Pondering Provocations

This year, I’ve really focused on the use of inquiry in the classroom, and I’ve seen some great results. Overall, students are thinking more about their learning, and they’re communicating their thinking in a variety of ways. Are things perfect? No. Am I constantly making mistakes and trying again? Yes. But that’s all part of the process!

One of my favourite components of the inquiry process is the use of provocations. I think that my vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, defines provocations best in her blog post here. Thanks to discussions with Kristi, conversations with my friend and colleague Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper, and numerous conversations online with educators from Kindergarten to Grade 8, I’ve used provocations in just about every subject area. These books, photographs, videos, quotes, and items really do help students make connections. I’ve also found them particularly useful for my students with autism, as they act as additional visuals to help the students connect to the topic initially and further connect to the topic throughout the unit.

It’s for all of these reasons, that I got really excited the other day when I saw this math provocation shared by Joanne Babalis: a fantastic Kindergarten teacher from York Region. (The provocation was actually created by Alison Misa, a student in her Kindergarten Additional Qualifications Course.)

2013-12-04_20-04-19I really want a way to use inquiry to get students exploring different types of graphs and different scales for graphs. Maybe a provocation is the way to start! I began to wonder if I could use some data sets (maybe even from the newspaper), various graphs (possibly those found online), different paper options, and numbers for scales (or maybe even a ruler, marked off at different numbers to get students thinking in terms of scales), as the provocations. Would this get them discussing graphs in meaningful ways? Would this get them looking at how they could create different graphs, and why they might make different graphs? Could this even get students developing proportional reasoning skills through data management?

I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this. What math provocations have you tried? What were the results? What advice can you offer me before I look ahead to this option for next week? I’d also love to hear from any Junior or Intermediate teachers that are using inquiry in the classroom and experimenting with provocations. Where do you display them? I’m struggling with finding locations for these objects. I use the back counter in the classroom and as much desk space as possible, but the students already share their desks and I also have students that have their home base as the guided reading table. I love the intricate displays that I see in these Kindergarten classrooms, but I don’t know where to put them given the space restrictions. Any ideas? 

Thanks for your help!



4 thoughts on “Pondering Provocations

  1. I do like the term ‘provocations’, but you might try also ‘activation’ as a similar term for J/I math.

    Anything that throws students into ‘disequilibrium’ (@ddmeyer’s) term is good for the activation phase. If you look at the dy/dan blog, you can find a link to all the 3 act lessons he’s written in a Google spreadsheet. The first act is always activation. He usually uses a short video clip to activate thinking.

    I can try and think of some today, myself. As long as the first thing (1st act or part of 3 part lesson, provocation, etc.) encourages students to wonder about math, that’s okay by me!

    • Thanks for the comment, Matthew, and thank you for the link! I’m going to check it out now. This reminds me of an idea from my vice principal earlier in the year to use a photograph or a video as a provocation. This just might work in this case too. I also loved your idea on Twitter to help students think about the scale of the graph. Thank you!

      And yes, I’ve heard the term “activation” before. It sounds very similar to provocation, and certainly has a very similar meaning too. Regardless of the term used, I must admit that I do love the concept!


  2. Agreed – promoting a sense of wonder, inquiry and ‘digging deeper’ questions to encourage thinking about thinking. The link from Jamie McKenzie has a great visual of categories linked to the purpose of ‘infotective’. Clicking on the catgegory reveals questions for ‘wonder, challenge, opinion …” The content piece for the initial exploration that you’ve planned gives background knowledge. If you were to add ‘questions of import’ to your centre, for further investigation beyond the ‘what’ you can guide your learners to higher order thinking, and purposeful discussion.

    • Thank you so much for the link, Nancy! I’m going to check it out now. I really want to get to these higher level questions. This link sounds perfect for that!


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