Managing Curiosity in Your Classroom

Has this ever happened to you? You're talking about a science topic with your class and they are captivated (Go You! You are such an awesome teacher!). They are asking tons of questions: Can animals see colors we can't? How do we know? Is the color blue that I see the same as the color blue that you see? How can we tell?

But as one question leads to another, and then another, and yet another...and...oh gosh guys, really...? You start to worry about the time and how far off you've gotten. How do you decide when to extend or deepen a content conversation instead of putting it in the "parking lot"? (If you don't know what the parking lot strategy is...follow the link...you'll wonder how you've gotten by without it.)

Many teachers can relate to this struggle and we posed this question to our teachers at a recent professional development training session. Here are some of the strategies they suggested for managing this situation. Can you think of any to add?

What can you add to this list?

  1. How much time is left? If you are crunched for time, head straight to the parking lot.
  2. Read your audience. What are their needs at the time?
  3. If the questions are directly related to the content, you might want to give them immediate attention.
  4. Is the question something that would be better addressed through an individual conversation with that student? Assess the question to determine whether it addresses a classroom need or if it is more of an individual kind of thing.
  5. Do a quick mental check of how the question fits in with your key concepts. If it is a good fit, tackle it!
  6. Be upfront with your class and let them decide what they need to proceed.

It can be exciting and rewarding when students begin to generate their own questions from a place of authentic curiosity. With the right strategies and some practice, excellent teachers can learn to balance novel exploration with the realities of classroom management.

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About the Author

Marjee Chmiel, PhD

Marjee is the Director of Evaluation and Editorial Development at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Marjee previous worked at the Smithsonian Science Education Center as the Division Director of Curriculum and Communications. Marjee has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a master's degree in curriculum design, both from Marquette University. Her PhD is from George Mason University in Educational Research and Evaluation Methods.