Today we will be learning about…

Remember when we used to start a new unit with the words ‘Today we will be learning about...’? Sometimes what followed next was ‘Please turn to page 46′.

As a PYP school, we begin each unit of inquiry with a ‘provocation‘ that gets our learners thinking and wondering right away. If it’s powerful enough, it will arouse their curiosity and they’ll be right inside the unit  immediately, engaging with big ideas, asking relevant questions and motivated to inquire and explore further.

How might it look?

The central idea of our new Year 5 unit is

Investigating change through history helps us understand how the past has shaped the present‘.

Our program is concept driven, which means learners engage with big ideas, rather than focusing only on topics. We might explore a case study together, but the enduring understanding needs to transcend specific events and facts which are locked in time and place.

For this unit, the students moved between provocations in different rooms. In one room they googled maps through the ages. (Try entering ‘ancient world maps’ into google images and see what comes up.) In another room, there were piles of images and articles on the tables… from horse and carriage to electric cars, fashion through the ages, classrooms over time, articles about natural disasters, wars and women’s rights. In a third, the teacher shared an album of the life experiences of her father, a holocaust survivor. The task was simple. In each room consider and jot down the following:

What do you notice? What do you wonder?

Some examples of students’ wonderings:

  • How has the world changed and how have people reacted to the change?
  • How have massive changes like electricity affected the beautiful nature of  the world?
  • Which changes have made life better and how?
  • Why have machines for listening to music got smaller?
  • Why did things cost less in olden times? Was it because they were harder to make ?
  • Why did people invent things that can lead to disaster?
  • I wonder if the earth has changed since ancient times or if it’s the maps that have changed.
  • Has anything stayed the same over time? If so what and why?
  • I wonder what my grandchildren will think when they look at how things were in my day.
  • I wonder why we have cars and other modern inventions but in some countries they don’t.
  • Why are pictures from long ago black and white ?
  • Is it true that new ways to listen to music are better than old?
  • I wonder what things will look like in the future.
  • I wonder what technology was like in 19th century.
  • What did it feel like for people who were shipped to Australia?
  • I wonder what it was like for people who experienced the holocaust.
  • I wonder if people in ancient times thought the earth was flat
  • I wonder why I can’t see Australia on the ancient map.

The provocation has hooked them in! Once you experiment with this kind of teaching and learning, it’s impossible to go back to ‘Today we will be learning about...’


14 thoughts on “Today we will be learning about…

  1. Our school began using provocations last year, and the sceptics among us have been completely converted. A couple of examples:

    One of the units of inquiry I taught in Kindergarten last year investigated how “We organise ourselves to work together”. As a provocation, we had a day where there was ZERO organisation – no timetable, no helper charts. I even got the librarian to change our library time (secretly) so when I ‘just decided’ that we should go to library in the morning instead of the afternoon, he acted as though our lack of organisation had completely disrupted his day! They talked about this provocation for weeks … “Remember the day we weren’t organised and we turned up late to Chapel?” Really effective!!

    I’m current teaching a unit of inquiry on how ‘water is essential to life’. While they were eating lunch, I barricaded the toilets and the bubblers with ‘caution tape’ and left a note saying the water had been turned off for the afternoon. Amazing discussions ensued about how we were going to access water and where water comes from … the students are completely hooked now. Provocations are incredibly powerful in engaging your students.


  2. Inquiry-based learning learning can easily be adapted to teaching English as a foreign language in many ways. This is engaging students instead of motivating students, concepts we just ‘discovered’ in my teacher training classes. I have earmarked your post for my students to access. Perhaps they will incorporate engagement into their learning more than the traditional stand and deliver method still so prevalent in Mexican EFL classrooms. Thanks for the timely post. Ellen


  3. The wonderings are so rich… I sometimes cant believe the power of a great provocation to elicit such deep thinking with so much potential. Keep us informed as to where this unit goes.


  4. Hello again!

    I love this post! For one of my classes I am going to be creating a curriculum or unit for a class, and I will definitely try to include provocations in there somewhere. They seem like so much fun, and I bet the students had a blast. I think it’s great to be able to involve the students creatively and emotionally in the lessons and what you did firmly illustrates one method. I like it.

    Focusing on the “big ideas” is also a great idea. Sometimes it can get fairly mundane just doing the same old teach and learn routine, but using larger concepts and asking the students to step outside of their comfort zones to actually think about the answers is important.

    Thank you so much for another delightful post!
    Bailey Hammond
    EDM310 University of South Alabama


  5. ARCHANA- I began using provocation from one year and I felt its really make them engage in the classroom and they ask hundreds of questions about the unit.

    Thank you.


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