Sparking Curiosity to Engage Students in Learning

What are you curious about? What questions do you have?

A Guest Post by Marcia Carrillo

Based on the work of @ramusallam

These are the questions I was asked after watching a Verizon commercial, in which a bicyclist rides throughout San Francisco and his path is captured on his phone in the shape of a heart, which he sends to his girlfriend sitting alone at a restaurant. Immediately, my learning was SPARKED.  I was engaged and ready to learn and explore this topic.

Why did this video clip SPARK my learning?  Ramsey Musallam, suggested using a video clip of less than 60 seconds, an image or a demonstration to ‘Engage’ students in your topic of learning.  Three things he suggested to consider when selecting and manipulating these visuals are:

  • Missing Information – the words, titles or explanation – is left out
  • Anticipated – the withholding of information, a gradual release
  • Violation of Expectations – something you might not expect

What questions do you have?

Ramsey’s Interactive Presentation

I was asked to fill out a form and submit all my questions.  It gave me that feeling of: my teacher wants to know what I think. (student voice) “How many miles was the perimeter of the heart path? How long did it take him to ride the path? What did he use to figure out a heart path? Who was that girl? Why was she alone?”

What are you curious about?

The presenter, Ramsey Musallam, then took our answers from a Google form, created a spreadsheet, with one click, copied all of the teachers responses, and pasted them into https://wordsift.org/, creating a word cloud of our responses.(The collaboration of others’ responses) This led to a group discussion of what trends or patterns we noticed in our questioning and our curiosity.

Wordsift.org Word Cloud Generator

Collaboration and Engagement

Ramsey had us participating in a simulation of the 5E Inquiry Learning Cycle and Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. (Planning Template)  

We began to explore some of the answers to these questions by asking us to collaboratively research how to find the perimeter and area of the heart path using whatever skills or processes necessary.  It would have been helpful to have a math teacher in our group, but my colleagues were English and Social Studies teachers and they wanted to search the internet to find the solution. Although we found an accurate solution, most groups used a map, careful calculations, and debate to solve the equation. Groups presented their findings, with images and an explanation of their process, on a Google slide. It was interesting to hear how each group approached the problem uniquely, although we all had similar results.  Ramsey, as the teacher, followed up explaining  some of the calculations and formulas that would work best in this problem.  He took us through a few other activities, however sparking curiosity is what I believe many lessons are missing. Curiosity allows you to engage students in relevant, standards-based topics so they can explore and develop a love for learning.

"When curiosity is sparked, deep cycles of learning can occur." -Ramsey Musallam

Spark Curiosity Presentation by Marcia Carrillo

So What About Curiosity?

Why is curiosity important to businesses, employees, and education?

I decided to do some reading about curiosity and I am finding some educators are considering it the fifth “C”, in reference to the four C’s of 21st century skills.  These skills are some of the most popular learning strategies in today’s environment; creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication.

The Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct 2018 issue, has an article entitled, Why Curiosity Matters?  One quote that resonated with me was,

“Most of the breakthrough discoveries and remarkable inventions throughout history, from flints for starting a fire to self-driving cars, have something in common: They are the result of curiosity.” (Gino, 2018)

Here are some phrases I selected from my reading.

Sparked curiosity can lead to deeper thinking.

Sharing What I Learned

The  professional development I attended was at Merced High School in Merced, CA, and I had the privilege of learning from the awesome Ramsey Musallam, one of my “edu-heroes.” I was so inspired by his passion, strategies, and the content shared that I  presented a modified version of “Spark Curiosity” twice in the last two weeks.

Thank you Ramsey for sparking my learning and passion to share how we can easily create opportunities for students to be curious.  I highly recommend Ramsey Musallam’s Book, Spark Learning! I actually was super blessed to win this amazing book by completing a form on Alice Keeler’s Twitter stream.  This book details how to “embrace the power of student curiosity” by providing examples, step by step directions, and in-depth understanding.

Marcia Carrillo and Ramsey Musallam


Marcia Carrillo, @MarciaMentor, is the New Teacher Induction Coordinator, for the Merced Union High School District. She is passionate about student-centered learning, equity and helping all students achieve.

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