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...’

About whatedsaid

Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I'm a teacher, a learner, an inquirer...
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5 Responses to Today we will be learning about…

  1. Rubi Basu says:

    This was an amazing experience for me. This is the first time I found that the children were completely engaged from the first day and they were exploring new ideas and connecting it to their prior experiences. One child in my class worked a bit on global warming last year. Now, she is trying to figure out when did global warming start and when did people start doing something about it in an organised way. She also looked at sustainable living – aboriginal culture, during the early days of Gold Rush (after our visit to Sovereign Hill). I am learning a lot from my class.
    Need more ideas for such a wonderful provocations for other units of inquiry.


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