Monday, March 28, 2011

Asking the Right Questions

Rick Garlikov describes the Socratic Method as "Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling."

He has an extremely interesting experiment teaching third graders binary numbers* and writes,  
This was to be the Socratic method in what I consider its purest form, where questions (and only questions) are used to arouse curiosity and at the same time serve as a logical, incremental, step-wise guide that enables students to figure out about a complex topic or issue with their own thinking and insights. 
You will find the experiment here. (Read it! It is fascinating.) 

*By the way, it's okay if you don't know what a binary number is. First of all, if you read about the experiment, you will understand what they are by the end of the article. Second of all, the experiment is not about binary numbers, but it is about asking questions and using the Socratic method.

Memory: When I was in high school, I had a biology teacher who wrote many outlines on the board. Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species. . . all nicely outlined in copperplate handwriting. (Yes, she had been raised in Catholic schools and like so many of my public school teachers, I believe she had been a nun.) All of that outlining explained the "what," which we dutifully copied. But it didn't explain the "why." I was always asking "why," and one day, my teacher asked me if there was trouble at my home. (No! Why was she asking? Clearly the line between having an inquisitive mind and being trouble for her was a fine one.) I realize now that she probably did not have a strong biology background, and she knew the basics--but she found questions that she did not know the answer to, to be threatening.

Of course, the great irony of this is that good scientists are not driven by answers--they are driven by questions, and their favorite kinds of questions are the ones that cannot be immediately answered.

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