A Slice of Wonder


Not long ago, I saw this picture on Facebook:


As a kid, I spent hours poring over our encyclopedias, soaking up all sorts of information. When I became a teacher, I wanted to foster that same sense of curiosity in my students. My first classroom had a wall of windows that looked out over the lawn and playing fields. I taped a construction paper frame to one of the windows and labeled it our “Observation Station.” I made little notebooks for the kids to write down what they saw and what they were curious about.

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On today’s Internet, the entire world is just one or two clicks away. Wonderopolis, in case you’re not familiar with this amazing resource, focuses on answering a single question each day. Recent questions include “Do snakes have ears?” and “What do bees do in winter?” If this website had been around when I was a classroom teacher, it would have had front and center billing in my classroom. As it is, I’ve promoted it and encouraged the teachers I work with to incorporate it into their day as often as possible. At NCTE, a stellar panel shared their thoughts about wonder and curiosity at the Wonderopolis Breakfast. Georgia Heard, Barbara Philips, Paul Hankins, Joellen McCarthy, and Kristin Ziemke wowed us with the depth of their thinking and insights about encouraging wonder in our students.

Georgia Heard began by telling us that “school should be a scavenger hunt” and that we should be “in awe of the universe.”

Paul Hankins left everyone speechless with his thinking about wonder. He thought of W as a compass, pointing to “our true north.” Rotating the letter 90 degrees to the left reveals a B, which stands for our beliefs. Flip the B, and, with some creative visualizing, you have a C, which reminds us of the need to create opportunities in our learning environments where kids can wonder, ask questions, collaborate. Finally, one last rotation reveals an M, which stands for the “mountains of meaning” our students will build in the our rich classrooms. Paul also urged us to have “uncommon courage” to build the habits of mind in our students that foster wonder and to become “classroom concierges.” Find out where your kids want to go and facilitate their journey.

The brilliance was flying and I honestly couldn’t keep up with all the smart thinking that was being shared. Here are a few examples:

Wonderopolis is as mobile as the human mind.

“We need to encourage our kids to go beyond the quick answer to find the connections and patterns that lead to the deeper answer.” Kristin Ziemke

Wonder journals are a place for questions, observations, sketches. They should travel back and forth between home and school.

“Wonder leads to finding the information, not finding the answer. New discoveries lead to new questions…” Kristin Ziemke

If you’re curious and want to know more, you can follow Wonderopolis and all the panelists on Twitter. JoEllen McCarthy regularly posts a text/Wonder pairing. Look for her #WOTDP hashtag. 

Georgia Heard & Jennifer McDonough’s book A Place for Wonder (Stenhouse, 2009) is another fabulous resource. It’s full of suggestions on how to invite children’s questions and observations into our classrooms by encouraging their curiosity and wonder.

Kristine Ziemke’s new book, co-authored with Katie MuhtarisAmplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom (Heinemann, 2015) was just published in October. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it’s at the top of my TBR stack!

The world has changed in immeasurable ways since I first cracked opened those encyclopedias more than fifty years ago. But the capacity for children to ask questions and be curious has not. Thank you, Wonderopolis, Georgia, Barbara, Paul, JoEllen, and Kristin, for sharing your ideas about nurturing our students and their ever-present sense of wonder.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

10 thoughts on “A Slice of Wonder

  1. I was blown away by this panel and spent too much time trying to tweet their brilliance when i should have just soaked it in. Thanks for the recap. Paul’s manipulation of the W was brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It sounds like a “wonder” of a session breakfast, Catherine. It’s what makes my school work. Kids get to choose what they wonder about and then learn about it, and that connects and connects to so much more. FYI-I looked at encyclopedias a lot too!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Also loved this session — I am planning on “slicing” about it next week! I am so happy you got Paul’s piece in writing about wonder. I was in such awe I couldn’t write –he was truly a wonder!


  4. This is a wonderful recap of the fabulous Wonderopolis breakfast. I enjoyed our time together so much, Catherine and this only “amplified” my feelings of joy and wonder at all of the smart learning as you say.


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