Developing key competencies requires a different and more holistic approach to curriculum than a solely skills based approach. These competencies were introduced into the New Zealand curriculum in 2007 and focused on Thinking, Relating to others, Using language, symbols and texts, Managing self, and Participating and contributing. The intent was to provide a curriculum that gives students the agency to take responsibility for their own learning, particularly in navigating the complex and dynamic environment that they face in the 21st century. While supportive of this change, a black box remains between the understanding of the old curriculum, and the operationalisation of the new competency-based approach that develops curiosity, knowledge and compassion .
Curious Minds Possible Worlds is a framework based on curiosity that enhances these key competenciess. The timing of this programme is important, as just before the onset of puberty, the prefrontal cortex goes through a massive growth spurt in developing new synaptic connections and pathways. This makes the 10-11 year age an important time for introducing a programme whereby curiosity can make integrative connections between cognitive, physical, emotional and spiritual elements. That is, integrating the whole person for more holistic thinking. The following explains in more depth why curiosity is important and what it can contribute to key competencies.
1. Curiosity is important because it:
a. Improves learning. Curiosity sparks activity in the hippocampus, an area in the brain associated with the creation of memories, and more importantly, the brain circuit related to reward and pleasure. It activates the feel-good chemical, dopamine, which is released. The ramp-up of dopamine means the brain becos like a sponge, soaking up what is around us. Furthermore, it also makes learning pleasurable.
b. Builds individual physiological well-being. Studies suggest that curious people have a stronger sense of self and are more able to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty. This is possible as positive emotions dampen the amygdala where anger is held, and allow for the broadening of one’s attention, awareness and scope, and the building of survival promoting resources. These positive emotions reduce the release of stress-induced cortisol, enabling the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system to enhance our health and well-being.
c. Third, curiosity develops entrepreneurial qualities of creativity and innovation that can result in the development of more sustainable communities. The broadening and building psychological functions inherent in curiosity can result in wider spans of attention and scanning ability for more complex problem-solving. These meta-level cognitive functions can lead to the development of more moral and socially just societies through system-level creativity and innovation, enhanced through education.
2. How can curiosity be enhanced?
This 4 P leadership programme (Perception, Pause, Positivity, Purpose) is designed to assist 10-11 year olds see the world in a curious way so that they are better able to be creative, cope with adversity and challenge existing mental models that enhance human flourishing (feeling good and doing good).
The programme is based on the latest leading-edge scientific studies through the following questions:
What is real?
What is going on in your body?
How can we practice being positive?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The programme is structured around five 2.5 hour classes (introduction, perception, pause, positivity, purpose). Homework is expected to be completed during and after the course. We will return to do a follow up conclusion class, along with providing flights for 28 children who demonstrate increased awareness in curiosity. The flights give the students a 3D view of the world, which gives them an experience of what a change in perspective can achieve. They have the ability to experience curiosity.
1. The practical outcomes of this programme include:
Curiosity can help the student reshape their lives, giving them the skills to develop a positive outlook on life that enhances their ability to be like a sponge to take a broader worldview. This can enable these young students to develop greater creativity, stronger coping skills, and gives them skills to challenge existing mental models so that they may enhance human flourishing through a future world of possibility. Curiosity is therefore a meta-level capacity that can develop leadership, creativity and entrepreneurship that may assist society to face and overcome significant challenges, such as ethical scandals, climate change, poverty and social injustice.
Hence, the specific outcomes are to:
a. Enhance the student’s ability to learn - through activating the hippocampus and the pleasure chemical dopamine;
b. Enhance the student’s health and well-being – through positive emotions that dampening the amygdala and limit cortisol production;
c. Enhance the student’s entrepreneurial creativity and innovation that can lead to system-wide shift to a more sustainable and equitable society.
A full paper with references is available on request.