Curiosity and Metacognition

By Jones, Virginia R.; Talbott, Rachel k. | The Elementary STEM Journal, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Curiosity and Metacognition


Jones, Virginia R., Talbott, Rachel k., The Elementary STEM Journal


Children are naturally curious. In fact, all humans are curious at varying levels; it is just that most adults have curbed their curiosity for the sake of being "adult." Do we miss an important learning tool for continuous learning by failing to employ curiosity in all we do?

Curiosity and metacognition go hand in hand to support continuous lifelong learning. Curiosity is the habit of mind that uses creativity, imagination, and innovation. Curiosity is the openness to new ideas, new risks, and new learning. Curiosity is a driver for engaged learning, not rote memorization. As Paley (n.d.) states,

"The key is curiosity, and it is curiosity, not answers, we model. As we seek to know more about a child, we demonstrate the acts of observing, listening, questioning, and wondering. When we are curious about a child's word and our responses to those words, the child feels respect. The child is respected. 'What are the ideas that I have that are so interesting to the teacher? I must be somebody with good ideas!'"

Metacognition is the "awareness or analysis of one's own thinking or learning process" (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Metacognition is composed of two major types of knowledge: declarative and procedural. Declarative is the knowledge of one's performance abilities and the learning strategies that are the most effective. Procedural knowledge deals with the ability to utilize learned skills and develop strategies for new learning situations (Arslan & Akin, 2014). Arguably, one could state that the ability to use metacognition relates to academic achievement and improved learning outcomes (Arslan & Akin, 2014). Metacognition, according to Einstein (n.d.),

"... is your capacity to enable a part of you to stand back and evaluate what you (or other parts of you) are thinking, feeling, and doing. This is the beginning of change. This is the beginning of wisdom. This is the beginning of your ability to create your future. This is where you find your personal power and freedom."

The opportunities are boundless to increase the metacognition and nurture the curiosity of students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses by reinforcing questioning, self-reflection, and self-strategized learning. Opportunities to equip students with strategies to question, engage their own inner reflective reasoning, and engage in self-guided learning are boundless. With early and upper-elementary learners, educators need to begin a focused approach for teaching the "learners how to learn" and make the most of their in-class activities, develop effective study plans and self-guided learning. Fosmire (2014) uses a model to illustrate important factors--for the most important point is that students need to understand what they are trying to learn, how to best learn it, and most importantly, students have to want to learn it. (See Figure 1 above.)

Some research supports the notion that time spent on homework and self-study at the elementary school level reaps no educational benefit for the student (Metcalfe & Finn, 2013). Does this mean no homework for these students, or is this an opportunity to reevaluate what we ask students to spend their time on at home? Is it possible the students do not make a connection due to a lack of metacognitive skills--the strategies--to be able to understand what they learned or did not learn? This is an opportunity for the teacher to reevaluate the types of homework, or home study, activities we assign to students. Rather than assigning repetitive sentence writing or sets of repetitive mathematical problems, assign problems that utilize their curiosity and creativeness. Assign sentence writing to ask and answer questions about the lesson covered in class or a new topic for discussion the next day. Experiment with creative approaches to writing and vocabulary assignments, thereby encouraging more student participation. This will be more difficult at first for the students and the parents, as they are accustomed to rigid, structured assignments. …

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