Exceptional practice

We invite you to learn more about a Lithuanian NGO “Kūrybinės jungtys”, which has developed a unique methodology that is implemented while working with schools under a program called “Tyrinėjimo menas” (en. The Art of Curiosity, AoC). We asked Milda Laužikaitė, the head of “Kūrybinės jungtys” to introduce us to the program.

The AoC program starts with the assumption that curiosity, just like creativity, is in all of us. We are born with it. But how can we develop this natural quality of curiosity in a way that supports our development as active citizens? How do we know which sources of information and knowledge to trust, and which sources might not be what they seem? How can we discover what really interests us – a subject, an idea, a career – and apply our curiosity in a way that deepens our knowledge and leads us onto pathways of understanding and accomplishment? The AoC is a program aimed at discovering, exploring and embedding key 21st century skills – creativity and critical thinking – in teaching and learning.

The main principle of AoC includes engaging students, teachers, and the broader school community into continuous partnerships with creative professionals representing a range of arts, culture and science areas. Each school develops a unique creative learning project, responding to the real challenges and potential of their community. The project activities are emersed into everyday classroom practice and are based on principles of experiential, all-inclusive and creative learning.

According to Milda Laužikaitė, the key to such engagement is inviting students and teachers to become equal partners at the very beginning. Each AoC project starts with a series of meetings where they explore learning needs and challenges, their skills; look for common goals, and inspiring ways of working. Radio of Freedom (school radio), mockumentary making, podcasts or bilingual public speaking in minority schools are just few examples of the vast AoC school project portfolio.

One of the common challenges in many schools and faced by teachers as well as students, is a lack of meaning. Reflecting about the meaning of learning a certain subject or topic could be a great opportunity to foster critical thinking and to show that usually one must dig deeper to find an answer and truth. Yet, schools usually avoid this pathway because it brings uncertainty and not every teacher feels comfortable with that.

AoC’s approach is different. They thrive in uncertainty and they are all about meaning and purpose. They always offer all parties active roles, encouraging students to take responsibility for their own learning. Asking questions about themselves and the world around them is the approach that defines an active learner. AoC helps to build confidence and a set of skills needed to be this kind of learner.  “I have understood that to think critically means to approach the problem from different sides and to discover unexpected solutions” says one student participant.

Such results are reached by employing the following aspects. First, deep practice – through the extended diagnostic and planning process, an AoC project at each school is unique, tailor-made to respond to the needs and ideas of participating teachers and students. Second, deep interventions – one program cycle at school lasts 6-7 months. It is designed in a way that throughout the process real learning challenges are addressed, new ways of learning and cooperating are created. What’s more, the AoC is a hands-on experience – it’s based on continuous partnership of students and teachers with creative practitioners: artists, architects, designers, theatre-makers…people whose lives and careers require them to engage directly and openly with curiosity and creativity every day. An exceptional innovation of the AoC is the creation of Teachers Clubs, where teachers share experiences and best practices about teaching 21st-century century skills in a focused way. Teachers Clubs are a departure from the seminar-focused way of teacher development: they are about a continuous learning journey with peers, exploring learning challenges, looking for solutions together, experimenting, and reflecting. And finally, widening horizons – creative professionals organize learning and professional development sessions outside school, in cultural and other working or public spaces.

Since the establishment of the program 6 years ago, The Art of Curiosity has engaged almost 100 schools, 2500 students, and 1500 teachers. The program has proved its positive impact on the 21st-century skills of both students and teachers and on teachers’ ability to teach those skills. Even more importantly, the AoC is developing a students’ sense of their own potential and confidence to create change, both through how they think about their world but also how they think about (and work with) each other.