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Conceptual provocations

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Grant Lewis, PYP coordinator at Our Lady of the Nativity Primary School, Aberfeldie, Australia

A PYP coordinator demonstrates his approach to the transdisciplinary theme of ‘Sharing the planet’.

As the school’s PYP coordinator, I work with teaching teams to ensure that provocations are conceptually based. The notion of teaching through concepts is something that is very close to my own teaching philosophy.

At the beginning of a term the grade 5 classroom teacher was on leave, so that provided an opportunity to involve the students in a new learning direction. Exploring the transdisciplinary theme of Sharing the planet, we created the central idea that “living things need to adapt in order to survive.” One of our related concepts is adaptation.

Knowing that adaptation was naturally going to occur in the classroom due to a change of teacher, I thought that the best concept for initial exploration.

Before launching the unit, I repositioned all of the tables in the room and removed all of the chairs. I wrote a note on the board welcoming the children as learners and invited them to embrace the difference.

Grant Lewis1 Upon entering the classroom, the students were confronted with an unfamiliar environment. They began to express concern about how they could learn in that space. Anticipating this, I asked the children to follow me to a different place to learn. We went outside to explore various locations, and it was not long before they were ready to express their thoughts on these new learning conditions.

We re-entered the classroom to find it had been altered again (thanks to a colleague). I then let them know it was an adaptation exercise. The students reflected on this and began to ask more questions about why this was happening. Together, we worked to refine their inquiries.

In the next few days, activities were designed for the students to provoke adaptation to new ways of working. I deliberately ensured that the adaptation exercises encompassed different learning content areas. I wanted to reinforce the integrated nature of PYP and inquiry learning in a transdisciplinary manner.

The children experienced and learned more about the concept of adaptation and were now better placed to start tackling the subject of living things adapting to their environment. Not only were they able to experience what adaptation felt like, but they could recall from their own experiences how different factors change or affect the type or duration of adaptation.

How do you engage students in understanding complex concepts? Reply below with your own story or send us an article for sharing on this blog. Details for submitting an article are here.

Grant Lewis is PYP coordinator at Our Lady of the Nativity Primary School, Aberfeldie, Australia (a candidate IB school). Grant has a passion for learning and loves exploring new ways of engaging children into their learning. He believes that cognitive and affective experiences enhance learning.


10 Responses to Conceptual provocations

  1. Rene Ren 30 September 2014 at 10:18 am #

    well designed. Students were put into real context to construct their meaning about adaption.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jamie Raskin 30 September 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    There was a powerful moment in my 4th grade class last week.

    Each week we have a special “Team Time” where students are split up amongst the 4 fourth grade classes with a variety of focuses. This time, we decided to try a provocation for our new unit, an exploration of how “Children are a unique part of our society who have special rights.”

    The idea was this, all students were given the same responsibility: To create a travel poster for Tanzania, in around 45 minutes. Their rights and resources, however, varied tremendously from room to room.

    Room 1 had laptops set up with easy-to-use templates, images to drag and drop, lots of adult support, popcorn on every table, and upbeat music. Students had the right to work independently or in groups.

    Room 2 had simple paper and writing and drawing materials, plus examples of travel posters, and some adult support. Students had the right to work independently or in groups.

    Room 3 had a range of materials, and students had freedom of grouping, but their time was repeatedly interrupted by (phoney) fire drills, and marches out to the field.

    The final room, Room 4, had little scraps of paper, broken pencils with no sharpeners, an angry-seeming, authoritarian teacher, no right to sit or talk, no air-conditioning, and the constant threat of being sent to the principal.

    Not surprisingly, when students regrouped after 45 minutes to share their posters it was a very emotional moment. Some students were proudly raving about what a good time they’d had, others were near tears with the stress and sense of relative failure in their responsibility. Others were angry about the interruptions that had made it so difficult for them to succeed. We discussed the following questions:

    How successful do you feel you were in your task?
    What rights did you have?
    What resources did you have?
    How did your rights affect your success?
    How did your resources affect your success?
    Did any big events make it difficult for you to be successful?

    Finally, we dug into the big idea…

    We know that people all around the world all want basic things like home, community, food, health and education. But people have very different rights and resources.

    What are some connections between peoples’ rights and resources and their opportunities for success?

    Some students took a while to make the conceptual leap, but others made connections. One, in particular observed: “I think we’re all like the people in (Room 1). We have all these things to help us and people who are nice to us. We’re not used to not having enough resources, or to having people take away our rights”.

    It felt like a very powerful way to launch our inquiry into these sorts of ideas and it was fascinating to see the conceptual connections that students made. We’re ready to continue our tuning in to the ideas around the rights of children.

  3. Daniela kemeny 3 October 2014 at 8:28 am #

    Creative and very nice idea to start off with the unit from students conceptual understandings!
    In my grade 6 classroom we have been studying how physical changes during adolescence influence our relationships and emotions. As a concept based provocation we watched a few scenes from the movie “Benjamin Button” asking the students to reflect on what the characters life was like and how it was similar and different from their own. Students immediately made connections between the fact that the movie character changed and so have they during their lives, but that he has changed “the other way around”. Thy were very interested on how it can be that this character changed from looking like an elderly man to becoming an infant and this started an inquiry on side into if this is really posible or not (they actually found out that people who have the progeria disease get symptoms where they look like old people while being young). This was a great opportunity for us to explore how people change through time and how the students have changed and will continue changing!

  4. Nathalie Delgado 7 October 2014 at 12:18 pm #

    What a powerful way to provoke the children in a conceptual way!
    I am always amazed by the AHA moments that come my way…it doesn’t matter how long you have been teaching…how long you have been in the PYP…
    THANK YOU for this great article and sharing your creative way of provoking your students!
    You have given me some great ideas for how might provoke my own students!
    Thank you again!

  5. John Nairn 11 October 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Awesome Grant; we did a similar one around adaption/change as well, “Animals are adapted to the environments they live in” and my little 4-5yrs old Chinese children blew me away when it came to the summative assessment. As throughout the unit they had been fascinated with the dinosaurs we asked them if they would like to go to a Zoo and see them, to which we got the response, “They have gone” thus we asked them Where have the dinosaurs gone?

    There were the usual answers about comets and volcanoes but some of them blew us away, they hinted that some had adapted to ocean life due to the heat and were now big sea creatures whereas others had taken to the skies and flew away.

    Another one that caught there attention was the Unicorn thus we asked them to draw one and where it lived and why it lived there. It was amazing to see them use their imaginative curiosity when constructing it’s living environment and explaining why it lived there.

    Keep in mind that this animal is not only the National animal for Scotland but it is also mythical.

    I always say, never underestimate our youngest learners they now have me rethinking my history teachers facts on the destruction of the dinosaurs.

  6. joy 18 February 2015 at 11:18 pm #

    Well said, thanks for the information. but i must say that cognitive and affective experiences does not only enhance learning but make learning real, imediate and permanent. please dont lets forget the place of ‘psychomotive domain too. they are interwoven and cannot be seperated.

  7. JOY 18 February 2015 at 11:20 pm #

    Well DONE, thanks for the information. but i must say that cognitive and affective experiences does not only enhance learning but make learning real, imediate and permanent. please dont lets forget the place of ‘psychomotive domain too. they are interwoven and cannot be seperated.

  8. Ghonah 29 October 2016 at 11:01 am #

    It is an inspiring provocation. Thank you for sharing. We are starting our new unit next week: How the World Works. Any suggestions for a conceptual provocation?

  9. Magdalena 14 February 2019 at 6:15 am #

    We did the same provocation with my second graders yesterday and it was really amazing. It provoked so many insightful questions and stirred great conversations.

    Many thanks for sharing!

  10. 카지노쿠폰 6 May 2019 at 9:25 pm #

    Will observe these tips next time.

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