Reflect on Case Study

By providing a wide variety of topics, such as ocean currents, weather, ecology, and engineering; by weaving together technical content, inspiring stories, and humans problem-solving; by encouraging students to interact directly with Things and find answers to their own questions, the program provides continual opportunities to build affection and new opportunities for finding friendship through this combination of content, context through literature, inquiry, and connection with our world.

Reflect on another case study: Natalie is a form 2 student. She has been introduced to general science using some books that are popular in the Mason community. She narrates her science and natural history lessons accurately, but she seems uninterested in the content. Though she is obedient and does not complain, she does not come up with her own questions during field and laboratory activities or pursue them on her own. When asked if she finds the labs interesting, she comments that the book already explained what was going to happen. How would you assess Natalie’s relationship with science? Would you do anything different to support her relationship?

By the time a student, like Natalie, begins to transition into form 3, she should have built up a number of affections and found some basis for friendship with science. These affections and friendships are the basis for a deepening of relationship in form 3 and a Mason curriculum will assume that those relationships are intact. What if they are not? One of the questions we have to ask is whether Natalie is disinterested only this term or whether this is a persistent observation. We might expect that a student will have an occasional term that does not suit their interests. This is nothing to worry too much about. However, if Natalie is still in form 2 or has moved onto form 3 with a persistent lack of interest, the impact on her relationship will have to be addressed. This does not necessarily mean that the curriculum has to be abandoned or that Natalie must begin again in form 1. It does mean that the teacher will need to give attention to the building of affection and friendship within the curriculum. How to do this? Without realizing it, Natalie gave a hint about what her obstacle is. If the teacher is engaging through reflective practices, they will have noticed that Natalie conveyed that the book explains everything that is going to happen in her activities. Natalie lacks curiosity.  

Mason recognized the importance of curiosity in Principle 13 when she suggested that the syllabus should create “appetite”. Indeed, curiosity is what drives a student to seek “mind food” – to know what they do not. (Kang) It is thought to arise from a discrepancy between what one does know and what one wants to know. (Loewenstein) Research supports these ideas. A number of regions in the brain become active during a state of curiosity. Dopamine is released, stimulating extrinsic reward circuitry from this intrinsic drive. How is this possible? Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) suggests that anticipation is the key. It is the process of pursuing the knowledge that is important rather than actually getting the information itself. (Gruber) Further, fMRI indicates that memory is enhanced when the appetite is whetted. (Kang) (Loewenstein) An important factor to keep in mind is that there is a necessary balance between knowing enough and being uncertain enough. When the student knows either too much or too little about the given material, his curiosity will wane and he will lose his appetite. (Gruber)(Kidd) The research suggests that we should get comfortable with unanswered questions. We should strive to provide enough that they have something to build their own questions onto, while leaving enough unanswered so that they are motivated by curiosity to pursue the answers for themselves. 

In Natalie’s case, the teacher will need to consider if and how the books and activities in the curriculum are meeting this goal of livingness. And until Natalie develops enough interest and curiosity to independently support friendship (and possibly even eros) with science, the teacher will need to make room to actively support affection and friendship. Some ways that this can be done are natural history clubs, field trips, fun nature lore that conveys a spirit of curiosity and adventure, and object lessons that explore more complex phenomena and ecological relationships. 

Considering if and how the books stimulate interest and curiosity while also introducing content and learning to understand the nature and culture of science, let’s examine one possibility for form 3. This week, read Chapters 5-7 from Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim in the Appendix. After this selection, take note of all of the questions about which you are curious. They can be about science or history or culture or any other topic. They can be about details or about big ideas. After you have noted your questions, consider what kinds of scientific content the book might lead you to encounter. Finally, consider what ideas the selection has presented about the nature and culture of science (e.g. what the scientific process is and what has influenced its development and thinking).

Spend some time stargazing this week, as the weather allows, recording your observations in your science notebook. You may want to draw the constellations that you notice and new ones that you identify. Where are they in the sky? What is their position relative to the other constellations that you know?