“Curiosity” is the name of a space craft sent to Mars to move around the surface of the planet.  Although there are differing opinions about the cost of undertaking this journey, “Curiosity” seems an appropriate name for this Mars mobile.  It has been designed to journey to Mars, explore the planet and send information back to Earth.  Curiosity about what lies beyond our own world has been a driving force behind this exploration of Mars and previous space missions.

Curiosity is the thirst for knowledge, the rage to learn.  From the beginning of time, humans have shared an inherent need to explore; to inquire; to investigate the unknown.  To question, to understand and to know are fundamental needs.  From infancy, children learn through exploring their world physically and later, when language develops, by questioning.  School formalises the process of learning and provides an opportunity for students to be exposed to new material and to learn in a structured, sequential manner.  Ideally, such learning occurs according to the student’s level of cognitive development; capacity and speed of learning; takes account of, and builds upon, the student’s prior knowledge. When learning occurs in this way, the learning process utilises, maintains and satisfies students’ natural curiosity.

Any form of creativity, inventiveness and research is based upon curiosity.  Each academic subject has specific ways of drawing on a student’s curiosity in order to help them learn.  Formulating, proposing and testing a hypothesis is one of the methods used within science subjects.  To be curious and inquire about the unknown requires a student to be active in their learning.  It is not sufficient for students to sit passively in class and wait to be fed information by teachers.  Passive learning may involve some memory function to retain information; however a passive approach does not engage a student’s full attention, make learning personally relevant or effectively embed information in memory through the use of complex thought processes.  All this occurs when a student is curious, thinks about the topic, reflects upon what is not yet understood, determines what else there is to know, asks thoughtful questions or embarks upon research.

Curious students become active, lifelong learners, a characteristic that has been highly correlated with adult success. Parents, who demonstrate for their children their own curiosity, exhibited through continuous learning, formal or informal study, developing hobbies, learning new skills and exploring fresh fields, provide a wonderful model of the importance of lifelong learning.  Parents and teachers who encourage students to be curious, to ask challenging questions, investigate the topic further or explore the unknown will be promoting active and successful learners. The “Curiosity” mission to Mars may provide a stimulus for discussing with students the important role of curiosity in their learning, here on Earth.

© Michele Juratowitch