Friday, 20 October 2017

The Importance of Intrigue

It was at a mantle cluster meeting this week that I heard Viv Aitken talk about intrigue and the role it plays in preparing the brain to learn.  Obviously curiosity/intrigue plays a big role in the Mantle approach and it absolutely makes sense that it could be one of the dominant reasons for the great success teachers have when they feel confident enough to use Mantle of the Expert in their own class.

We started our mantle journey as a result of an inquiry that had engagement and motivation at its heart.  We found Mantle to be incredibly engaging, in fact the engagement and motivation noticed in students resulted in us using the process school wide and implementing many strategies used in a Mantle throughout everyday teaching, including a lot of process drama and imaginative play.

While we understood that the process was incredibly engaging and soon found that results were equally as pleasing, we never really pinpointed the essence of what was going on for our children.  We did however know that they deeply loved learning this way and seemed to remember every aspect of the imagined world and everything they had learned out of it, as if they were actually living it day to day.

After our short discussion this week I can now clearly see how it is the clear aspect of intrigue in a Mantle that plays a huge role in its success.

It seems to be absolute common sense, and completely obvious....why do you want to learn something...usually it would be because it intrigues you, hooks you in, makes you curious.  What has not been so obvious to me is the brain science behind intrigue, it has not been something I have read about before.  I found a lovely easy read article on it which is linked below.

Findings of research:
(Full article here)

1. Curiosity prepares the brain for learning.

While it might be no big surprise that we're more likely to remember what we've learned when the subject matter intrigues us, it turns out that curiosity also helps us learn information we don't consider all that interesting or important.
The researchers found that, once the subjects' curiosity had been piqued by the right question, they were better at learning and remembering completely unrelated information. One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Matthias Gruber, explains that this is because curiosity puts the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it.
So if a teacher is able to arouse students' curiosity about something they're naturally motivated to learn, they'll be better prepared to learn things that they would normally consider boring or difficult. For instance, if a student struggles with math, personalizing math problems to match their specific interests rather than using generic textbook questions could help them better remember how to go about solving similar math problems in the future.

2. Curiosity makes subsequent learning more rewarding.

Aside from preparing the brain for learning, curiosity can also make learning a more rewarding experience for students.
The researchers found that when the participants' curiosity had been sparked, there was not only increased activity in the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain involved in the creation of memories, but also in the brain circuit that is related to reward and pleasure. This circuit is the same one that lights up when we get something we really like, such as candy or money, and it relies on dopamine, a "feel-good" chemical that relays messages between neurons and gives us a sort of high.
So not only will arousing students' curiosity help them remember lessons that might otherwise go in one ear and out the other, but it can also make the learning experience as pleasurable as ice cream or pocket money. Of course, most teachers already instinctively know the importance of fostering inquisitive minds, but to have science back it up is undeniably satisfying.

The very nature of Mantle has intrigue at its heart.  A hook begins every mantle and by nature primes children for further learning, it puts them in a state of curiousity which seems to make the learning and understanding far deeper.  
When I reflect on Number Agents I often puzzle over just why children seem to develop a depth of mathematical understanding so different from the understandings they used to develop in my 'normal' mathematics programme.  In essence Number Agents has most of the same components of my 'old' maths teaching.  After reading this research and thinking further along these lines, I believe it is the intrigue that does make the absolute difference.  The world of Number Agents is intriguing, agents enter agency each day curious about who they will encounter, who will be the client, what the professor will say....who might turn up via video conference.  The problems are delivered in an intriguing way.  Therefore their brains are prepared for learning through their curiousity, but also their learning is more rewarding and of a greater depth because of the experience of being curious.  I can just see all their brains lighting up with pleasure and in this form the pleasure is related to maths, wow no wonder I have so many parents talk to me about how much their children love maths.
Aside from Number Agents and my Mantle, I guess this also speaks volumes for play-based learning.  By the very nature of play, children will naturally be in a curious and inquisitive wonder their learning shows such depth and growth in a play-based class.  It is also no wonder that the use of invitations is such a great strategy to use.

I find this research incredibly intriguing, and I guess in essence this is why I find Number Agents so rewarding...I am naturally curious about why it works so well and therefore this process is pleasurable for me.
Does that have use to us in our professional inquiries then?  If we are inquiring into something that makes us curious our inquiry will be a lot deeper, if it is something prescribed, it will be much more shallow..would you agree?

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