You know those moments in class when we have our students on the edge of their seats?  When engagement is palpable and their eyes are wide open?  You can hear a pin drop.  You can feel their excitement.  And you just know they are getting it, they are understanding, and their minds are full of wonder and interest.

I aim to create these sorts of learning experiences as much as I can in my classroom.  

I believe that when students are genuinely engaged and their curiosities and wonders are afire amazing learning happens.  

Not only does engagement skyrocket, but I witness higher student achievement, more grit, and perseverance in their learning, and perhaps most importantly, a greater sense of pride and enjoyment in class: students love learning.  

Some of my most engaging, active and exciting lessons have begun with a provocation.  In the inquiry classroom provocations are questions, images, artifacts, and videos that stir thought, wonder, curiosity, and further questions in our students.  I use provocations to determine where learning can take us, what research we will need to do, and how I can best support my students in this process.

One of my favorite video provocations is this inspiring video about Karl, an Abyssinian ground hornbill at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC.  Karl has minimal use of the lower half of his beak due to natural wear over the years and as such he has a difficult time feeding and is limited in what he can eat and how easily he can eat it. The good folks at the zoo decided to do something about it and the result is not only inspiring, it’s innovative and educational.  Have a look!


I love using this provocation in class as it ties so perfectly with the prompt “How can you use technology to solve a problem?”  To most students, this question is overwhelmingly open, broad and non-specific.  Students feel uncertain about what they should do to address the question, where to go to find the “problem”, and what exactly their teacher is looking for.  But when this question comes after the provocation, students generate amazing ideas.  Karl’s story opens their minds to how technology can solve problems; it sparks their own curiosity in authentic ways and it helps me leverage learning to do some really engaging stuff!

If I am working with younger learners I may show them a different provocation and tweak the prompt to “What could you create and invent to help solve a mundane task?”  For example have a look at this awesome GE commercial that tells the story of Molly, a highly creative and determined child who figures out some innovative ways to get out of doing her chores.


How fun is that?  

Think for a moment how your students would respond to Molly and Karl’s story.  Consider how these provocations tie into what you have planned this year in your classroom.  Think about where these videos could be used as start points to your lessons or units.  And try one on for size for yourself!

To learn more check out Trevor’s upcoming release Inquiry Mindset: Nurturing the Dreams, Wonders and Curiosities of Our Youngest Learners (co-authored with Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt). It is all about bringing the power of inquiry to our K-7 classrooms in accessible powerful ways.  Find out more at


Trevor MacKenzie is a high school teacher at Oak Bay High School in the Greater Victoria School District in Victoria, BC, Canada.  He is the author of the best selling Inquiry resource Dive into Inquiry: Amplify Learning and Empower Student Voice. Follow Trevor on Twitter @trev_mackenzie

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