Designing a curriculum around children’s questions improves motivation and concentration

Innovative study flipped the way in which curriculums are designed

Instead of thinking about what children needed to know, researchers of a new study asked the children what they wanted to know about the topic of water.

“The results show that children are more motivated, more engaged and maintain a higher level of concentration if the tasks they are asked to complete are more interesting and relate to their own lives and experiences in different ways,” says Professor Patricia Thomson, who led the research project. “Science teaching in schools is often already driven by children’s curiosity, and so we took this approach when devising the curriculum but widened it so that the pupils would learn about the science, history and geography of water.”

The curriculum Professor Thomson and her colleagues devised was large and varied. Topics ranged from the different states that water can exist in, to how a steam engine works, and how much water is used to make a pair of jeans. Older children learnt about the effect that a lack of water has on conflicts and wars around the world.

The active and varied approach to learning promoted by the researchers had a visible effect on the pupils. The work they produced, including writings and presentations was more insightful than usual. “This is because children are much more likely to learn and retain information if they can bring a range of different experiences and knowledges to bear on the subject,” said Thompson.

The project was an initial scoping study, but plans are afoot to repeat the study on a larger scale, measuring the outcomes on children in a more quantitative way.

The research project and its findings on how we can best engage children and young people with such an important issue will be discussed at a free event, ‘Last call at the oasis’, on Monday 9 November, as part of the 2015 ESRC Festival of Social Science. It takes place from 14.00-17.00 at Highfield House, University Park, University of Nottingham, Nottingham.

Pie Corbett