Friday, May 17, 2013


“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man how to fish and he can feed himself for life.”

This proverb speaks to education. While content is important, it is more impactful to teach students how to learn.  Instilling that motivation, drive, perseverance and curiosity about the world we live in will make a student successful in life.  Giving a student a task and the tools to complete the task without giving them step-by-step instructions gives students the opportunity to think and problem-solve.  We need to let our students think, make decisions and create a variety of ways to show us, the educators, what they know about a topic. 

Students need experiences to develop their brain in order to make connections to the world around them.  During a course I took called Reading Research in Education I read many articles pertaining to education, but there was one article that the professor apologized for having us read because it was quite dry.  It was about the “white matter” of the brain where the myelin is developed.  Myelin is a white fatty substance that coats the cables, known as axons that are found in the brain where the “white matter” is located.  Myelin is considered to be the conductor for the brain’s signals.  It was found that the myelin plays a greater role in transferring information than once believed. The layers of myelin develop over time and are not finished developing until between the ages of 25 to 30.

Since this myelin is still developing throughout early adulthood there is a question of whether it has an impact on intelligence.  There is a correlation between the complexity of skills being learned and the degree of changes in the white matter that occur. It became one of the most interesting articles the class read and we brought it up throughout the semester because it described how the experiences the students have now will impact them the most for their future.  We came to realize that as teachers we contribute in large part to developing students‘ myelin.  We became the “myelinators.” As educators, we are so important to students’ lives, and what we present to them in one year are the foundations on what they will build to the next.  One way to build these experiences is to keep curiosity alive! 

How do you keep curiosity alive?  Curiosity is the root of learning.  When a student is curious they begin to ask questions.  When children are very young, they are in the natural state of asking “why?”  They want to know about everything.  How can we bottle that and keep it as children grow older and become students? How can we spark that curiosity in the classroom?

Asking the right types of questions can ignite wonder and give the students the opportunity to ask more questions.  The website, Wonderopolis provides a “wonder” question everyday.  Another way is to set the stage for curiosity by demonstrating an experiment without explaining it or providing a video without words like the ones from the KhanAcademy project site.  Science is so fascinating and intriguing that it provides an easy pathway to curiosity.  Next time you are planning a lesson, think about what will spark curiosity in your students.

What sparks your curiosity?

By:  Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

Fields, Douglas R. (2008).  White Matter Matters.  Scientific American, March, 54-61.

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