One of our goals as a PYP school, when planning our units of inquiry is to plan for provocations. We want to elicit a reaction from our learners to enable them to begin to think about a situation. We want them to experience. We want them to come to their own conclusions and express their thoughts and feelings. As we improve our practice in inquiry based learning, we are aiming to incorporate more provocations into our units, and then allow the learning to come from those provocations, rather than planning all of the activities ahead of time. That’s what student-centered learning is all about.
In kindergarten, this provocation involves weekly nature walks. The teachers are listening to the comments the kids make along the way, incorporating their questions, comments, thoughts, feelings into the learning engagements that are then used back in the classroom – all of this is to provoke an appreciation for the similarities of how the animals in our community live their lives compared to ours, and how they, too, rely on the natural world to have a good quality of life.
In grade 1, the provocation was simple – provide the learners with a variety of materials and ask them to express their creativity in a unique way. The intention was for the kids to see that everybody has their own unique way of perceiving what the idea of ‘beauty’ is, and that even though one person may find something to be not beautiful, doesn’t mean that everybody shares that same idea.
Students had an opportunity to walk around and look at the different pieces that other learners made and then discuss their thoughts and feelings.
In grade 2, the learners were exploring how we organize ourselves, and that systems are in place to create order and understanding. In one class, students were given a simple, no-bake cookie recipe. However, unbeknownst to them, the recipes were all different. Some were missing ingredients, some had added ingredients, some had incorrect measurements or directions. The learners were then invited to look at each others end results of their cookies, taste test them and then discuss their thoughts on why they all looked and tasted different. Rather than telling them that recipes follow a structure for a certain reason, the teacher allowed them to experience it for themselves. The resulting discussions and questions were rich, deep and meaningful to the learners.
In grade 3, the classes were investigating how the world works – that in order to make sense of our world, people classify and categorize things, that we make sense of how the natural world works through research and exploration. Their provocation was a full day trip to Frank Slide, where they discussed the natural forces which caused Turtle mountain to come crashing down, as well as go into the Bellvue mines to take a closer look at the rocks and minerals that comprise our Earth.
The learning, as they were immersed in the experience was much more engaging and authentic than just reading about the slide on a website or in a book. The kids could touch the rocks (and each got to bring a piece of coal home to further explore!) and ask experts their questions.
We are working hard to try to incorporate more provocations into our units of inquiry, and allowing those experiences to drive further planning. We know that it’s impossible to plan a unit in its entirety before we even begin working through it with our learners. If we are wanting a true, learner-centered, inquiry based environment, we need to value the students’ questions, thoughts and ideas. That is what should drive our planning, and provocations are the vehicle to get us there.