Episode 69 How to engage students and develop curiosity with James Muir


What strategy is most effective in creating lifelong learners?

  • Important to teach for life after school, not just a test
  • Hook students into the lesson
  • Be different from previous lessons
  • Engage the student and make them curious

How does it create lifelong learners?

  • Curiosity is the key to lifelong learning
  • Peak their interest to go and find out for themselves
  • It applies to their life

What can a teacher do this week?

  • Find a new way to teach the topic/subject
  • Do we have to teach something?
  • What is the context for the students?
  • How can I present it without presenting it?
  • How can it become mystifying or mystical?




Dan Jackson: (00:00)
Hi everyone. And welcome to the effective teaching podcast. We are up to episode 69 and what a way to begin 2021 then to have James Muir on with me, he’s well known in the PDHPE sphere, and I’m very pleased to have you on James. Thank you so much for giving up your evening to come and chat with.

James Muir: (00:19)
Oh, thank you. It’s actually a huge honor because I’ve listened to your podcasts, known you for a while and you have had two of my educational gurus on. So I feel very intimidated following them, but lovely to be here. And so, yeah, thanks for the opportunity.

Dan Jackson: (00:31)
Yeah. That that’d be too intimidated by them mate you’re an actual practitioner you’re in the classroom every day. So you have… You have a bit of a stepping stone ahead of, of where they’re at. Most of them are at this point, at this point. Some of them probably were in the classroom for quite a while beforehand. Yeah, that’s true. So, James, I’ve got you on here because I want to find out what you think is the most effective strategy for helping create lifelong learners.

James Muir: (00:57)
Yeah, sure. Well, I think me and you on the same page when it comes to how we view education. And so like for me, that lifelong learning is just like it’s critical. I think it’s totally, um, fundamental to what we’re trying to do as educators. So I don’t think we’re trying to be passive transmitters of information. I think what we’re trying to do is inspire kids to want to learn and then to take that with them, wherever they go. So they can go into the world as better people hopefully. And you know, we can have a more socially just world, hopefully with these kids who are moving forwards. So I guess for me in that sense, uh, it’s about trying to inspire the kids or just trying to engage the kids in learning. So they want to go on and become learners. And I think personally, actually, when I was a school kid, I probably was one of those kids who needed that teacher to do that to me.

James Muir: (01:43)
And so I was, I was pretty, um, I’d say, let’s say ratty as a kid when I was at school. And so I, I didn’t really get that teacher who inspired me. And so going back into the system, it was like the last thing I ever thought I would do. And this last thing my teachers thought would do, but I think I come from that perspective where I understand what it’s like to be that kid sitting in the class, who’s just bored, looking out the window, aimlessly dreaming of other things. And so I guess my teaching comes from that sort of standpoint. Now I’m just trying to get those kids back into the classroom and like make them dream with me in some sense.

Dan Jackson: (02:14)
That’s so good, man. Actually teaching was the last job I wanted to do when I was leaving school. It was the bottom of my list, my list. And both my parents were teachers. I was like, no, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. I saw how much it ate up their time. They worked so hard. I didn’t realize I didn’t want a piece of it, but now I can’t, I can’t get enough of it. I love it. Absolutely love it. So James, we’re trying to get kids motivated. How do we do that? How do we get kids motivated and engaged in their work?

James Muir: (02:44)
Okay. So look for me, the first thing is they’ve, they’ve got to want to be at school and I mean, obviously subject specific PDHP. Sometimes we have a huge win. It’s easy to get kids involved if they’re that sort of kid and they’re into sports, et cetera. Um, but a lot of time I’ve like my, uh, career faced a lot of apathy. And so just trying to get kids beyond the apathy and into wanting to do something has been like basically what I’ve been trying to do for my whole of my career. And so the way I do that is just trying to bring the curriculum to life as much as possible. So I like, I would employ anyone to basically go and follow a school kid. So I thought about doing this and trying to get to say our school. But if you think following a school kid for a day, like five hours a day, they just go into a different class every hour and then what do they do? They just sit there, they get talked to, maybe they watch a video here or there. And I think that would just be so boring. So my biggest thing, I think that I hope that I bring is that every time they come into my class, it’s something completely different to what they’ve done that day. So that’s talking about sort of theory side, obviously. So try and make sure that when they’re there, it’s just a different experience.

Dan Jackson: (03:51)
That’s actually quite funny. And when I was at uni, one of my assignments that I had to do was I had to follow a kid for a whole day and take notes on them and what they were doing and stuff. It is so boring. I was just going around and going, man, this is just like teacher talking at you. Teachers taking at you all day, you six periods of it or what … however many periods are at your school.

James Muir: (04:11)
Exactly. I think people forget that when they are like under time pressure, we don’t have time all the time to organize these fantastic lessons. It’s not like I’m every single lesson, but you’ve got to think from the kid’s perspective. I think like if you want to get kids inspired and engaged in learning, then think about how you like to learn as well. I just, I would not like to sit there for five hours a day and just like fall asleep.

Dan Jackson: (04:33)
All right James, So we’re getting them motivated, but you’ve got to create something in your lessons to hook them in and engage them. Can you give us some examples of what you do? That’s different in your classes?

James Muir: (04:43)
Yeah, definitely. So, I mean, you’ve mentioned the word hook there and that’s like, that’s something I’m a massive fan that I didn’t realize. There’s a whole book about the hook. Um, so it takes like a pirate, but I was thinking about hooks long before that, I guess for that book actually was quite handy and thinking about different ways to get kids involved. So for example, like your basic, uh, so PDH, we do a basic sort of, um, parties, safe partying unit. So you could just get the kids in there and talk about their life and how they party. But you know, that doesn’t really get them inspired. I want to get them in. So what we’ve done in the past is we’re taking the kids into the drama space. We’ve held a rave, I’m the DJ, I’ve got the tunes pumping. I’ve taken the drama kids from that particular cohort.

James Muir: (05:23)
So we have the whole grade in there having a rife. We take the drama kids from that cohort. We give them a special mission. So they don’t tell anyone what they’re doing. So they have a few scenarios that they act out. So things that we might see that might happen at a party. So for example, like a boy and a girl having, or like a couple of having a fight and then we’ll just see how the other kids react. And we have kids in there passing out things, things like that. So, um, at the end of that lesson would just have, we have to debrief and say, okay, this is what was happening in the lesson. We saw how you responded. And then I think the next part is about giving kids a little bit of ownership about what they want to learn. So we say, okay, how were those things were kind of realistic to your life? How big are these things do you think might happen? Or I have happens, you know, where do we want to explore after this? And so first of all, we get the hook and then we try and give the kids like a little bit of agency over what they’re going to learn and find that light. Hopefully, hopefully for most of the kids that actually really gets them involved in Sunday. They’re like, okay, yeah, this, I can see how this is relevant to my life now.

Dan Jackson: (06:21)
Yeah. Yeah. I liked the fact that you’ve got a, not only creating that hoop, but it’s even a cross-disciplinary type hook where you get … and they’re doing that. And yeah, there’s music, there’s dance, there’s all kinds of stuff happening in that kind of scenario. Um, and I love, I love how that’s going to then relate to food to their life. Hopefully at some point, I mean, maybe not all going to be at a rave, but there will be some kind of party where things are happening at some point in their life. So what else do we do? How does this work? How does this actually then help them to become a lifelong learner? So even if we hook them in and we get them engaged, how does that then affect them? Lifelong.

James Muir: (06:55)
Okay. So what we’re trying to do, I guess essentially is make them see the relevance and the meaning in their life. And so it’s like about finding those there’s little, little bits, um, little bits of inspiration that the kids going to go, you know, what if that did happen to me here, what’s the path, the path to, um, sort of help extrapolate that for them. It’s about using those, like those open-ended questions. So like, let’s say it, like it’s just drug taking or something like that. And like this scenario happened at the party we talk about, well, why did you choose to take what was happening from the student drama student? And then obviously it’s a fake scenario, but we can start putting that layers into real life. Okay. So in real life, what would you do then, then hopefully by then you’ve got them thinking, okay, well, if this was a real life scenario, actually I need to find out if I just got given something by someone, I didn’t know what it was, what would I do?

James Muir: (07:46)
What’s my next step. And so hopefully then you’ve got them kind of got the hook in where they’re going to go. I’m going to go away and actually research them. And so I heard like, you know, there’s this thing called MGMA, there’s this thing called ice. I don’t exactly know what it is. Let me go away and look and see what it actually does to me. So rather than me being there to say, okay, well this is ecstasy, this is ice. This is heroin, whatever it is, it’s a realistic drugs. These are what they do. And kids just go, yeah, whatever, you know, I know more about this than you, sir. Then hopefully you’ve put the onus back on them. And they’re like, actually, you know what? I think I know a little bit about it, but I need to go and find out some more.

James Muir: (08:20)
And so then that hopefully gets taken forward. And I guess like in our lesson sequence, in that logical step is like, rather than just talking about drug facts is about, okay, well, what happens if one of your friends gets in this situation, what we’re going to do then? And so then we’re trying to go, okay, well actually this stuff actually means something to me because it could help me and my friends remember in this situation. Okay. So, so I want to find out a little bit more about first aid in a situation. What would I do if someone got really drunk and was throwing up, what would I do if someone took this and like, I didn’t know, like, am I allowed to phone the ambulance? So sort of thing. So they start asking me questions and that hopefully puts it down the path of wanting to find out more and more and more. Yeah,

Dan Jackson: (09:01)
I think before we started this podcast, you were talking about the idea of provocations and I guess in one sense, your hook and that whole curiosity aspect is, is in essence, the provocation, because you’re looking to really provoke them to then be curious and stimulate their own questions and go and do their own inquiry and research process. Even if it’s just asking their parents, you know, it doesn’t have to be that they can jump on the internet straight away. It can just be on the car, ride home. There’s mum talking about this, we’ll do that with this pretend rave thing at school. And, uh, and then they get that conversation happening and then they’re learning from their parents as well. So I can see that it’s really that provocation aspect to it is I think what’s really going to hook them in for creating that curiosity, which is what you want. You’re really developing that, I think, with what you’re doing there as the students think.

James Muir: (09:50)
Yeah. That’s, I think you’re spot on. That’s like, that is what that’s, what’s really important to me. And we actually did a PD about this recently about what is deep learning. And from my point of view, curiosity is like the driver of deep learning. If you can’t get a kid curious and you know, you can lose the battle, I think to get them learning in a deeper, meaningful way. So yeah, somehow as a teacher, I’ve got to facilitate that curiosity, how do I get these kids curious? How can I get them to want to find things out? And like, one of the things I really love in my class is if I could try to tell the kids, I want you to give me like a, an Oh my God moment, or did you know sir moment? And so the onus is on them to try and tell me something. I don’t know. So they’re going to try and teach me something. So I think that kind of breeds a bit of excitement as well, like, Oh, so did you notice? I’m like, yep. And you’re like, Oh, I look again and I find something else out. So I kind of brings a bit of excitement within the classroom as well when we’re doing that stuff like that.

Dan Jackson: (10:42)
Yeah. No, I think that’s really good. So yeah, you’ve been listening for a while. So the, the way we end the podcast is basically, I want to get used to give the people who are listening, something they can do this week. I mean, granted, this is probably going to be January that may not quite be in class yet, but what can they use? Yeah. They might listen to it. Not, not straight away. They might listen to it in a couple of weeks when they’re back at school, what can they do this week going into their class to really develop that curiosity in their students. And remember that they’re not all PE we’re not chucking raves everywhere.

James Muir: (11:14)
No, that’s true. We can’t, that makes it a one-off, but there’s lots more opportunities to do that. So I guess that the answer to your question is it’s about looking through, um, if we go from a content sort of focus, if we got filled up with that stuff, we have to teach, well, do we really have to teach that? What, what can we look at in what we are meant to, or, uh, bound to teach by the curriculum that we have, that we can peak someone’s curiosity. And so then I’m looking at like, um, what is the context of my students? So think about carefully about your school and your own context, because you know, it’s going to be different for everybody. I’m going to find that bit of content. Well, how do I present this bit of content in a way that’s not me sitting down and talking to someone.

James Muir: (11:56)
So I guess that’s the thing that I try and ask teachers to do to look through all of that previous lessons, that previous units, and just say, okay, well, this is where I usually talk to someone what’s a different way that I could present this. We’re actually, I get the kids hooked into curiosity. So how do I make it mystifying and mystical, um, and then want them to explore it a bit more, which is not easy. But once you get your, in that frame of thinking, I think it becomes kind of routine for you. Like it’s a thinking disposition that you kind of do as a program planning, a unit planning or lesson planning tool.

Dan Jackson: (12:31)
Beautiful. Thank you so much for coming on James and sharing your wisdom. You have a lot of experience that you’re bringing together here and yeah, we were chatting about books that we’ve read before you actually, you mentioned Teach Like a Pirate, uh, as we were chatting, then it’s actually on AITSL’s or ACER’s or whatever it is. Um reading, the top 10 reading list for the summer holidays for teachers. It’s number one.

James Muir: (12:58)
Yeah, exactly. Any, I can’t remember what the author’s name is, but it has lots of really good ideas about what you can do to go into a class and just to make it. And that’s, I think going back to the first point is how can you meet your class different from the class they’ve just had previously, previously, previously, how are you going to make your class more interesting?

Dan Jackson: (13:15)
Yeah. Is that Dave Burgess? I think. He’s very big in America.

James Muir: (13:22)
He is. Yeah. Yeah. I remember seeing one of his, um, uh, talks where he’d like do some magic at the start. It’s very good.

Dan Jackson: (13:29)
Well, for everyone whose listening. If you would like to come over and grab the show notes, you can get the transcript and all that kind of stuff. They’ll also be links to the books that we’ve mentioned and a few other places as well. I might even leave links to, uh, Trevor McKenzie’s stuff on inquiry based learning. Cause he’s really big on using provocations as well. Uh, so head on over the link is teacherspd.net/69. I would love to see you there, but otherwise I’ll chat to you again next week.

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