Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Explanation
What is it and how does it work?
Information gap theory relates to the thinking and ideas of behavioural economist, George Loewenstein. He suggested that “curiosity happens when we feel a gap in our knowledge”. As a result we seek out the missing information to satisfy that urge to ‘fill the gap’. Loewenstein gave rise to two implications:
- The intensity of our curiosity correlates to how likely we believe the information will fill our information gap. i.e. if we gradually receive pieces of the bigger picture and realise this is going to lead to the ‘whole’ we become more curious about where things are going!
- Curiosity correlates with our own developing understanding of a knowledge domain. i.e. basically the more we know about a topic, the more we are aware of our ‘gaps’ and become more curious to fill them; for example those who know 8 out 10 facts become more curious to find out about the missing 2, than those who know 2 out of 10 facts to find out about the missing 8!
What could this mean for teaching and doesn’t it just contradict what we said in ‘Explain First’? Shouldn’t we just tell them ‘the thing’?! This not about us withholding knowledge indefinitely and expecting learners to find and provide it themselves it is more about providing new information in bite-size chunks, at times withholding the ‘whole’ just temporarily, building up to that to spark curiosity.
Examples of strategies to heighten curiosity
- Get learners to make a prediction at the start of a lesson or activity drawing on any prior knowledge already covered; “If we dropped a hammer and a feather on the moon, which would land first?”, “Based on what we know about the characters so far, which ones is most likely to do something terrible today?”, “What would happen if all volcanic activity stopped?”.
- Enhance the mystery by linking concepts to the concrete and credible, showing them applications or origins of ideas that are being taught ‘in today’s lesson’, such as an image of Vitruvian Man (by Da Vinci) when exploring proportions – could they come up with some proportions from the image?
- Use a news article or story linking to a topic (natural disasters, genetics, war…the list goes on) and read or launch with that and emphasise any terms or ideas that come up linked to the curriculum. For example it may mention earthquakes, or cloning, or civil war and then explore the explanations and facts behind it later.
Associated further reading and references:
- ‘Chapter 2: Explanation’, in Allison, S. and Tharby, A., 2017. Making Every Lesson Count. Carmarthen: Crown House.
- Loewenstein, G., 1994. The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin, 116(1), pp.75-98. (available at: https://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/sds/docs/loewenstein/PsychofCuriosity.pdf)