Student Curiosity Sparks Exploration

A child-centered approach ignites a passion for learning

Kids are born curious and love to learn. When they start school, they bring their curiosity and personal interests into the classroom. Their perspectives, prior experiences and cultural backgrounds influence the vibrancy of their learning and relevancy of their work.

Engage student interests

An emergent — or student-centered — curriculum allows space and flexibility for learners’ interests, questions and ideas. A co-creation between teachers and students develops over time through shared questioning and exploration.

Discovery activities where children wonder “What if?” or “How can we?” and inquiry projects that ask “What do you know already, and what more would you like to learn?” supply guiding questions for exploration. Then teachers very intentionally structure the unit to include age-appropriate skills and concepts in language arts, math and social studies.

“Although the activities, lessons and projects will vary from year to year,” says Lynn Hughes, fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at The Miquon School in Conshohocken, PA, “the learning goals remain the same.” By allowing students to engage their interests, an emergent curriculum paves the way for increased enthusiasm about learning.

A student-driven project

Recently at The Miquon School, first graders became very keen on making food. They created inedible foodstuffs from paper, play dough and other materials as well as impromptu signage throughout the classroom that advertised these goods.

The teachers built on their students’ food-related curiosity with a new unit that touched on many first-grade level skills and concepts in math and literacy.

“When we asked if they would like to make their own real restaurant, the children’s response was enthusiastic,” explains Ben Coleman, first-grade teacher.

The students created a restaurant called the Wolves’ Den, complete with signage and artwork. The cross-curricular study required reading, writing, measuring, spatial work, number sense, planning and the science of baking and cooking. The group used the guiding question, “What do people do in restaurants?” to focus their research.

The first graders used estimation to determine that they were likely to have 50 patrons on the day of operation. One child posed the question, “What will happen if all 50 people come at once?” The students used problem-solving and math skills to split the 50 potential customers into two groups of 17 and one group of 16.

On the day of operation, the children filled all the roles necessary to run a successful restaurant. The next day, they used math skills to graph their results.

Students count their earnings and tally the most popular menu items the next day.

Students used rulers and math skills to measure sticks that they used to frame their artwork.




Meaningful outcomes

The student restauranteurs hit important grade-level benchmarks for speaking clearly (when they welcomed and seated guests at tables), listening and writing using letter sounds (when they took food orders), reading using sight words (when they read the orders) and adding and subtracting (to determine the cost of the meal).

In an emergent curriculum, students experience both “the culmination and the application of all the skills they have. It is much more meaningful and memorable than a worksheet because of their investment in it,” says Rossana Zapf, Miquon’s language arts coordinator.

Ben Coleman is a first-grade teacher and Kristin Sanderson is director of communications & alumni relations at The Miquon School

Categories: Elementary Education, Partner Stories: Education