How do you measure curiosity?

August 15, 2010 at 6:06 PM 1 comment

We all started out full of wonder and play, fooling around with bottles and cups, soap and boats in the bath, messing around with dirt and poking stuff. And then something happens between about 4th and 8th grade. Some level of filtering distractions, becoming more focused and effective is a good thing, but curiosity and creativity seem to have been too damped down in many of our children today.

What can we do to keep kids curious? What can I do in my class room this year? In order to know if I’ve made any difference, I need to have some kind of definition and measure of curiosity.

What is curiosity? – a disposition, an emotion where you are surprised and want to find out more about something I think. Where your interest is piqued and questions occur to you. In order to be surprised, you have to be paying attention, be engaged and to realize that what you observe is different to what you expect. Metacognitive skills of knowing what you know and what you don’t know is strongly correlated to academic success, as you’d expect. Or are you surprised? 🙂

Engagement, interest and even intellect are often mentioned as synonymous with curiosity when I do literature searches.

Curiosity varies by the subject matter – when you are ‘in your element’ – you’ll be more curious (see Ken Robinson’s book The Element for more on this). So I’m more curious about what’s going on with the seals we saw playing in the surf on the coast today than say, why a flat engine is better than a V kind (or something – I have no idea really. Not interested.)

Curiosity probably has a genetic component, along with personality traits like introversion/extraversion. I’ll bet that most of us were characterized by our parents as ‘driving me crazy with questions’, or ‘Constantly taking apart stuff to see how it worked’ or ‘a pretty mellow kid’ or whatever. Curious kids can drive parents crazy with more than three ‘whys” in a row. Or husbands. Definitely sons. It’s a game we still play but you have to play to the audience’s element and feign interest in engines, for example. Hope Kurt isn’t reading this. Oh, hi sweetie 🙂

It may well be affected by environment such as how parents respond to children’s questions, the amount of free play especially outside, prior schooling especially if kids attended an experiential or an academic pre school, or if they went to preschool at all. I bet that the ethos of the previous science class will have an effect too. I’m planning to write an online survey to see which of these nature/nurture factors might correlate with curiosity. What else should I consider?

The end result I want to see by the end of the school year…. Hmm, kids who will have questions about newspaper headlines. So a healthy skepticism. And kids who will wonder about natural and engineered phenomena, with some variation by their individual element but within science (as I am supposed to be teaching science). But do I go for number of questions? Depth? Non-obvious questions? Genuine questions? And how do I distinguish?

I need your help! Write me your thoughts please. Join me on the quest to keep kids curious, let’s see what we can do!


Entry filed under: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Curiosity, Education Psychology.

What kids want to know on the first day… How is all life related? The central question for 7th gr. scientists.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. lpowel22  |  December 18, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    Hey, I’m a college student and am thinking about doing a thesis on curiosity. It’s a much undervalued virtue and i’m just curious (ha HA!) how year end up for you?



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