How To Encourage A Wonder Mindset In Elementary Classrooms

By Char Shryock, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Bay Village City Schools

When was the last time you stopped to wonder about something? Sometimes in our quest to get in 90 minutes of reading, 45 minutes of math, lunch, art, music, and phys ed in our plan for the day, we miss those moments of wonder.   Building in wonder time into a lesson can open new windows into the thinking and problem solving process of your students.  I have been working with a kindergarten class this year,  integrating science, math and ELA.  These kids are “wonder-full”.  I like to start off a discussion by making my own wonder statement.  This past week I wondered why the back side of the Moon looked different then the front side.  This led to a great conversation with the kids.  Some things they wondered about included, how big is the Moon? How do we know? How old is the Moon? How does the Earth move?  How do clouds move? Could astronauts feel the Moon moving?  By leaving space for wondering in my lesson planning, I gave the students a chance to engage in building their own learning path.  From this discussion, I was able to select a read aloud book, The Darkest Dark, written by Chris Hadfield.  Students wondered about the darkness of space, and what the Earth looked like from the Moon. We found pictures of the Earth taken from the Moon and from Mars. We talked about the size of the Moon. For a math activity, we learned the words circumference and sphere.  Using fact statements about the Moon and Moon exploration, we worked with the numbers 6,9, 12 and 27, talking about which number was bigger, and how many more or how many less one number was from another. Then we wondered about what moons from other planets looked like? How many moons are in our solar system?  All this from a 5 minute wonder conversation.  

Do you have 5 minutes in your day to build in wonder time?  The first step in building a wonder mindset is for teachers to model wondering by doing “ wonder think out louds” for students.  The next step is to create collaborative discussion norms that encourage all students to wonder out loud, without any immediate judging of the idea or question.  Teacher facilitators can capture the wonder ideas and questions, then, with the class, make decisions about prioritizing or clarifying the list as a way to plan additional lesson or small group work.  The last step in building a wonder mindset classroom is creating hands-on centers and selecting read aloud books  that encourage wondering.  A wonder center might include blocks, Legos, Hot Wheel cars and track, coloring materials, craft sticks, glue, a variety of interesting pictures, magnifying glasses and anything else that will encourage kids to act on their “I wonder if…” ideas. Sounds a lot like a makerspace!  Informational text sets are great starters for wondering.  Students who want to learn more about something can use the text sets to find answers to “I wonder why… “ questions.  Pictures and stories can be the spark for additional wondering.

Once a culture of wonder starts to grow in a classroom, feedback can continue to grow a wonder mindset in children. Start feedback on an activity with, “ I wonder how you might try this in a different way?” or “ What else did this make you wonder about?” or even “After reading/listening to this, I began to wonder about ____”.  Student reflection journals might include wondering pages or boxes to capture their wondering as they work they way through reading, science, math or other lessons.  Build a wonder board in your classroom for kids to post their wonderings. Help them connect to classmates who may be wondering about similar things. This is a great way to start a collaborative project!

Resources that focus on wondering include:

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