New Grant Will Explore Children’s Curiosity in School

By Rachel Chapdelaine

The John Templeton Foundation recently awarded an $800,000 grant to the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), a research center within the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development. The grant will fund a three-year study — Curiosity and Classrooms: An Exploration of Curiosity and the Development of Intellectual Virtues in Schools — that aims to advance knowledge about curiosity, how it develops and intersects with other character virtues and the role of educational experience on curiosity. 

“We know that curiosity has a positive impact on motivation and learning, but there is little research on what children's curiosity looks like in school settings, its development and how it is influenced by the environment,” said Jamie Jirout, assistant professor of education at CASTL and lead investigator of the project.

Although the limited research on curiosity in school settings shows that curiosity has a positive impact on learning in older students, it also shows that students are not curious in school — despite being curious about academic content outside of school. 

“Interview data suggest that students don't associate school with being curious, and observations in learning environments suggest extremely low levels of student curiosity,” said Jirout. “We aim to find out why and what we can do about it.”

For the study, CASTL researchers will assess curiosity in 500 second graders across the school year and explore how curiosity varies across students, subject domain and time. To determine how curiosity supports the development of character, they will also measure other intellectual virtues, such as creativity and critical thinking.

The study will also use observations of teachers’ instruction to provide insight into how instructional practices relate to the development of curiosity in young students. The findings could lead to applications in teaching practices and learning environments that promote children’s curiosity.

“Teachers and administrators recognize the value of student curiosity, but with little research on the topic, they aren’t usually trained on how to effectively support it in the classroom,” said Jirout. “With a greater understanding of how classroom experiences shape curiosity, we hope this study will help us answer how we can support students' curiosity, and thus learning and motivation, in school settings.”