Preschoolers demonstrate curiosity every day in everything they do, as their parents can well appreciate (“Why?” “But why?”). But, St. Francis teenagers are their rival in this quest for answers, in the most delightful way. Our Senior Projects are a perfect example. Each spring, the 11th graders choose a topic they want to focus on for nearly a year and the Project includes a research component and annotated bibliography, a written component, and it culminates in the winter/spring of their 12th grade year with a presentation. There is of course a great deal of critical thinking going on during this Project, as seniors synthesize all the skills they’ve acquired during their St. Francis education, but it all starts with their subjects — with the things they are most curious about. Topics can range from creation of an aquaponics system to designing a Craftsman-style house to fashioning an authentic upcycled denim clothing line to writing children’s stories to illustrate the intricacies of Chinese grammar. One of the most hallowed objects in the High School is a hand-carved Wyvern skeleton that hangs in the Atrium — a Senior Project from over a decade ago that combined research on dinosaurs and birds and some serious artistic talent, but began with curiosity: what would a Wyvern skeleton look like if Wyverns were real?
Just as adolescents are curious, so too are their younger compatriots adept in critical thinking. Earlier this week in the Preschool, a group had to figure out what to do when one child had all the marbles and wanted to play with her friends; the friends wanted to play but had no marbles. The children were not sure how to solve the conundrum. When the teacher asked what could be done, the wheels began to turn: the child with the marbles realized she could count them out and hand one to each child who wanted to play — and the marble game ensued!
The K-5 math curriculum is another place where critical thinking comes into play. Before engaging with symbols that represent certain concepts, students explore numbers with objects, pictures, and other classroom materials, which helps to foster their critical thinking skills so that they can genuinely understand the concepts behind the symbols once those are introduced. And in Middle School, both critical thinking and intellectual curiosity are in full force during Projects, where choice, passion, and exploration collide via such topics as financial literacy, American Sign Language, Introduction to Python Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence, and more.
Anthropologist and author Zora Neale Hurston once commented, in a perfect description of our pairing of Intellectual Curiosity and Critical Thinking, that “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” For all ages at SFS, we are fully supportive of poking and prying!