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Curiosity: It Helps Us Learn, But Why?

Psychology, education

How does a sunset work? We love to look at one, but Jolanda Blackwell wanted her eighth-graders to really think about it, to wonder and question.

So Blackwell, who teaches science at Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High in Davis, Calif., had her students watch a video of a sunset on YouTube as part of a physics lesson on motion.

“I asked them: ‘So what’s moving? And why?’ ” Blackwell says. The students had a lot of ideas. Some thought the sun was moving; others, of course, knew that a sunset is the result of the Earth spinning around on its axis.

Once she got the discussion going, the questions came rapid-fire. “My biggest challenge usually is trying to keep them patient,” she says. “They just have so many burning questions.”

Students asking questions and then exploring the answers. That’s something any good teacher lives for. And at the heart of it all is curiosity.

Blackwell, like many others teachers, understands that when kids are curious, they’re much more likely to stay engaged.

But why? What, exactly, is curiosity and how does it work? A study published in the October issue of the journal Neuron suggests that the brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information.

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