More Wonder, Less Fear! Boost Student Curiosity and Risk-Taking in Your Classroom!

If you’ve ever watched The Magic School Bus, you’re probably familiar with Miss Frizzle’s favorite mantra,

“Take Chances.”

“Make Mistakes.”

“Get Messy!”

These words represent what immersive education is supposed to look like. Learning should come with an element of risk, a dash of adventure, and an understanding that it’s ok to make mistakes, because that’s how we grow! Unfortunately, most teachers don’t have the budget for a fieldtrip to Mars. Instead, we’re asked to instill a learning mindset within our students, while encouraging them to persevere toward an answer within the established confines of a millennia-old educational system. Is it just me, or does flying to Mars sound like the easier task?

Well, don’t give up so quickly. There are actually several techniques you can use to inspire students and create classrooms where curiosity, creativity, and collaboration thrive. It starts by accepting that the world around us is always changing, and as a result, we must adapt our methods for engaging students. This brings us to our first piece of advice…

Connection First

As VAEI’s Terra Tarango likes to say, “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If students don’t feel like they matter, there’s a good chance they don’t think their thoughts or questions matter either. As a teacher, you can start by making a connection with your students. Help them see you’re not some soulless minion of academia, you actually care about their success!

One approach is to greet every child by name when they arrive in the morning with eye contact. Letting a student know that they are recognized and seen is a great way to boost their confidence. Another possibility is to choose one student for each day of the month and make sure that child receives encouragement on their given day. Recognizing their talents can go a long way in helping them overcome a fear of failure.

A third strategy is simply move conversations into the hallway. Asking about the weekend inside the classroom makes you sound like a good teacher. Asking them the same question in the hallway makes you sound like a trusted confidant.

Mindset and Modeling              

It probably goes without saying, but self-awareness can be a useful tool for personal growth. Get your students thinking about this early by having them reflect on their own learning mindset. It’s easy for kids to get caught up in negative patterns of thought which can discourage their efforts. How many times have you heard a student say, “Well, I’ve always been bad at English, so why should I try?” Nope. Help them see their potential in school isn’t a fixed pathway.

While this is happening, it’s important for students to see that you practice what you preach. Try something new every month; take a class at your local gym, pick up a funny hobby, try your hand at baking and share the result with your students. Let them witness what happens when you step outside your comfort zone, and show them that failure can lead to helpful self-discovery. Who knows, if you try something new, you may enjoy it!

Creativity and Wonder

A curious classroom is all about wonder. Games, riddles, puzzles, or any vehicle for abstract thought is a terrific way to spark their imagination. One bold teacher once began a lesson on saving money by lighting a dollar bill on fire. Little did his students know the bill had been soaked in a combination of water and alcohol, so the dollar never burned! You can bet they racked their noggins trying to figure that one out.

Another option is real-world connections. If your school happens to have connections at a local laboratory or nature center, consider inviting them in to meet the students. Kids will be awed to learn about molecules from a real-live scientist, or investigate the importance of habitat by handling a giant turtle. Show them how education isn’t limited to the walls of their school, but has application in the world around them.

Take a Stand

Most of our techniques so far have focused on creativity and connection, but now it’s time to add some risk to the process. Create a scenario where students have to make a choice, then ask them to defend it. Read an article about a current issue, or maybe show them a video about an event happening in their town. Once finished, have students choose a side of the issue and discuss their opinions with a student holding the opposite view. By slowly introducing your classroom to conflicting attitudes, you’ll teach students the value of defending their ideals and respecting the beliefs of others.

These exercises also carry the benefit of demonstrating multiple viewpoints. Students will learn that not everyone thinks or experiences the world the same way they do, and that we can learn a lot from people who are different from us. In real life they’ll be forced to take chances, they’ll make mistakes, and things will most certainly get messy, but that’s when real learning happens.

What about you? What are some ways you promote risk and wonder within your classroom? We welcome your comments!

Content for this blog was drawn from the webinar More Wonder, Less Fear! Boost Student Curiosity and Risk-Taking in Your Classroom with Terra Tarango.