Thursday, 12 December 2013

My first attempt at a provocations

So I have been reading about provocations a lot from Kristi Bishop, a Vice Principal in the Hamilton Board (@kkeerybi) and from Aviva Dunsinger a teacher in Kristi's school.  In fact it was Aviva who passed Kristi's blog on to me.  At first I was kind of like what is that word "provocations"  I mean I have heard of provoking but to be honest never provocations.  Now I will also admit that language and me do not get along.  It is one of my weakest areas but one that I am constantly working towards getting better.  So it is not surprising that the word was not familiar to me. So like any life long learner I googled the word.  It means testing to elicit a particular response or reflex. I am starting to understand.

Well now that I knew the word I was able to go back and read how Kristi was promoting its use in the classroom.  The more I read the more I wanted to see it in action.  I looked to kindergarten and another amazing educator Laurel Fynes @kynderynes has an amazing post:

Well this got me thinking about a simple provocation of my own.  Today I put up three words on the board (other words where from previous white board use):

I then put out three bins of 3 dimensional solids and had the kids name the solids.  It was truely amazing to see all of the kids working at this task.  You can read all about the lesson on my storify:  I know that those three words don't mean much but they were enough to get the students thinking and moving towards understanding 3D figures.  In fact shortly after this we had a talk about the properties of 3Dfigures. Here is what they came up with:

I then had the students take the IPads and use educreations to talk about the shape name they chose and why.  Tomorrow we are going to have a congress about them and debate the names.  ,y hope is that they will have a better understanding then if I told them.

Now you may ask me how is this different then any other lesson.  Well for me not much, except my provocation became my context. Normally, I would have a minds-on activity and then set a context for the learning.  Today the provocation became the reason my kids wanted to learn.  

However, from a traditional text book a lot has changed.  Think back to how you learned geometry. If you were like me it was the teacher pulling out shapes and 3D figures (even though I was told shapes) and then proceeding to tell me their properties.  We then opened the textbook and practised.  Now you reflect, which method will help kids understand, one I which they developed understanding and then consolidated it by having peers validate their findings or one where the teacher did the learning and the students absorbed the learning? 

What provocations allow a teacher to do, is set-up a context for learning.  It hooks a student into the problem and makes them want to explore further.  I am still new at this and I no means an expert, would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  Any provocations of your own to share? How would you use it I the classroom?



  1. Thanks for sharing what you did here, Jonathan! It's awesome that you're giving this a try, and as you mentioned, it really isn't much different than what you usually do. I'm going to tweet the link of this post to Kristi, as I'd love for her to have a look at it. We were talking a lot about provocations at our Inquiry PD session today, and Kristi mentioned that when she used to teach a concept (e.g., energy), she'd give them the terms and have them sort the items. Now she'd get them to find the links. She uses the provocations and their questioning (as well as hers) for this. So this makes me wonder what would happen if you gave them the bins of objects without the names? Would students uncover the properties? Would they ask questions that would get them to these names? Or, is inquiry in math different, and are these terms up front important? Does it matter? I'm not sure. I'd love to have Kristi weigh in.

    Always so much to think about ...

  2. Thanks for the comment aviva, I would love to hear kristi's perspective. I actually didn't give them the names of the figures, all I wrote was prism, pyramid and cylinder. They had to use them to do everything else. These three terms are the general names of the figures. Students used their prior knowledge of 2d shapes and came up with more properties. It was interesting to see how they identified the figures. Many of them called them by their 2D shape names but some tried to use the terms upfront and add the 2D name. I haven't actually seen the final results as some are still working on it. I have a high ESL population and vocabulary is tough. Also some things in math are not constructable, eg. Names, properties, terms, etc. these are called social constructs and students just need to be told them. They can then use them to construct an understanding of their meaning. The provocations I gave them would be an example of this too. I gave them the name but they constructed the meaning of it. I don't know if this is the same what Kristi and you had in mind, would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for the response.

    1. It's interesting. I was talking to Jo-Ann (another teacher at my school) about this today too, and I'm really not sure. As we said, I don't think that there's one "right way" to do this. Regardless of if it's an official provocation (and of that I'm really not sure), your activity got students thinking and sharing their thinking. They're making connections. This is the purpose of a provocation anyway. Maybe that's what matters the most. Maybe this is a case where it's better not to get caught up in the language. What do you think?


    2. You are right about that. Would love to see an example of what a provocation is and how you use it in the class. Great talk.

    3. Math is always hard when it comes to provocations. I find myself using pictures (Kristi told me about the 101 questions website, and there's a ton of great photographs and videos there) or groupings of manipulatives with some general questions. I'm still playing with this. You want to give your students enough information, but not too much information. As Kristi said at our PD session the other day, "Inquiry is about having the students do the thinking, instead of you doing the thinking for them." With that in mind, I think that your provocation worked well, as the students were definitely the ones doing the thinking.

      I'm sure we'll be talking about this more during the year!