Not To Be Trusted With Knives











{September 3, 2008}   First Day of School

In honour of today being the first day of school1, I decided to share with you some education-related podcasts I’ve listened to/watched lately.

First, up from the Philosophy Bites podcast, I give you M.M. McCabe talking about the Socratic Method.

The Socratic Method is:

a form of philosophical inquiry in which the questioner explores the implications of others’ positions, to stimulate rational thinking and illuminate ideas2

It’s an form of “investigation through dialogue” and one of the key things I take from my reading about the Socratic Method is the reminder that in order to learn anything, you need to first recognize that you don’t already know it!  Typically in our educational system, we make students afraid of saying, “I don’t know,” but really, that’s just the thing we need to say in order to figure out what we need to learn.  When I teach using Problem-Based Learning (a student-centred technique that requires students to determine what is the problem they need to solve, what do they already know that can help them solve the problem, and what do they not know, but need to know, in order to solve the problem), I use Socratic-style questions to help students recognize for themselves what they know and what they don’t (and, in many cases, it turns out that people assume they know something, but once questioned, it turns out that they don’t actually know it!). Although the course I’m teaching this term isn’t PBL, it will be student-centred, involving debates and student-led seminars, so I anticipate using a fair amount of questions to get critical thinking happening. Some of my favourite questions for use in this reals are:

  • how do you know that?
  • how did you come to that conclusion?
  • what is your evidence for that?
  • why?

One time, a student got a bit, shall we say “annoyed” with my questions – students are used to asking the instructor a question and being told the “right answer,” so my always answering a question with a question can bit a bit off-putting3. Exacerbated, the student exclaimed: “Can’t you ever just answer a question without asking another question?!”  To which I replied, “Why do you think I always answer a question with a question? What education benefit might there be to my doing this?”  Hmm… I think I’m starting to see why Socrates was forced to drink hemlock and die because he annoyed the hell out of everyone with his infernal questioning.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
-Socrates

Next up is an interesting talk I saw in the TED podcast – Ken Robinson’s talk: “Do Schools Kill Creativity.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Ken Robinson says schools kill creati…“, posted with vodpod

And finally, since I teach nutrition, I give you this clip from the Onion Radio News:

Also, as a scientist, I feel the need to share these Onion Radio News clips:

Here’s to a school year filled with Socratic questioning, creativity and french fries.

1Well, technically yesterday was the first day of school, but the course I teach is on Wednesdays, so today is the first day of school for moi.
2Socratic Method. Wikipedia.
3I always explain why I do what I do when I’m teaching and that usually helps. But it does appear to take some getting used to.

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