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Curiosity Leads to Success In and Out of the Classroom

Curiosity Leads to Success In and Out of the Classroom

31 May 2019

Dr. Fred Mayo discusses encouraging curiosity and building a classroom culture that fosters discovery.

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

This month we will turn and discuss an essential element in education – encouraging curiosity in our students and building a classroom culture that fosters discovery.

Young children are eager to learn new things; if you invite young children to learn something new and present it with a positive attitude, they respond with enthusiasm and genuine interest. There is an inherent desire to learn more about almost anything. By the time they reach adulthood and finish college, however, that continuing curiosity and natural eagerness to learn has often been squelched or reduced to a mere glimmer of its former self.

Therefore, as teachers, we need to rekindle the flame of curiosity and focus it on the subjects we teach. Curiosity leads to success. Consider how many chefs continue to read about new ingredients, search for ways to prepare new meals, or create changes in recipes or cooking techniques. Reading keeps us current and triggers more thinking and more interest in discovering something new. Remaining curious helps all professionals. After all, remember Albert Einstein has been reported as saying, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Since intellectual curiosity and IQ provide equally powerful forecasts of academic success, we should focus on promoting curiosity among our students.

Facilitating Curiosity
There are many ways to encourage curiosity in our classes and you probably use a lot of them. However, if you have not considered some of the following, how about trying these suggestions?

  • Pose questions that intrigue students and open them to discover new aspects of a subject.
  • Encourage the “why” and “so what” questions.
  • Foster debate and discussion when students are commenting on plate presentations.
  • Ask why recipes include certain ingredients and what those ingredients contribute to the final product’s flavor or texture.
  • Invite students to ask questions about why they have certain assignments.
  • Promote more divergent thinking that broadens discussion rather than convergent thinking that focuses on one correct answer.
  • Ask questions about what would happen if one element of a recipe was increased in amount or if it was added in a different format (example: liquid versus dry form).
  • Push students to think more about other ways to develop the items on a menu or the items sequence.
  • Reward students who ask more questions so long as they are real and not just hot air.
  • Connect potentially contradictory ideas together to get students to think something through.
  • Avoid answering questions and invite other students to answer questions you are asked.
  • Smile when someone asks a thoughtful question.
  • Call on students to make a thoughtful contradictory statement to what the textbook said.
  • Demonstrate your own curiosity by musing aloud about a topic being discussed in class; it shows you are still learning and thinking about it.

Rewarding Curiosity
The other aspect of encouraging curiosity and a spirit of discovery in our classes involves rewarding students who have provocative questions. While it is often hard to face such questions and there is never enough time for the rewarding and wide-ranging discussions we would like to encourage, showing you like these questions changes the culture of your classroom. Some of the ways to reward curiosity include:

  • Give credit to a thoughtful answer even if it was not the one you wanted or expected.
  • Encourage mistakes and praise students who learn from their mistakes.
  • Publicly compliment students who demonstrate an honest curiosity in a new topic or a new issue.
  • Thank students for asking a question that demonstrates real curiosity.
  • Tell a story from your professional experience where your curiosity led you to better success.

All of these suggestions also promote better learning and help students remember what they have been reading, discussing, practicing, and debating. In that way, you help them learn any topic you are teaching.

Hopefully, this Mayo Clinic encourages you to consider ways to foster curiosity. In August we will talk more about encouraging new ways of learning in our students. If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.