Sparking Curiosity for Learning

In collaboration with iBlocksPBL

“You cannot teach today the same way you did yesterday to prepare students for tomorrow.”

John Dewey

In order to best prepare our students, educators need to be comfortable with taking some risks in the classroom. Whether by trying new ideas, embracing new tools, or shifting their role to more of a facilitator, we need to promote more student-driven learning. The benefits are that students are more connected to what they are learning and they become curious about the next steps in their learning journey.

When students are curious about learning, they become more invested in the process. Sparking curiosity will lead students to become problem solvers and critical thinkers and shift from being simply consumers to becoming creators and innovators. To bring these opportunities to our classrooms, we must first engage students in learning. But how?

Understanding student engagement

A few years ago, I noticed a decrease in student engagement in my own classroom. I tried a variety of learning activities and tools to offer more choices for my students, however, I did not see much improvement in student engagement. I realized that part of the problem was that I did not fully understand what student engagement meant. By not providing enough choices for my students and promoting more student-driven learning, I was missing some key components that would increase autonomy and motivation for learning.

While students had some choices in the types of projects they would create and the tools they could use, I was not providing open-ended, student-driven learning experiences made possible through methods like project-based learning (PBL). We want to increase student engagement in learning and this happens when students feel a sense of ownership in the learning or control in the choices they make for their learning journey. Without sustained engagement, students will not make significant progress in their learning environment. Once I started to do PBL in my classroom and involved students more in making decisions and driving their learning, student engagement increased and they became more curious about what they were learning.

Boosting Engagement and Curiosity

As educators, it is important to continue to reflect on our practice and make time to learn about student interests. By providing a variety of ways for students to show what they have learned and by using methods like PBL, we will foster student agency, boost engagement and increase student motivation in learning. Students need opportunities to dive into learning experiences that will stretch their thinking and place them in the lead. When we create learning experiences like PBL that will more meaningfully engage students with the content, while moving them from consumers to creators, it increases student engagement and positively impacts student achievement.

The impact of PBL

PBL was the topic of a recent Twitter chat. Educators shared their ideas about the benefits of PBL and the connection between PBL and SEL. Educator Laura Steinbrink said “PBL to me means learning is fun, hands-on, non-traditional, and tailored to each student. It means the learning can get deeper than traditional assignments and become an amazing EXPERIENCE.” Craig Shapiro believes that PBL means “risk taking – collaboration – socialization – mentoring.”

Through PBL, students find out about themselves and their interests. They invest more in and become curious about what they are learning and where they will go next on their learning journey.

Lynnae Ryberg sees many benefits from PBL. “PBL means giving students a different medium to show what they know. Not all students are great at tests, but they know the content. Offering them another avenue to show their mastery allows for confidence, critical thinking, and engagement.” These are skills that we want our students to build because they will help them to be successful in the future. Rob Abraham finds that “Communication is one of the most important skills in PBL. In standard classrooms, students often sit passively. In PBL activities, students not only communicate with their partners but present to the class.” Students need more active learning experiences that lead to sharing their work with others.

Connecting PBL and SEL

There are so many ways to address SEL in our classrooms. ​​Amy De Friese values the connection between PBL and SEL. She says that through PBL “there will be real-world problem-solving applications in play. Teachable SEL moments = building community, creating avenues for communication, and reacting to challenges.”

Mark Ureel says that we need to “allow PBL to be self-paced and allow for flexibility. A great project can be modified and still achieve its objectives.” For some educators, it can be scary to get started with PBL because it places students in the lead more and it has many moving parts, but it is of tremendous value for learning. As Cori Frede shared, “Since PBL takes students out of their comfort zone, it gives teachers the opportunity to encourage self-monitoring, collaboration, and more.” These are the essential SEL skills that PBL helps students to build.

As educators, PBL can help us learn more about our students’ passions and interests. We should continue finding ways to create unique, authentic, and meaningful opportunities for students to explore their interests in a way that connects them and prepares them for whatever they decide to do in the future. Use a hook, try a new method, do something completely different than what you have been doing, or ask students for their ideas. By cultivating a learning environment where students feel valued and choosing the right tools to facilitate methods like PBL, it will have a positive impact on student learning and foster the development of many essential skills.

iBlocks sparks student curiosity

When students are curious about learning, their motivation increases as they engage more with the content. With iBlocks, students can explore many topics that connect them with real-world learning experiences. The best thing about using iBlocks is that students can engage in learning that is authentic, meaningful, and personalized for them. Teachers can use this to start conversations with students to help them to develop self-awareness and self-management skills.

Teaching the content is important, but finding ways to spark student curiosity for learning is also important. With iBlocks, students have what they need to explore topics of interest, to design their learning journey, and use their student workbook as a space to gather their thoughts, add reflections, and share brainstorming of their work.

Using the different iBlocks, there are options for students in areas that match their interests. Students will enjoy creating, and sharing and will become increasingly curious about other interests and different perspectives. With these learning tools and PBL, educator Melody McAllister says that “learning is real, it sticks, & will be something students remember the most when they look back. It also creates skills they need for life & career!”

We must continue to look for innovative and student-driven activities to best prepare them for the future. How do we help students to develop an appreciation of the process of learning itself? We foster independent, student-driven learning through PBL. Because PBL is an iterative process, students will shift their focus to the process of learning itself rather than on the number of points they need to get a certain grade or a well-defined, specific final product. With the right methods and tools, students have the opportunity to design problems to solve, explore curiosities and passions, and as a result, focus more on the process of learning.

Learn more about iBlocks and don’t miss my upcoming webinar “Ten Strategies to Support Teachers as Designers of Active Learning” on Thursday, November 10th at 3:30 p.m. ET via OTIS. Sign up here: OTIS Webinar.

About the Author

Rachelle Dené Poth is an ed-tech consultant, presenter, attorney, author, and teacher. Rachelle teaches Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology at Riverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle has a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. She is a Consultant and Speaker, owner of ThriveinEDU LLC Consulting. She is an ISTE Certified Educator and currently serves as the past -president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network and on the Leadership team of the Mobile Learning Network. At ISTE19, she received the Making IT Happen Award and a Presidential Gold Award for volunteer service to education. She is also a Buncee Ambassador, Nearpod PioNear, and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert.

Rachelle is the author of seven books and is a blogger for Getting Smart, Defined Learning, and NEO LMS. Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU

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