Sparking Curiosity

Sparking Curiosity
Danny Stock

Emily Landau responds to student discussion in European History

A peasant, a priest, and a property owner walked into a High School classroom…

No, that’s not the setup for a bad joke about medieval French country life. Instead, on a September afternoon, students in Emily Landau’s 10th grade European History class lined themselves up according to the social rank of their assigned village characters. Even those with the poorest prospects in the hierarchy had fun inventing rich—albeit historically accurate—backstories. As they discussed social mobility, the dynamics of commerce, and the roles of women, student engagement more closely resembled a reality show than a history lecture.

In 3rd grade, students left Foun Tang’s class abuzz about multiplication and division. One student chirped, "I thought that division was hard and confusing, but when Foun explained how it's equal sharing, I thought, 'Oh, that's easy.'"

Digging for Unifix cubes in 3rd grade

They plunged their fingers into buckets of mini tiles, assembled arrays, and described everyday division situations. Through tactile experiences and storytelling, Foun helped each student make sense of the math and feel excited to show what they know.

All over campus, GDS teachers open doors to inquiry, exploration, and perspective-taking in ways that spark curiosity and spur authentic engagement:

From the corner of River Road and Chesapeake Street NW, history teacher Anthony Belber and his 9th grade class set out on a walking tour of Tenleytown. “How are the streets organized?” he asked as they looked towards 42nd Street. “Where does the numbering begin?” 

Without realizing the coincidence, 7th graders in Louise Micallef’s class and the 9th graders in Elaina Berres and Katie Garbart’s biology classes studied the properties of life through scavenger hunts, artifact stations, and landscape photography on the same Monday. 

Leo and Noah search for biotic and abiotic factors

“Is air biotic or abiotic?” Leo asked his 7th grade classmate, looking at a photo of zebras on the Serengeti. “Well, what is air made of?” Noah responded. Back and forth they went, using questions to guide their thinking. Across Davenport Street, groups of 9th graders walked through the High School’s “Secret Garden” looking for examples of evolutionary adaptations, while others studied the spicules of a sea sponge and tiny sand stars (Foraminifera exoskeletons) in the lab.

More than the learning activities themselves, teachers also nurture an environment where these sparks can catch flame. Where—within the fabric of school culture—it’s cool to be smart, work hard, and be interested in lots of things.

So when a child asks a parent late in the evening, “Did you know that multiplication is really just a simpler way of doing repeated addition?" you know that the coals of curiosity are still burning.

Sparking Curiosity