Understanding the Unknown

What if could guide our students in ways which ignited so much curiosity, that they would go beyond any given assignment, and search for even more?

Search for what?  Exactly my point.

When the learner, at any age, becomes proactive in exploring beyond what is simply needed or assigned, a new chapter in their book as a learner is opened. So how do we do this?

I have found that using interesting, clue-like, and well-timed questions is a great way to plant this seed. Over time it grows.

Here are some examples:


Situation: A young child has just finished writing the first letter of their name (let’s say is L).

Sample questions you could ask:

  • Are there any L’s hiding in this room?

  • Can you find things inside or outside that look like a letter L?

  • Are there any upside down letter L’s hiding in this room?

  • Can you help someone else find other hidden letters?

  • Can you make a map that shows the hidden locations of these letters?

  • What else can you find that no one has noticed yet?


Situation: An older student has just finished reading a book about a historical event.

Sample questions you could ask:

  • Are there any other historical events that are similar to this one?

If so, how are they similar?

  • Can you think of any future/potential historical events which could mimic this one?         If so, why?

  • If our school was the setting for this historical event, how would you describe the parts of our school and the people in it?

  • Are there clues that you can identify which you think will lead to something profound happening that will be remembered historically? If so, what are they?


One of the keys in becoming an active explorer of information, thought and places is embracing your skills as an observer of clues, patterns, and people. We can easily introduce this to learners, especially if we gamify it. Better yet, if we play along with this idea and our students, it can become a sort of observational race within each learner.

Once a learner begins to climb their own mountain, the kind of success they begin to experience changes from extrinsic to intrinsic.


All of these ideas lead to conversations between you and students and among students. Because the topic is now student driven, having gone beyond what was formally the task, the nature of the conversations will most likely also be student driven.

When the learner begins to shape the framework of learning, at any age, one result is that they fall in love with learning. This makes any learning situation more authentic and relevant.


What I call the unknown is that place we all really want to visit, and eventually live. As young children, we let our imaginations run wild and we explore our untested and non-mandated ideas, because this is what we were built for.

Sometime during our maturation, we begin to imagine less, we focus on completion of tasks, and we set all our goals for the known. We forget why we are here.

Within the social structures of paying our bills, etc., we can search for and play again with the unknown. We can do this in big ways if we choose, yet this approach can have too much risk for many of us. Instead, I suggest for us as adults learners to embed the concept of exploring the unknown in contextual ways. This is important for us as adults.

As adult guides we must not only help our students explore the unknown, we must model it if we are to create authentic change in our learning ecosystems.

Here are some examples of how we can practice and model the embracing of the unknown.

Grocery Shopping

You buy something you often buy, like broccoli. You ask yourself, “what else could I buy that would go with broccoli in a way I’ve not tried before?”

Watching your child play a sport

Ask yourself, what kind of question could I ask my child, which I’ve never asked before, that would help them identify potential challenges in a new light?

Visiting your parents

Ask yourself, what can I say or do that I’ve not said or done before, that would lead my parents to take better care of themselves?

While some of these may appear to be light-hearted, the transference of experience is a real thing. When we experience a concept in one area of life, and we practice this in various areas of our lives, the concept begins to stick. The concept becomes comfortable and one which we begin to employ more often.

Enjoy your unknown.