Reading Joann’s column this week about the Iditarod was intriguing. Racing across frozen lands on a sled pulled by a team of dogs sounds like such an amazing adventure, yet I have not thought much about the history of the sport and the controversy surrounding the treatment of the animals involved. One of the best parts of my job writing this column is my weekly chance to learn about and explore new topics. I have a week to dig into a topic and research ways for teachers to bring that topic to life for their students.
Through my research, I have discovered how much I love learning about new things. I hope I will continue to learn something new every day throughout my life. Some great teachers instilled this love of learning in me, and I believe it is one of the most important skills that we can give our students.
You may be wondering how we pick the weekly topics here on The Gateway to 21st Century Skills, and the answer has a lot to do with helping students love to learn. Will very many teachers be able to implement activities about the Iditarod in their classrooms? I sure hope so! Besides the fact that this year’s race is coming up, making this is a very timely topic, Joann’s post (linked below) includes many cross-curricular connections between the topic and topics and standards teachers were planning to cover anyway. Much like our columns last week about honeybees, this topic is a vehicle of learning, allowing teachers to teach required topics with a fun twist. When students are excited about learning something new, the learning comes so much more easily.
Being a well rounded learner is an essential skill. One of the most famous lifelong learners I can think of is Leonardo da Vinci, an example of how a person can learn and succeed in many different areas. The following excerpt about da Vinci from my column last February seemed very relevant to this week’s discussions.
In an ideal world, all students would have an insatiable hunger to learn about the world around them. Teachers would simply be there to guide their learning and provide students the resources they need to fulfill their curiosity. The study of art could lead to learning about science. Inquisitiveness about this science could lead to new inventions and discoveries. Unfortunately, learning doesn’t always follow such a natural and easy flow. It is up to parents and educators to bring the love of learning and the excitement of exploring new ideas to their students so they will have the desire to continue fulfilling their curiosities throughout their lives.
Leonardo da Vinci is a famous example of a learner who learned for the sake of learning. There weren’t standards to be met and tests to perform. This was learning in its most organic form. What can we do as teachers to inspire students to embrace learning enough to become well rounded and learned like da Vinci. After all, according to Leon Battista Alberti, “A man can do all things if he will.”
I think one effective way to inspire this type of curiosity is to keep your topics fresh and relevant to students’ lives. Your math students will always need to learn about calculating distances, but won’t these calculations seem more important to students if they can be made from real data from a real race going on right now? Your physics class needs to understand the physics of flight, and using some of last week’s examples can help you bring in a real-world comparison between the flight of man-made aircraft and the flight of bees. These are the kinds of ideas Joann and I hope to inspire with our weekly topic choices. The Iditarod may not be something that interests you, but as you look through the archives of Joann’s Picks and Peggy’s Corner on http://TheGateway.org, I hope you will be able to find some inspiration.
Another good way to encourage curiosity in your classroom is to be curious yourself. If you don’t know an answer to a student question, be excited to help them figure it out. Show them that you are always learning too, even though you are the teacher. I have recently gotten interested in TED Talks. There is a short TED Talk for just about any technology-related topic you can think of. There are speakers from all different fields and backgrounds. Watching these talks is one simple way to keep your curiosity alive. When our students see us being curious, maybe they will try it on for size.