During one of our study groups, some of our teachers decided to do an experiment. They went into a 4th Grade classroom, and showed the students two pictures. One was an ordinary, conventional picture of an apple that has a bite taken out of it. The other was unusual...a house on top of a rock on top of a lake.
Next, we did the same with the unconventional picture of the house on the lake, and the answers neatly landed in the same four categories.
These four categories seemed to be on a continuum from most concrete to abstract, so we wanted to see if kids' answers were the same in both instances. We plotted these answers.
The students whose answers were above the diagonal and more creative answers with the unconventional picture. This was a very small sample size, so we'd have to do more and more trials of this to see if it holds true consistently, but it seems to show that since there were more there than on the opposite side, the more unconventional setting yielded more curious, creative, abstract thinking.
So what's the moral of the story? One is that some kids feel more ready to think abstractly, while others are more concrete. This might be developmental or because of experiences. However, (we suppose) it's teachable. The other is that the more out-of-the-box, creative our teaching is, the more likely we might be to make our kids do the same.
Are you curious about curiosity? There are great books out right now about this topic. Try out the same experiment with students you know. We're going to try it with younger students, and we're also trying figure out if there was a pattern to kids' answers and what we know about them. Stay tuned, and comment if you have more ideas about this curious topic!