Meet Caine, a  9-year-old from East L.A. whose curiosity has inspired millions:

Why is it that some of our students, like Caine, will follow their curiosity and interests to produce amazing creations or contrivances whilst others flounder or look to the teacher to tell them what to do next? How do we as teachers help restore the lost joy of learning they had when their world was new?

These were my questions as I ended the school year with another round of completed Genius Hour products and presentations. Some of my students demonstrated highly-developed executive function and self-regulation during the entire process and found immense satisfaction and success in pursuing the year-long experiential learning opportunity whilst many froze or lost their way with their new-found freedom. Like any reflective teacher, I wanted to know how I could make the process more meaningful, accessible, and energizing to all of my students and thus began a quest for additional resources to help support those who struggled.

Trevor Mackenzie (@trev_mackenzie) in his book Dive Into Inquiry suggests that scaffolded Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) provides the solid foundation needed for fostering student curiosity and agency. Where I threw my students into the deep end thinking this was the opportunity which would engage my students and free them to pursue projects of interest to them, Mackenzie recommends that teachers allow for a gradual release of responsibility through a variety of projects to help them adapt to a new way of learning:

(Image source:

Using a simplified Understanding by Design (UbD) model, Mackenzie then provides helpful examples of  “performance tasks” for each learning phase which are easily adaptable across disciplines. Each stage leads to greater student autonomy and empowerment as a result of the support and guidance they received early in the process.

There’s only one Caine, and one Caine’s Arcade, but I’m hopeful that by implementing the specific ideas and resources provided in Dive Into Inquiry even more students will rediscover the joy of learning with the skills and confidence necessary to allow their curiosity free reign in their class products and presentations as they continue to prepare for life beyond high school.

The Inquiry Student:

Curious, creative, shows initiative and multi-disciplinary thinking, is empathetic,

and exhibits a growth mind-set, grit, and character (34).

from Dive Into Inquiry

What steps are you taking to recapture students’ curiosity in your class projects? I’d love to hear from you!

One thought on “Curiosity: The Key to Success

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