The importance of supporting students’ connection to curiosity

Without encouragement and support, students will often stop questioning, inquiring, exploring, and will lose their natural sense of wonder about the world around them
Kim Castner is a National Board-certified fourth-grade teacher from Stallings, North Carolina.

As a fourth-grade teacher, I am passionate about nurturing my students’ natural curiosity. All too often in my career, I’ve seen students’ curiosity wane in the fourth grade. Without encouragement and support, students will often stop questioning, inquiring, exploring, and will lose their natural sense of wonder about the world around them. When this occurs– when students’ connection to curiosity is broken, learning becomes boring and mundane, which in turn leads to disengagement in learning.

Supporting elementary students’ continued connection to curiosity not only supports continued student engagement in their current grade, but it is also critical for student success in the middle and high school years. In speaking with my colleagues at the middle school and secondary levels, elementary students who are encouraged to use their curiosity develop the key problem-solving skills that are essential to continuing their academic growth.

In elementary school, students learn how to explore, inquire, and build upon prior learning in order to find out information about things they are curious about. They develop skills to help them stay focused on their learning and continue to search for answers, even when faced with challenging problems. They learn to persevere and continue their inquiry, despite obstacles that might arrive. They also learn the important collaboration and communication skills necessary for success both in the classroom and beyond graduation. Curious learners connect prior knowledge from classroom studies to real-world applications through their research.

I’ve found that STEM education is a tremendous vehicle for helping elementary students develop the important “soft skills” needed for future success and stay more connected to their own curiosity. Through STEM, young learners are encouraged to explore and develop their natural sense of curiosity, which helps them develop into secondary learners who desire to make the world a better place. They recognize real-world challenges and their curiosity leads them to want to find solutions that will fix global issues. Then, through their secondary STEM coursework, curious students have the opportunity to explore future-ready careers in STEM-related fields that are the highly desired positions of the future.

A high-quality secondary STEM curriculum exposes students to coding, engineering challenges, advanced mathematical problems, and more, which provide additional opportunities to discern future career possibilities. School administrators can play a key role in helping to keep students connected to their curiosity in the elementary and secondary grades.

First, they can create opportunities for elementary and secondary school educators to meet and discuss ways they can use STEM to cultivate student curiosity. Next, they can leverage professional learning to create cultures of STEM within school systems that prize STEM and seek to integrate STEM into all disciplines. Finally, school administrators can select engaging, flexible digital resources that support STEM instruction and include resources that connect what is learned in the classroom to how it can be applied in the real world.

There is an old saying that goes, “The future belongs to the curious.” Let’s be sure we provide a future for our elementary learners by helping to keep them connected to their curiosity through STEM now and in the future.

Kim Castner is a National Board certified fourth grade teacher from Stallings, North Carolina. She currently serves as a Discovery Education STEM leader for Stallings Elementary School and is a member of the Discovery Education Leadership Council.

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