By Paul Barnwell
As a content creator for Curio Learning, Paul Barnwell interviews and profiles Curio users to highlight expertise, teacher rebeldom, and general awesomeness. Barnwell also teaches freshman English part-time at a public high school in New Hampshire, writes as a freelancer for various publications, and works on a farm.
Here is his profile of Curio user Ciji Thurman:
As I speak with Ciji Thurman, I’m sitting in my home office as snowflakes streak towards the ground, but I’m transported to her classroom. I want to be a student in her class, 1,000 miles away. She describes student-generated questions and science scavenger hunts aided by flashlights, a balloon pump, and elements of the game tag. I tell her as much and she laughs. “My goal is to have my students so engaged that to the point where something they don’t even realize that they’re learning,” she says.
Thurman is in the midst of her seventh straight year in education, all spent at Rineyville Elementary School in Hardin County, Kentucky. She communicates clearly — passion for her work as a fourth grade math and science teacher is evident. She doesn’t want her students to “lose that satisfaction of wondering what’s going to happen tomorrow when we come into school. I don’t want my students to be like ‘oh this will just be another day’.”
As a strong believer in student-inquiry, Thurman created this Curio Card, highlighting the strategy she employs when prompting students to ask their own questions.
When it’s time for the students to devise their own content-related question, Thurman helps the kids hone their inquiry skills through categorization: a “cold” question is lower-level, easily answered by student notes or the assigned textbook; a “warm” question’s answer is accessible via a little more effort, maybe a Google search; a “H.O.T.” question is the target as answering requires higher order thinking. Recently, her students were learning about energy and electricity. One of her students came up with this seemingly simple question: What would happen if energy didn’t exist?
Thurman describes her classroom activity like someone who was born to teach — and who always knew it was her calling. But I learn that this wasn’t the case. After graduating high school, she enrolled in college with her mind set on eventually attending law school. But “life happens and things change,” Thurman recalls, and she dropped out.
Then, at the age of 22, while bouncing around to various jobs through a temp agency, she began volunteering at her niece Starr’s school. She helped young students with sight reading, multiplication tables, and other foundational skills. She enjoyed helping out and after about a year, it became clear that she wanted to become a teacher. The lightbulb turned on and the rest, they say, is history.
Before joining the Curio community, she’s been energized by engaging with other educator-centric organizations such as Sevenzo and Teacher2Teacher. And now she’s excited to continue honing her craft, engaging kids, and embracing the idea of a being rebel teacher. “When I think about what it means to be a rebel teacher, it’s about being someone who doesn’t mind going against the grain and always thinking about what’s best for students,” she says.