Conversation around my dinner table isn’t always what most families would consider to be normal…or polite for that matter. My wife and I are both educators, and we encourage our children to be curious. So much so we will wind up following lengthy tangents of “why” questions far beyond what “normal” parents might endure. Which is how a simple question about what snakes eat eventually led to whether they actually poop or not (we were done with dinner at this point).
My past life working in a children’s book store quickly reminded me that Everyone Poops, but my children and I were curious as to “how” it actually happened. My wife was thoroughly put off by the conversation at that point, so we headed over to the computer and did a search on Youtube without her.
Yes, snakes do poop.
For those of you still reading this post, the point isn’t about whether serpents defecate. The point is about finding time to honor curiosity that doesn’t always fit into our pre-planned, pre-scheduled routines; there were at least a dozen other videos about snake poop on the first page of search results, and it gave rise to a host of other questions. My son (age five) immediately wanted to know what the inside of a snake looked like. After a quick search or two for “snake anatomy,” I found a student produced video about the anatomy of a snake:
Not satisfied with a simple drawing, my kids wondered what a snake’s heart and insides actually looked like, so I guided them through a bit more searching and we found an actual rattlesnake dissection video. Was it disgusting? For some, yes. But it was also an authentic inquiry based on a small conversation born out of curiosity.
The reality that you can learn just about anything you want using Youtube or a search engine isn’t new; it’s not going to turn heads like Khan Academy has, and it’s certainly not going to be buzzing around circles of educational technology veterans. But it did make me wonder just how many opportunities we still miss to satisfy genuine moments of curiosity. The time my children and I spent invested in our “snake poop” inquiry took all of five minutes, and we became much more well versed in the inner workings and biology of serpents; at least knowledgeable enough to ask better questions about a snake’s anatomy (why do they have two lungs, and not one? If they have actual spines and ribs, how are they able to bend so much?). I wonder how often we find time to honor those questions in the classroom. How many educators would be willing to allow some “bite sized” moments of informal learning with teacher-guided exploration of questions each week, or even each day?
What if you had an “ask anything” box in your classroom where students could drop curiosities on slips of paper, with one or two questions being explored each week? What if you tasked students with sharing their own discoveries with you and their classmates. Not as a full blown “20 time” project; but a more communal way to explore small curiosities together. Plenty of classrooms are doing “Genius Hour” and “20 time” as full blown projects throughout the year, but I know that can be incredibly daunting for many. What if we started small? What if we had “Genius Snacks” or “Genius Moments” as a way to ease into the more informal learning that takes place all the time outside of the classroom?