Does it ever seem like your kids just don’t want to learn? They’re not excited or engaged. They should be. . .but you just can’t figure it out.
I was teaching science a few weeks ago and I was stuck feeling that way. While I was excited about particles and matter, my kids were not enjoying it! Their eyes were glazed over and drool was coming from their mouths—like zombies!
But then I introduced one element and had them hungering for more!
The big reveal I had at that moment was remembering some research from this article about the human brain.
[Quick Version of that article: There’s a reason lessons should have hooks! The human brain doesn’t naturally want to learn—but it is always curious.]
Imagine our ancestors many thousands of years ago, hunting and gathering—got it in your head? No, that picture is likely wrong—they weren’t carrying clubs or sporting large, bushy brows. But while they didn’t have clubs, they had curiosity.
Curiosity was a tool for survival, pushing them to learn about new things—-new landscapes, innovative ways to hunt, or potentially usable resources. However, their interest in learning about new things didn’t kick in over an extended amount of time, like our students enjoy in the classrooms of today.
So, as teachers who want to grow curious learners, we have to hack the tendencies of the human brain over and over again. We have to give their brains something to be curious about. We can give our students counterintuitive ideas in science (Heavier objects don’t fall to earth faster) or an engaging, essential question in social studies (What horrid events led to the Great Depression?). But how can we do that everyday, with consistency and sustainability?
We establish any habit by making it part of our daily routine. We have to make it consistent. And for sustainability, you need to keep it simple. Simple is sustainable, and routine makes it consistent.
Here are two strategies you can use every day to make curiosity a motivator in your classroom for any subject that are both sustainable and consistent.
Strategy 1. Lesson Hook. Every lesson should begin with an activating question, which can be as simple as asking what they already know about a given subject. Level up by showing them some unusual picture while asking a question about the picture, all tied to your lesson. Promise them at the end of the lesson you’ll explain more about it. . .you’ll have them hooked!
In my science lesson about particles and matter, I showed a picture of salt under a microscope. I asked them what they thought it might be—then I gave them a few grains of sea salt letting them know we’d be learning about how two elements–a poisonous gas and a metal–could come together to form something that we eat.
Strategy 2. Lesson End. Every lesson ends with something, so try an ending with a sneak peak or teaser for the following day. We all love movie teasers or trailers that leave us wanting more, or a novel with cliffhangers at the end of every chapter. (What we don’t like are the trailers that show us the entire movie!) Give them a little taste of the next lesson, but not nearly all of it. They’ll be excited and so will you.
Try these two strategies to get your students excited, relying on their brain’s natural tendency to be curious. (Or not, and keep those zombies you see everyday!)