Guest Blogger: Jon Molayem, Elementary School Co-Principal
An integral part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) toolkit for the Primary Years Programme (PYP) curriculum is the concept of provocations. Provocations are the ignition keys to Silicon Valley International School (INTL) students' explorations, encouraging children to dive deeper into their understanding of various concepts. In the PYP, a provocation is a carefully designed experience or activity that introduces a new unit of study, activity, lesson, or reflection. Provocations are intended to engage students' interest, and encourage them to ask questions. By creating an environment that piques their curiosity, we aim to instill a genuine desire to explore and learn more about the world around them. Below are some examples of provocations that INTL students have experienced recently.
Many provocations at INTL involve a field trip that provides students with an authentic experience that kickstarts their learning. In Kindergarten, our students’ first unit centers around the concept of “communities”. To kick off their unit, students embarked on an exciting field trip to City Hall, the Police Station, and the Fire Station. This hands-on experience allowed them to see the roles various community members play in keeping everyone safe and organized. This provocation not only ignited their interest in this topic, but also laid the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the structures within a community.
INTL 1st Graders set the stage for their unit on self-expression by attending a theater performance of Elf. Watching this play served as an immersive introduction, inspiring students to explore different ways of expressing themselves. This provocation kindled their creativity and set the tone for a unit focused on the diverse forms of artistic expression.
In their “Who We Are” unit in 2nd Grade, students inquired about nutrition and growth. As a provocation, INTL 2nd Graders visited Elkus Ranch, where they participated in the "Lunch at the Ranch" program. Students collected fresh ingredients from the ranch garden, and then cooked these ingredients themselves in the commercial kitchen. This experience pushed students to consider the lifestyle choices they can make and the origin of the food they eat. Often, provocations lead to a shift in mindset that persists over several weeks, months, or even years. INTL 3rd Grade classes were intentional about the order of their units this year to spark a yearlong emphasis on sustainability. As part of their unit on “Sharing the Planet,” the 3rd Graders visited the San Mateo Recycling Center to find out firsthand where their trash ends up. The classes followed up with a reflection, asking themselves, “What can we do as a class to take action?” The 3rd Graders brainstormed small steps that they could put in place to make a difference in their school, their community, and their planet. As a result, some third graders formed a “Trash Club” where they assigned one member to stand near school recycling bins during lunchtime to help the rest of the classes sort their trash into the right bins.
Provocations can also be centered around a new thinking routine or activity related to the unit. As a part of the 4th Grade “Sharing the Planet” unit, students engaged in a hands-on provocation to explore how, in different environments with different food types, specific adaptations are more beneficial than others. Students used common household items and seeds, grains and nuts to mimic how birds use their beaks to pick up food. This activity pushed students to think about how the size and shape of the beak helps birds find food. As this provocation occurred during Harmonization time, this provocation was enhanced by students working together and sharing their thinking across INTL’s three language programs.
In 5th Grade, some of the classes used concept circles during a provocation for the “How the World Works” unit. Concept circles are a visual thinking routine used to organize and categorize information. As a provocation, the 5th Graders watched a short commercial about innovative uses of wool, adding information to their concept circles before, during, and after the video to show how their thinking grew and changed as they learned more. By presenting interconnected ideas visually, the concept circles engaged students’ curiosity and prompted questions, discussion, and exploration that drove the rest of this unit.
In each of these examples, the goal of the provocation was to spark enthusiasm, foster curiosity, and set the stage for deeper learning. By immersing students in engaging experiences that connect to the unit of inquiry, INTL teachers foster a love for learning that goes beyond the classroom. In turn, our faculty are then privileged to witness the continued growth, curiosity, and excitement INTL students bring to each new unit.