Provocation – Setting the scene for Inquiry

Provocation is a powerful item in the inquiry learning tool box. It sparks confusion, a strong reaction and above all curiosity. 

One of the strongest take aways from spending time at the International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) was how a strong provocation not only gets kids interested in the concepts but seeing themselves as practitioners in the academic discipline to construct their understandings. The kids at ISHCMC weren’t learning about science, they were scientists solving a mystery. 

Since my visit to ISHCMC back in October, I’ve been dabbling with developing learner identity as we’ve moved through Units of Inquiry at my school.  Kath Murdoch’s piece on creating a strong habitat for inquiry provoked me to think about how I was going to use the classroom environment to provoke the children’s curiosity in our last Unit of Inquiry for the year into How the World Works.

This inquiry is looking at how physical forces are shaping our planet. A potentially dry and dull topic, yet one in which the classroom environment could play a vital role in provoking my learners interest. Though not through pretty wall displays or watching dry videos but through experiencing those forces.

As I thought back to my own terrifying experiences of being jolted awake by rumblings from below or seeing my kitchen cupboards dance off the shelves during the sequence of earthquakes in Wellington in 2013, I realised that most of my learners had not experienced an earthquake. How could help them feel this?

Classroom teachers can’t just dial up earthquakes but with a bit of creative thinking we can help our children experience them.

Classroom items on the floor
Classroom items on the floor


I spent morning tea quickly turning my classroom furniture upside down, dumping supplies on the floor and placing photos of earthquake damage,  fault lines and liquefaction over the floor and walls. I also curated a playlist of raw footage of earthquakes on youtube and projected them up on our whiteboard blaring into the classroom.

Watching the ground open up…

Setting the scene.

Before the kids entered the pod, I let them know a disaster had struck our pod and the classrooms were now dangerous to enter. As the kids were let into our central pod area, the sounds of sirens were blaring through our speakers. We talked about how we would need to be scientists to solve but then a strange loud rumbling again hit the pod, forcing the kids to duck and cover.

Taking cover as the 'earthquake' hits
Taking cover as the ‘earthquake’ hits


Dressing up helps give the children construct that identity. As scientists the children decided they need to look slowly and deeply, taking details, recording them, asking questions. The attitudes the children bring to this experience is just as important as the content and concepts they are exploring.

Labcoats add to developing identity as scientists


iPads were an integral part of the experience. The kids used them to document their observations of our environment. The beauty of the device is along with being lightweight and easy to carry around, they serve multiple purposes. The kids used the iPads to document observations, add thoughts through annotation on apps such as skitch, participate in a back channel through QR codes and also for the kids to start researching what they had seen. Without prompting the children were starting to google terms such as ‘fault line’ ‘magnitude’  ‘earth cracked’ in order to gain a deeper knowledge of their environment.

IMG_8059Good old fashioned science experiments

Some of the clips projected on the board were of liquefaction, how did that happen? Is that a flood. So I had some wet sand on hand to shake up and the kids watched the water bubble up to the surface.


Days like these are emotionally draining.

Today I managed two back to back to provocations, one before lunch with my Year 4 class and then managed one with two other teachers for the entire of Year 3.

Getting kids into the mood involves a huge emotional investment on you as a teacher. You yourself need to become so many roles. Scientist, guide, journalist, communicator, civil defence leader. set dresser, foley artist. By the end of the day I was emotionally and creatively spent.

I’ll take tomorrow to reflect with the class then look at the data and think about where to go from here over the weekend.

Despite feeling exhausted, the appeal of these provocations is simple.

You can’t be what you can’t feel. 

That’s what turns a simple photo on the floor into something amazing.

5 thoughts on “Provocation – Setting the scene for Inquiry

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: