User Generated Education

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Nurturing a Learner’s Sense of Wonder

with 4 comments

I started my work in education as an outdoor educator. I took elementary-aged kids on environmental education adventures and at-risk youth on extended wilderness trips.  When taking the at-risk students on backpacking trips in Maine, some of my favorite moments came when we came over a knoll to an outlook that appeared to have a view of the whole state of Maine.  Due to numerous trips to this location, I knew what was coming after our long day hiking through the dense woods.   The kids did not.  I would rush ahead so I could see their faces as they approached this magnificent view.  It never failed. I watched their faces turn from the look related to the strenuous climb to that of pure joy and amazement at the view.  These “too-cool” teens’ lit-up faces and cries of “wow’ reminded me of the same reactions I saw in the younger kids as they explored the nature world during our hikes.

A sense of wonder is characterized by full engagement, flow, being present in the moment, and a high “wow” factor.  Rachel Carson stated in A Sense of Wonder:

A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

I am proposing, then, that a primary role of the educator – of all ages – is to tap into, nurture, nourish, and celebrate each learner’s sense of wonder.

Our job as educators is to create space in our classrooms and our day for this wonder. We need to let them know that their questions are not only valued an important but have a place in our classrooms and school (Building a Culture of Wonder: Inquiry in Primary Education).

Specific Examples of Bringing a Sense of Wonder Into the Classroom

What follows are a few activities to learn about students’ areas of wonder.  Included are both hands-on and technology-enhanced learning activities.

Four Quad Poster

Learners are asked to paint a piece of plywood, cut about 12″ x 12″, that addresses the following.

This activity has been used with Kindergarten through Master’s degree students. Painting was chosen as the medium to activate a different frame of mind (part of the brain) for answering these questions – possibly tapping into thoughts, areas, creative parts of themselves that they may not with more common medium.  After completion, their quad plaques were hug in the classroom.  Each student explained his/her creation and fielded questions by other students.

1st Grader, Jeff, Wonders About Sunsets

5th Grader, Marc, Wonders About Girls (of course)

A huge benefit of this activity is that it provided me, the educator, with a huge amount of assessment information.  I got to learn about the passions of my students and very quickly got to know each one as a unique individual.

Five Word Memoirs: What Do You Wonder About

The 3rd through 5th grade students were given the following directions:

First, they created artistic versions of what they wondered about:

Then, they converted these into technology-based expressions:

With PicLits

. . . and with Imagechef

WonderPoints: Using Mobile Devices to Activate a Sense of Wonder

Bernie Dodge, of Webquest fame, is exploring ways to incorporate mobile learning into the classroom.  He is developing WonderPoints as a way to use mobile devices to explore personal points of wonder.  WonderPoints, involves studying a small area outside the classroom from multiple points of view. As they note things they wonder about, they take pictures, record sounds and capture the beginnings of a question that is then geotagged.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.   Albert Einstein

Additional Readings

I did an extensive search of the internet to find additional references and resources for creating a sense of wonder and a culture of curiosity in the classroom.  Sadly, I found only a few:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

July 5, 2011 at 1:20 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Jackie,
    This is a beautiful and important post. The power of curiosity and wonder are so often overlooked in our classrooms. Students wonder aloud all of the time, but do we hear them? School has unfortunately become a place of “our agenda” instead of theirs. Teachers must stand up for the kids and reclaim wonder and curiosity.
    Have you heard of a book called “Curious” by Todd Kashdan? He is a psychologist who writes about the power of curiosity in addressing anxiety as well as building neural plasticity. I find it a fascinating book with implications for wellbeing and education.
    Thank you for a wonderful reminder. I appreciate your work!

    Joan Young

    July 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm

  2. Enjoyed your post. I plan to share it with teachers at our school.

    Karen Szymusiak

    July 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

  3. This is a “wonderful” post! There is also an excellent book called “A Place For Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Classroom” by Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough. Although targeted at primary could be used at any elementary level K-5.
    Enjoy!

    Linda Muir

    July 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm

  4. Jackie,
    Thank you for the inspiring post! In my preparation to lead a community-wide gathering of educators focused on wonder, I came across a fantastic book: Wonder-full Education: The Centrality of Wonder in Teaching and Learning Across the Curriculum, edited by Egan, Cant, and Judson. It’s a gem.
    Thanks again for your terrific work.
    Sheryl

    Sheryl Chard

    November 10, 2013 at 11:08 pm


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