Cultivating curiosity

Newark educators get answers from the experts about young inquiring minds.


Several hundred educators from Newark Public Schools gathered in the Victoria Theater to hear speakers including psychologist and author Angela Duckworth – a self-labeled “expert in grit” – during an afternoon of professional development focused on nurturing a child’s natural curiosity.


Titled Cultivating Curiosity in the NPS Classroom, the April 25 session explored how grit – the kind that comes from strength of character, not the granular kind – is a byproduct of inquiring minds. Duckworth, who is the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is the founder and CEO of the non-profit Character Lab in Philadelphia, which advocates for positive character development in students.


Workshops began with Veronica Grazer, a former marketing professional from Bridgewater who is married to Hollywood mega-producer Brian Grazer (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code). Appearing in support of the book  A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, co-authored by Brian Grazer with Charles Fishman,  Grazer described her husband’s motivation to meet every two weeks with an expert in a field outside his own, in part to inspire his own creativity. What are called curiosity conversations, she noted, often open with the statement “I’ve always been curious about your work” and are shaped by how-and-why questions.


Duckworth said that one way students can break from their engagement with mobile devices is by being encouraged to interview adults to establish “human-to-human conversations with real emotion.” When a child is captivated by a subject, she noted, they will ask questions and take the initiative to learn more outside the classroom. This sense of wonder can forge social connections and develop into a character strength. “It’s a precursor of passion, which is half of grit,” Duckworth added.


Scientific and scholarly studies were held up as evidence that the inducement of a state of curiosity lights up the reward center of the brain by stimulating the release of dopamine. Inquisitiveness fosters self-esteem and is linked to academic accomplishment and higher IQ scores, the experts reported.


Economist Sule Alan spoke about her research in reducing socioeconomic achievement gaps by utilizing tools like curiosity and creativity. Laura Overdeck, founder and President of Bedtime Math, explained how pop culture juggernauts Hamilton: An American Musical and Pokémon contain the “magical ingredients” that lead students to greater discoveries by refashioning history and biology. Both acknowledged that while the traditional classroom structure offers little leeway to follow bursts of curiosity, a willingness to briefly “off-road” lesson plans and curriculum is needed to spur new thinking. 


As Brian Grazer puts it, “Life isn’t about finding the answers. It’s about asking the questions.”


June 13, 2018