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Curiosity based learning and self-education

Paulo J. Hidalgo, Geosciences, Georgia State University

I have always admired educators who were able to transform my lack of enthusiasm towards a subject into that of mesmerizing interest. Educators such as the ones I am referring to not only changed my career selection but have continued to influence and revitalize my appetite for knowledge and higher research standards. Like them, I believe that my role in the classroom is that of a instigator of scientific curiosity. Somebody that could bring back the primal curiosity embedded in human nature by encouraging students to self-educate.

I have an inquisitive, curious and precocious 3 year old daughter. Because of my scientific training, I tend to observe and analyze everything that she does, says, or observes. I have come to realize that she is naturally curious like many other children of her age. She continuously inquires about her surroundings and later generates concepts and models to describe the world around her. I have realized that commonly she tests these concepts over and over, modifying previous conceptions when needed. This I believe, is an endless curiosity based learning cycle. More importantly, this process is roughly akin to what we describe as hypothesis testing and the scientific method. From birth our children are wired to be more than passive observers. Their brains are free of preconceptions and are predisposed to perceive the environment with great amazement and inquisitive minds. This is possibly why children are able to learn by simple observation and listening, skills such as: walking, climbing, jumping, talking, learning new languages, physical properties of objects, psychology of interpersonal relations, etc. Children manage to learn all of this complicated plethora of complex skills from no one. It is by simple free play and their insatiable curiosity that they learn about the world around them.
Later in live, the insatiable minds are send to structured schooling where the self-inquiry self-education process could cease to operate.

George Bernard Shaw used to say:
"The only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school." and
"If you teach a man anything, he will never learn."
I believe that our role as educators is to try to reverse the "damage" that many years of structure schooling have done in our students minds. I believe that this is more easily done by creating a class environment that is conducive for students to teach themselves and others. But overall, by creating a community of supportive and collaborative inquiry within the classroom that is based in the common phenomena that we observe in the word around us.

Crucial to this process is to provoke the students curiosity by making them produce their own observations, and their own inferences and theorems based on the observations. Later, our role is to present the current state of the subject by introducing theorems and paradigms (carefully for the faint of heart), and empirical concepts that can be integrated into their own life experience. In the opinion of many developmental psychologist, curiosity is an important piece in a complex puzzle of dispositions that are necessary for lifelong learning. In that sense, our primordial activity as instructors should be to facilitate curiosity in our classrooms and evaluate how well we are developing lifelong learners by continuously assessing and reviving student's natural curiosity.

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