Talking Curiosity with Amy Dolan

Talking Curiosity with Amy Dolan

Each month, Athlos focuses on a specific Performance Character trait as part of the Performance Character Pillar. Athlos believes it’s important to help students first recognize and then develop Performance Character strengths—traits like leadership, curiosity, creativity, and initiative. These concepts are part of daily academic instruction, athletic activities, and community events that take place in Athlos schools.

In the following Q&A, our middle school specialist, Amy Dolan, discusses the importance of curiosity in education.

Getting to know Amy Dolan

Amy Dolan received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Wisconsin Lutheran College (Milwaukee, WI), her teaching certification from Concordia University (Mequon, WI), and master’s in entomology from Montana State University (Bozeman, MT).

Dolan has taught middle and high school science in many different settings for more than ten years. She held the roles of traditional middle school science teacher near Boston, MA, senior youth crew leader and curriculum writer for the Montana Conservation Corps, outdoor educator on the coast of Georgia, and high school science teacher at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy in Prescott, AZ.

In addition to teaching, Dolan loves learning and continually look for opportunities to grow both personally and professionally. She has attended conferences, classes, institutes, and even joined wild cat researchers in Argentina as an Earthwatch Education Fellow.

“You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives.” – Clay P. Bedford

Q. What is curiosity?

A. To me, curiosity is noticing the things around you and constantly wondering how and why. It’s a passion to continually gather new information, gain new perspectives, and generate new ideas.

Q. Why is curiosity an important character trait for people to have, and students to embrace during the process of learning?

A. I think it’s the students who embrace curiosity who get the most out of their learning. If the only goal is to answer someone else’s questions or memorize facts that someone else thinks are important, the learning experience is not meaningful and there’s a good chance that what was learned will be forgotten. But when you seek answers to your own questions, the learning experience becomes personal, more meaningful, and more memorable. And the thing is, good questions never really lead to definitive answers, they lead to more questions and deeper learning.

Q. What makes a person with curiosity stand apart from those without?

A. Curious people are fun to be around! When someone has curiosity, they notice little things and ask interesting questions that can lead to fascinating conversations. I also think that curious people tend to be imaginative, innovative, and funny. They see the world a little differently and often challenge the status quo.

Q. How does exercising curiosity relate to success in life?

A. When you’re curious, you’re always questioning the world around you. You tend to notice small details, see connections between topics, and wonder if a product or idea could be improved —all of these behaviors can lead to ambition, initiative, innovation, and success.

Q. How can curiosity be taught to students?

A. I really don’t think you need to teach kids to be curious — it’s a pretty innate trait. What’s incredibly important, though, is for adults to not crush the curiosity of children. One way to foster curiosity is to honor the questions kids ask — take time to acknowledge the questions, help them discover answers, or allow yourself to get caught up in the wonder with them. Another powerful way to foster curiosity is through modeling — vocalize observations about the world around you, ask questions, make connections, allow yourself to get excited about new discoveries. Finally, time for exploration is key. If students have time to deconstruct a machine, dig in the earth, gaze at the sky, observe animals in the wild, etc., they will notice many things and those observations will naturally lead to questions.

Q. How does Athlos teach this trait to its students?

A. One of the 12 Athlos Prepared Mind strategies is inquiry-based curriculum. This means that at Athlos, we are intentionally building classrooms that foster curiosity. The foundation of inquiry-based curriculum is a good “need-to-know” question. Instead of giving information to students, teachers craft experiences in which students discover facts for themselves and construct understanding. When classrooms are set up to be inquiry-based, it’s the students’ curiosity that drives instruction. Learning becomes exciting, memorable, and deep.

I also think that curiosity and unstructured free play are tightly linked. At Athlos, we advocate for protected, unstructured free play for students two to four times a day. When children have time to explore their world without the restraints of a specific task, they will make interesting observations and have opportunities to develop their curiosity.

Q. Why is curiosity such an important part of the Athlos model?

A. Curiosity is really closely connected to the other character traits. Curiosity leads to initiative and creativity. A student who is really passionate about learning tends to demonstrate grit, focus/self-control, energy/zest, optimism, etc. Curiosity drives learning in the Prepared Mind and Healthy Body Pillars too, since students are genuinely interested in finding the answers to their own burning questions.

Q. How does curiosity help students achieve their goals?

A. I think one of the most important by-products of curiosity is motivation. When students are curious, they are driven to find answers, look for connections, and achieve their goals. And that motivation can become completely intrinsic — students who are curious tend to motivate themselves.

Q. What does a world without curiosity look like?

A. I think a world without curiosity would be so sad! How boring to experience day-to-day life without wonder and without a passion for new information and perspectives. Also, a world with no curiosity would be incredibly stagnant — no questions, no discoveries, no innovation, no new ideas.

Q. What experiences have you had teaching or experiencing curiosity in the classroom?

A. I think some of my favorite moments as a teacher are related to curiosity. I’m a science nerd, with a passion for the natural world, so it’s easy for me to get excited about students’ observations and discoveries. One stand-out moment was when I showed students how to use microscopes and got to witness their wonder at the faces of insects or the colorful beauty of dust bunnies.
Another was when I was with students on the beach and allowed them time to explore tide pools — so many questions and discoveries! I also really enjoyed taking students to meet content-area experts; students would ask impressively insightful questions because they were so caught up in the topics they were learning about. These kinds of experiences were fun for the students and fun for me, and we all got to learn new things together!


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