Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Socratic Method

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the

The Socratic Method

May 23, 2008 – 5:14 am by Brendan

Here I am browsing my Digg for interesting things to comment on when I come across this Rick Garlikov, whom it seems is a philosopher with some ideas on education.

Personally I think the Socratic Method is an underused method of teaching. For those who are confused the Socratic Method is basically asking question after question until your students give up and Google the answers. Just kidding, you ask directed questions until your students discover the answer on their own.

I usually fall back on this method when I’m trying to start a class discussion and I’m faced with stone cold silence. In general though my experience and education has taught me that telling a student the answers and letting them do it on their own is the difference between teaching and baby sitting.

Rick Garlikov isn’t a teacher but he did teach a lesson on binary math to some third graders using the Socratic Method. He walked through the questions he asked and the answers given, and at the end gives some thoughts on what happened and why.

The teacher, two independent observers, and Rick were in the room during the lesson. They noted that at least 18 or the 21 students were totally engaged in the lesson. I can imagine the children in the classroom getting very excited. I imagine that by the end of the class they were practically jumping out of their seats. I’m sure that they were talking about this lesson for days if not longer. Part of the magic in that class would have come from the new teacher, part from the opportunity to break the hand raising rule, and part would be the obvious success the class achieved.

Remember this is one lesson. It didn’t have a pre-test or a post-test to determine the actual amount of learning that occurred. This is not research, but an interesting example of the power of one, outside-the-box, teaching method. It isn’t proof that the Socratic Method is a better teaching method than any other. What it does show is that the Socratic Method can be a strong tool for creating interest in a topic, creating a strong base for exploration, and getting more students engaged in the classroom.

I know I said I like the Socratic Method and this was an excellent example of using it to teach a completely new topic. What Rick did was create excitement for a new topic. He created a sense of accomplishment. He build confidence. He got students ready to learn. Will those students know how to use binary math in the future? Chances are they will remember the basics, but they certainly aren’t experts in the subject.

This single lesson though can have a strong effect on these students. The teacher can use this lesson to delve further into the teaching of binary math or better yet he can use this lesson to further understand a few of the standard benchmarks of 3rd grade math. A big chunk of third grade math has to do with place value and representing numbers in expanded form and this lesson should be a good starting point for exploring those topics.


1 comment:

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