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Jamie Jirout

University of Virginia

Assistant Professor
School of Education and Human Development
United States of America

PhD, Developmental Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, 2011
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Research Focus

Jamie Jirout’s research explores educational questions through a cognitive developmental perspective. Specifically, she focuses on the development of curiosity: How does the inquisitiveness observed in young children support learning and what factors cause it to change over time? She is interested in identifying how curiosity can support learning within and outside of school contexts, and how different instructional methods can promote students’ curiosity for learning. Her combination of lab- and school-based research explores questions about changes in curiosity over time and associations between curiosity and other intellectual character virtues, including creativity, academic courage, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

My plans for the fellowship period

During the fellowship I will explore the influence of children’s environments and the people they are interacting with on their curiosity. Curiosity is essential for scientific innovation and because it relates to motivation, learning, and overcoming obstacles and sustaining interest, it is seen as a priority for supporting education. My research will provide knowledge about the ways that educators and schools can promote and support students’ curiosity, incorporating more basic questions about how curiosity changes with development, how it differs across subjects and contexts, and the relation of differences in curiosity to other student characteristics.

Through the Jacobs Foundation Fellowship Program, I will be able to extend my research to include diverse educational philosophies. Some schools explicitly prioritize curiosity and character development in their designs – how can we learn from those schools and students to improve schools more broadly? Does curiosity look similar or different across different schools and students? Do different types of students need different types of support, and what does that look like in practice? My research will explore these questions, including educator perspectives to bridge what I learn with how it can be used to inform practice.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

I believe in curiosity’s power to be a catalyst for discovery. Curiosity, defined as a desire to seek information in response to uncertainty, can lead to openness to novel experiences and perspectives, thoughtful questioning, and pursuit of the unknown. Beyond driving scientific discovery, curiosity likely leads to personal discovery. That is, as people become more curious about the possibilities of the world, so too do they become more aware of the possibilities within themselves. Because curious people are continuously challenging themselves to think in new ways, curiosity leads to intellectual growth and can support more positive well-being.

The ways curiosity can be promoted and the things about which students are curious vary with individuals, time, and contexts. Researching this variation is important: curiosity can provide an important motivation to learn and deeper and more meaningful learning, yet curiosity seems to decline in academic contexts and with age. I hope my research will lead to changes in education that lead to more curious learners, and that this curiosity continues to support learning through adulthood. Curiosity can provide an intrinsic motivation and a toolkit for effective learning that can support children’s formal education, creating greater opportunities for their futures.

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