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Igniting Curiosity With Pocket Museums

Originally appears in the Summer 2016 issue

Save it! Save it forever! In a pocket museum!

Educators are required to teach a myriad of social skills and content, but it is up to each of them to find the best way to get to know their new class and to figure out how to ignite their students’ curiosity about the world around them.

Taking inspiration from what sparked their own learning when they were young, many teachers make use of children’s natural desire to collect things. It is often treasures from the ‘wild’ environment (rocks, crystals, fossils, birds and creepy crawlies) that engage and motivate  students to learn.

Teachers can engage students by bringing in things to show and encourage the students to do likewise. A great way to show off items is an ever-changing, eye-catching display table of nature’s delights, much like a ‘hands-on’ miniature museum. The science table of local items (sometimes called Discovery Table, Nature Table, Curiosity Table, and Class Museum Table) is initiated by the teacher and then eventually maintained and co-owned by the class. The table can include posted questions, pictures, reference books, magnifying glasses, and a binocular microscope. It works!

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John Paull is a long-time educator, naturalist, and writer. He currently runs hands-on “I’m a Scientist” workshops for teachers, students, and parents that focus on igniting and fanning the curiosity that dwells in us all. A former teacher, he has published over 20 books. His latest book, “Through my eyes: on becoming a teacher,” describes how he learned to motivate and engage his students by bringing inside the delights and mysteries of the outdoors. Learn more at or contact him at