Just Curious: A Simple Strategy to Model/Foster Engaged Learning

Yesterday my children and I spent about half an hour sitting on the porch just before bedtime.  It was a beautiful evening!  I sat with my five-year-old, while my three-year-old and my one year-old collected rocks, named bumblebees, and practice lifting each other up (the one-year-old is not so good at any of that stuff, but she’s great at trying!).

A kid on a scooter rode past.  My five-year-old said, “I’ve never had a scooter.” I asked if he’d like one.  He replied, “Yes.”  I told him that we could ask mama when she gets home.  He agreed, and then we went back to sitting in silence for several moments before we spoke again.  Here’s how it went when we did (he started):

“Can you talk to G-d?”


“But G-d doesn’t have eyes.”



“Well, G-d talks in different ways than we do.”

“Like in Spanish?”

“Well, like when flowers grow, or the sun shines, or babies are born…that’s G-d talking.”

“And like when scooters are made?”

“I suppose.”

Now it seems clear that part of his motivation was the scooter wanting, but this wouldn’t be the first time he’s expressed profound and almost visceral curiosity. This kid wants to know stuff!  I’d like to be able to teach him everything he wants to know, but (and I hate to admit it) there are many things that I myself don’t know.  It reminds me of an old joke.  Two old men are sitting in a café.  After several moments of sipping in silence, one of the men states, “Life is like a cup of tea.”

The other man looks up, scrunches his eyebrows, raises his shoulders, rubs his chin, and finally asks, “O.K., how is life like a cup of tea?”

The first man replies, “What am I, a philosopher?  How should I know?”

There are some things that we know and can explain, there are some things that we just know, there are some things that we just think we know, there are some things that we believe, and there are some things that we suspect.  However, we can be curious about and explore anything and everything.  And when we teach kids to learn that way, we don’t need to be able to teach them everything.

Curiosity comes very naturally to children…it’s included, and it acts as a catalyst to engaged exploration.  It’s truly powerful.   As educators, we must work to harness that power through targeted instructional practices and connected classroom management.  I really appreciate the “just curious” modeling strategy for that purpose.  Before the introduction of a new concept or the start of a new lesson, say something like, “I’m so excited!  Today were going to explore (insert content, standard, skill, or idea)!  I’m just curious, how does that work,” or “Why does that happened,” or “Do you guys know anything about that?”

I believe that in response you’ll get at least some excited engagement; a decent start.  Stress exploration as the process that you’re going to engage in, and then modeled what authentic and excited engagement looks and sounds like.  When reached out in that way, you’re inviting your students to be partners in learning.  You are engaging in the process with them.  I’ve found that the, “just curious” approach can be effective across the curriculum.  When it’s implemented with authenticity, it can truly drive a culture in which curiosity leads to exploration, in which it’s not only safe to be wrong within the course of learning, but it’s expected, and in which multiple pathways can lead to discovery and achievement.

As you know, kids look to adults for much more than information.  They look to us for examples of how to behave, how to learn, and how to communicate.  Modeling learning as a process that begins with curiosity and moves through exploration, one that’s enhanced by positive partnerships, and one in which trial, error, adaptation, and the repetition of that cycle is critical for the achievement of intended outcomes, is a viable way to develop an effective learning culture in your classrooms and your schools.  Consistent modeling of active and engaged learning promotes active and engaged learning in those we serve.

They say that curiosity kills the cat.  They also say that the cat has nine lives. Maybe the cat is designed to try, and fail, and explore, and move forward, and try again, and fail again, and continue that way along a pathway of learning and growth until he reaches his ninth life.  Maybe each of our goals, and each of our intended outcomes has nine lives.  Maybe we can look to the cat for inspiration on how to achieve those goals and intended outcomes.  Let’s be sure that we don’t stop trying, even and especially when we fail.

One of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison is, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to success is always to try just one more time.”  I think that modeling curiosity as a catalyst to learning and growth is a great way to give our student license for that kind of ongoing effort.  What do you think?  What do you know?  What do you think you know?  How do you model effective learning to your students?  Just curious.


Dream Big.  Work Hard.  Be Well.


  1. Jon Harper

    Seth you are on a roll. The questions kids ask are just amazing. I wish we could go back to the time when our minds were so unfiltered. I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to your future reflections.

    • bergseye

      Thanks Jon…i really like that idea! Maybe there is a way to get back their. I will leave it to you to figure out how…let me know whn you do – I’ll be first in line to buy the book:)! I truly appreciate your consistent support and encouragement! Have a great weekend my friend!

  2. Cheryl

    I truly appreciated this salute to failure as a pathway to learning. Today I fell and laughed (both literally). I’ll continue to work on modeling that less literally for my students. Our students.

    • bergseye

      I hope you’re alright Cheryl…but what an appropriate experience for some deep reflection on the metaphor:)! Thanks for the read and the comment. I’m smiling as I write! “Our students” indeed…looking forward to getting back together in a few weeks to kick things off! Be well!

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