we :):) watching them learn helps us see how;
        And of course ... after soccer :)
        The videos illustrates how curiosity comes naturally to intelligent animals (dogs, dolphins, parrots, chimps, horses, seals, etc. etc.)

        For the excellent question asked by Richard about how to ‘cultivate curiosity’, I am thinking about children and the education environment....and putting that together with our amazing chemistry teacher (Richard’s video) Ramsey Musallam, one word comes to mind. Fun. The fun associated with learning, or the lack thereof, seems to make ALL the difference.
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      Nov 15 2013: I most definitely agree with the idea of being passionate in assisting the learning process of our youth. For me good 'teachers' also views themselves as students who are learning from their charges. I believe play, as well as the freedom to explore, are the foundation necessary to foster that curiosity. However it is an environment that accepts the inevitable wrong turns and poor choices as simply part of that learning process that nurtures the curiosity and, instead of simply ridiculing or blaming the student.
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        Nov 15 2013: True….actually ridiculing or blaming have no place in any interaction. And in the words of the luminary and inspiring Ms. Rita Pierson "Kids don't learn from people they don't like."
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    Nov 14 2013: Regardless of the subject you teach, you should aim to focus the class periods on interesting questions that connect to students' lives and have some complexity to them.

    Students should be encouraged to pose questions and pursue them. Some teachers begin each unit by asking kids what their questions are on the subject and recording those so that those can be followed up over the course of the unit. Other teachers close each period by asking for kids to share and record such questions.

    The questions can be maintained in a "public record" that is visible in the classroom so as to make the centrality of addressing those questions clear.

    It is also valuable, to the extent possible, to build in opportunities regularly for projects that allow kids to choose the question or idea they are pursuing. Kids can design and complete their own experiments as offshoots of one they may all be doing, can choose math projects to pursue to apply concepts in the classroom, can do presentations through whatever media on topics related to the subject at hand, and so forth.

    These strategies are common and effective in student-centered, rather than lecture-driven, classrooms.
  • Nov 16 2013: Very interesting discussion in Wiki on curiosity (
    Some ideas:

    1. Notice and comment on investigations and quality observations. Perhaps teach the art of observation such that nuances and details are not lost due to inattention.

    2. Teach to consider the source of the information, the context with which it is being presented and perhaps the historical period in which it was generated.

    3. Paul Harvey was a radio personality that had a series called “The rest of the story” ( where by providing personal; glimpses and details of famous people out of context with their fame, the reader learned about the real person behind the hype. (He also did “The farmer” speech that Dodge Ram used during a Super Bowl slot, Excellent!). The listener was always made curious to see if they could figure out 'the rest of the story' in advance.

    4. My workplace welcomes patentable ideas.

    5. The lecturers that I have heard that talk about ideas, finding and passionately pursing a life purpose, or serendipitously discovering something and being aware enough to realize there are potentially applications beyond what you were originally thinking always get my attention.

    6. Volunteering to help foster creativity in others (particularly children) often re-energizes a creative mind.

    7. Anyone that has said “This can’t be done” has inspired me.

    8. Stories about people that have overcome huge adversity through innovativeness, commitment to objective, wiliness and guile inspire me.

    9. The vision of a good story and an author’s ability to capture the attention of a reader inspires me.

    10. Using some of the TED lectures in a classroom and asking what the student think of the lecturer would be an interesting approach.

    Here is a secret, people asking for my opinion, ideas or help with life's questions also seems to inspire me.

    Thanks TED Conversations for a forum to communicate!
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      Nov 16 2013: As always Robert, some great detailed ideas! I thought I was the only one with that secret Robert!!! LOL:>)

      My perception is that we are all teachers and students supporting each other in the life adventure, so the "secret" is out I think....more and more every day Robert:>)
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    Nov 15 2013: Curiosity does not need to be cultivated. It is a natural an human experience. Even a newborn looks in the direction of it's mothers voice.

    It would be nice if school did not smack the curiosity out of us.

    If we leave it alone, curiosity will grow by it's own volition. We need to get out of the way.
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    Nov 15 2013: By asking questions (specially with why, how what) we can cultivate curiosity if someone is not that curious (as we grow up we usually lose curiosity due to lot of socio-cultural factors).
    Curious people has lots of question in their mind and usually tend not to accept status quo where as not so curious people love to live in the comfort zone of status quo. Asking questions to them may help them to ponder more by going beyond their comfort zone.
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    Nov 15 2013: For some, curiosity comes naturally. For them it is never required to cultivate. I am told by my mother that till about 6/7 years old, I was called the 'why-boy' in the neighborhood because after the obvious mama, papa why used to be my next most used word!
    But I think you are asking this question in the context of classroom learning with a corollary for office and business learning.
    I am not sure if it can be called cultivation but to wake up the curious 'why-boy/girl' in everybody the mentoring trick is to inform the most unobvious of any subject to the pupil. It worked for me and for my son.
    For example, when teaching the English language to native speakers it may be an interesting project to try to speak for 2 minutes using only non-borrowed words. It makes one curious about English vocabulary.
    Or say for learners of elementary arithmetic it may very interesting to try to develop a different reduction logic from subtraction-addition-muliplication-division and play with numbers.
    Sorry I am a bit weirdo, I guess. :)
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      Nov 15 2013: You are not at all weird Pabitra, and you offer good are my favorite chimp:>)

      You are not alone with being the "why boy/girl" is very common, and fun to observe in kids. When I did it, my mother often said.....what do you think? What do you feel about that? Let's go look it up in the dictionary or encyclopedia! I bet there are lots of young people out there today who don't even know those books exist!!! LOL! Well ok.....we can now say.....let's go look it up on line!

      I did the same thing with my kids....although sometimes I answered their "why" question with age appropriate information, I often asked them... what do you think or feel about that.....why do YOU think that happens? Let's go look it up and we can learn something together:>) In my perception and experience, it was not only an opportunity to learn something myself, but also an opportunity to connect with the kids as cooperative students/teachers, while encouraging and supporting their curiosity, as well as my curiosity:>)
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        Nov 15 2013: :) Thank you Colleen. I have a feeling you were a 'why girl' in your childhood and you are still living a part of it today. I often go back and watch the photograph of your attempt to ride an elephant (through the trunk route) and have a good laugh :D
        A sense of awe towards life is at the foundation of curiosity. This sense magnifies even the mundane with details hitherto unknown - if anything that a mentor or an educator can do to cultivate curiosity in learners is to point the minds towards that sense of awe.
        For some it can very well be wanderlust.
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          Nov 15 2013: Yes indeed Pabitra....I have always asked the questions with curiosity:>)

          I get a good laugh when looking at those photos of mounting the elephant by way of the trunk as well. It was a joyful exploration the first time around.....that was one reason I got "stuck" on the elephants head on my belly.....I was laughing so much I could not move!!! You notice the photo I put in my profile is the end result, and not all the "interesting" positions in between my journey from the ground to the neck of the elephant....LOL!!!

          I agree...a sense of awe towards life is at the foundation of curiosity, and to cultivate and experience curiosity, it is necessary to let go of a need to be in is necessary to truly perceive the life adventure as an exploration, and see ourselves as explorers, without fear of making a mistake, having failures, or worrying about what people might think. It is, for me, important to have fun with the exploration!

          And as you insightfully say...that sense, or feeling in ourselves magnifies everything in our world. The sunrises or sunsets are NEVER the same....the garden is NEVER the same....everything in my life feels like a new adventure, even though I may have seen the sunsets, sunrises, gardens, etc. 100s of times, there is ALWAYS something new to explore, and I LOVE it!

          I agree....we can encourage, support and reintroduce and/or help guide others to that sense of awe if that is something a person wants to explore in him/herself:>)
  • Nov 19 2013: I would treat the curiosity of children/students into 2 categories:
    1. For children before 12 years old, their curiosity should be encouraged by answering their inquiries with kindness and explaining as thoroughly as being appropriate to their level of understanding or the capacity of exploring the reasons by themselves. As the parents or teachers, we should never DISCOURAGE OR IGNORE them for asking too many "whys". Occasionally, we could challenge them to find out the solution by themselves, but only in the likelihood of their capability of doing so.
    2. For children 12 years old or older, we should emphasize the hint or reference as to where or how they could explore and find the answers by themselves.. There are two reasons that we should take this approach. First, by that age or older, the children/students would be capable of research or explore the question by themselves. Because younger children may not be efficient enough to even find the relevant materials in a library, and of course most parents won't feel comfortable to leave a young child in the school library alone after 7 PM at night. Another reason is that, sometimes, a question raised by a very smart, or even not-so-smart teenager could be tough to answer correctly by the teacher or the parents. Furthermore, you simply can't follow them all the way to their college life, so you must cultivate the ability to research and answer their curiosity by themselves. There is another side attraction for teenagers, because by that age, they are not likely to raise questions with their parents, or with their teachers to certain extent. So, the guidance to their self motivation is extremely important. Many of the teenage delinquency occurred because the teenagers tend to seek answers for their curiosity from bad companies of classmates, or even street persons, of questionable conduct/behavior.
    The use of 12-year-old as the demarcation line should be flexible depending on the maturity of the individual child.
  • Nov 18 2013: 1. we need to be careful - it is easy to crush curiosity without even realizing it. If we do, need to work to fix it and it will take time.
    2. engender questions with open ended projects, statements, questions, etc.
    3. allow mistakes and question the process softly so that the individual discovers the mistake and hopefully why it happened.
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    Nov 15 2013: The first teacher I met, that had those abilities to wake up my imagination was the teacher of philosophy. He wasn't "encyclopedic type of teacher" (the one that insist exactly definitions, word by word, rote learning...) This teacher had a rule "if you want to learn something, watch it as you don't want to learn it" - he was sure that student perception of learning is the main problem in the learning process. The student is building the psychological barrier with the attitude "I have to learn this". Also,his evaluation process was in the form of pure conversation, stress free and spontaneous. Whole class was interested in Leibniz, Marx, Durkheim, Aristotle, Socrates, Locke.... We was inspired by difference to the access.

    Maybe the problem is that we are usually stuck by experiences with different teachers, different expectation from them. The common to all of these different expectations is LEARNING ROPE-the best way to cope with them, with the smallest consequences . But, that way of learning is suppressing curiosity.

    If somebody has interesting facts, interesting methods, difference in the work and respecting students, curiosity is very certain. The most interesting topic can be ruined with wrong access, and the hardest can be interesting and more motivated if it's doing by the good method.
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    Nov 15 2013: By looking into the monkeys face w/glasses and wondering.
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    Nov 15 2013: Curiosity is cultivated by allowing others to experience, reflect and then find context.
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      Nov 16 2013: Hi Dan:>)
      Curiosity is cultivated by allowing others to experience, reflect and find context? I am curious...What about ourselves? Sometimes, I think/feel we need to make our "self" aware of cultivating, experiencing and reflecting?
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    Nov 15 2013: 1. don't be boring. be interesting. sometimes, this is as simple as being controversial. that's really easy to do in this uptight modern age too.

    2. being happy to veer away from syllabus/curriculum content whenever curiosity is aroused.

    avoiding edutainment is a good thing. sometimes, for something to be worthwhile, it has to be worked at. old school, i know :)
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    Nov 15 2013: Richard, Curiosity comes first would not be my number one .... I think you have to have exposure. For me it was the traveling science shows that came to our school. We paid a dime and got out of class to watch ... I was amazed, in total awe, and developed a thirst to replicate and go further into the world of science.

    That curiosity was dealt a severe blow when the real classroom world brought me back into a no fun, no dreams, no curiosity allowed .... boring classroom. Then we had labs ... at last I get to be part of the process ... I made a error and was berated in front of the class and given a project F. .... I was not alone in the public humiliation buy felt like I was ... again my dreams of the science show were stomped on.

    So back to the question: Expose them to the challenge ... make the opportunity available ... provide encouragement and guidance ... provide resources and time ... offer praise and rewards along the way ... recognize the accomplishments .... and watch them grow.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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    Nov 15 2013: why are you asking these questions, Richard? Do you feel there is a failure of curiosity? There must a fair amount of curiosity in this world, because look at how science and knowledge advances, think of the Internet or cell phones.