Developing your Curiosity (or Some Ways to Look at the World in a Different Light Despite the Constraints Imposed by COVID-19)

Written by: Alex Casillas, Dana Murano, and Kate Walton
ACT Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning

By now you may be in week four of engaging in new routines as a result of COVID-19: working from home (or continuing to work at your workplace if you have an essential job), attending school from home, socializing virtually and/or caring for loved ones from a distance. You are likely having to use your social and emotional skills in new ways. As you continue to adjust to this fluid situation, you may need to improvise to complete a task or meet a need. A well-known quote that states, “Necessity is the mother of all inventions.” Do you ever wonder what this quote really means?

If so, you are making use of your curiosity, which reflects your creativity, inquisitiveness, flexibility, open-mindedness, and embracing of diversity. This is an important social and emotional skill that can help us not only to cope with the challenges posed by COVID-19 but to thrive in a world that is continually changing. It is quite possible that today’s challenges may fuel innovation across the world for many fields: medicine, teaching and learning, economics, and personal services, to name a few. In fact, never before have so many people engaged in concerted efforts to work from home, teach and learn using online tools, share scientific findings that can accelerate work on a vaccine, or come up with legislature and financial policies to help people manage the consequences of the pandemic.

The bad news is that the current situation has imposed a variety of constraints on our daily lives, some of which might continue for some time. The good news is that this situation is providing us with the opportunity to develop our curiosity, creativity, and flexibility. In fact, recent research reveals that anyone can develop these skills in the same way that they develop any other set of skills: by engaging in deliberate practice. Below we offer some lessons and activities from ACT’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Assessment and Curricula solutions designed to help anyone develop their curiosity and to look at the world from a different perspective.

Paper Plane Flying Contest. Everyone knows how to make paper planes, right? Turns out that your assumptions and previous knowledge often constrain how you think of the world, even for something as simple as building a paper plane. This activity helps you to make those assumptions more explicit and frees up your ability to think outside the box when designing something new.

Everyday Objects. What uses do you have for a hammer? You probably think of pounding nails. But did you also think about using it as a weight, or a doorstop, or to summon Thor’s powers? This activity helps you to see everyday objects in a different light and to practice thinking of less typical ways to use those objects.

What’s in a Name? Have you ever wondered what is the origin of your name or what would it have been like to live at the time and/or in the place where your name originated? This activity is designed to help you appreciate how something as simple as a name has a rich cultural heritage.

Folk Tales. We’ve all been exposed to folk tales such as The Tortoise and the Hare or The Little Engine that Could. Folk tales are common in every culture, and so are the values and themes that these tales communicate. In this activity, you can combine analytical thinking skills, creativity, and information about other cultures to create a new folk tale reflecting a common value or theme.

Flipside of the Coin. Important issues are often complex and multi-faceted, yet social media often tries to present things as one-sided and clear-cut. In this activity, you can develop an appreciation for different perspectives by picking an important topic that has two sides to it and develop arguments that support each of the two sides.

In addition to lessons and activities that are part of ACT’s SEL Assessment and Curricula solutions, below are a few more tips that could be useful.

Treasure Hunt. Treasure hunts can be fun for people of any age. Depending on your current living circumstances, you can make your hunt to something that can easily be done indoors. For example, identify anything with circles, or anything that has red in it. The possibilities are endless!

Shift Your Perspective. What do Pablo Picasso and Georgia O’Keefe have in common? Yes, they became famous artists, but part of their fame arose as a result of how their paintings reflected a shift in perspective. Picasso focused on objects’ shapes and then arranged these shapes in unconventional ways in his paintings. O’Keefe looked at the details of natural objects (such as flowers) and then presented these details on a large scale. Try looking at the world from a different perspective, such as pretending that you are a toddler, pretending that you are looking down at Earth from the space station, or that you have a special power. What insights come to you as a result of your shift in perspective?

Building Challenge. Start a daily challenge to build something fun out of materials that are available to you. These materials can include Legos, wooden blocks, popsicle sticks, paper clips, rubber bands, or stacking cups. Just about anything can be used to temporarily build something and then reused to build something else. Your challenge can range from building something simple (a model of a tiny house) to something much more complicated (a Rube Goldberg machine).

The current pandemic is forcing us to work, learn, and interact with others in new ways. We hope that you find these resources and tips useful as you adapt to this new reality. We believe everyone can develop their curiosity, creativity, flexibility and openness to new ideas and people. In future entries, we will continue to focus on social and emotional skills that can help educators, students, and their families cope with the challenges brought on by the current pandemic, as well as to develop the skills to manage future challenges more successfully.

Alex Casillas, Ph.D.

Alex Casillas, Ph.D.

Alex Casillas is a Principal Research Psychologist in ACT's Center for Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning. He has led research and development of behavioral assessments for predicting performance and persistence in school and work, as well as a multidisciplinary effort to design and implement a research-based framework that articulates what effective behavior looks like as part of the ACT Holistic Framework. His current research increasingly focuses on issues relevant to underserved learners. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Grinnell College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Science from the University of Iowa.