Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 45: Socratic Teaching!

After my post yesterday and thinking about how I haven't done as much content as I would like, all of my classes worked on content today.  I'm actually quite pleased with how it went!

The geometry kids worked on the next section of the guided notes (flipped classroom!) and I had an amazing interaction with a student.

Student: "Mr. Aion, doesn't a quadrilateral equal 360?"
Me: "I don't know what you mean?"
S: "Does a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "360 what?"
S: "Degrees.  Do they equal 360 degrees?"
M: "What do you mean 'equal' 360?"
S: "Does a quadrilateral add up to 360?"
M: "What do you mean 'add up to 360'? It's a shape."
S: "The measures."
M: "Of?"
S: "Do the angles of a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "Show me a quadrilateral."
S: **holds up a book**
M: **points to one corner** "Is this angle equal 360?"
S: "No."
M: "So what are you asking me?"
S: "Are all of the angles equal to 360?"
M: "Well, you just told me that one of them wasn't, so how could they all be?"
S: "Do they add up to 360?"
M: "What's a better, more mathematical way to say that?"
S: "Sum."
M: "Awesome! Ask your question again."
S: "Mr. Aion, Do the interior angles of a quadrilateral have a sum of 360 degrees?"
M: "That's a great question! What do you think?"

I was tempted to push him further to use the word "interior" but I could tell I was about at the limit of his perseverance and didn't want him slipping into "forget it!"  What I loved about this interaction was two-fold. First, this is a student who is normally as disengaged as the geometry kids get.  He's late almost every day and rarely brings his materials.  He's VERY bright and turns in assignments, but seems to do them grudgingly.

Second, I was VERY proud of myself for not answering his question.  It would have been so easy to have to conversation go like this:

S: "Mr. Aion, doesn't a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "Do you mean 'do the interior angles add up to 360 degrees'?"
S: "Yes."
Me: "Yes."

Or the even worse:

S: "Mr. Aion, doesn't a quadrilateral equal 360?"
M: "Yes. The angles inside add up to 360 degrees."

Both of these interactions teach the student, but they teach him the wrong thing.  At the end, his take-away is "If I get stuck or have a question, I should just ask immediately and get an answer."  This is the worst message that I think I could convey.  I'm sure that I still do this frequently, but I'm keeping an eye out so that I catch myself before it happens.

I want my students to be self-reliant.  My main goal as an educator is to have my students not need me at all.  I want them to get a problem, or make their own, and I feel as though I should re-write The Prince to be educationally centered.

Maybe when I make my millions selling an educational theory book, I will title it "Teach Like Machiavelli."

Also, after the post yesterday about retention, as well as a conversation with @ChrisRime I decided to dedicate my pre-algebra class to review today.  Rather than have them do workbook pages from the last chapter, I made up a sheet of 15 short answer problems and a template for showing their work.  I gave them the double period to work on it, indicating that these were not "quick answer" problems.  They were simple enough mathematically, but they required the students to set-up the problem AND solve it.  I purposely chose this method for the previous material because I didn't want them freaking about new stuff and a more "rigorous" assessment.

They worked very well on it.  I attribute that to the fact that I let them work with whomever they wanted and wasn't constantly telling them to get back to work.  I checked in with "what number are you working on?"

Next time, I'll limit it to 10 questions instead of 15 and then step it up gradually.  They stuck with it until about question 14 when I think they burned out.
They made good use of the whiteboards...


  1. I love the way you answered the student's question - a quick fix is no good to any of us! I would've answered very similar to you as it's worth putting that extra effort into the line of questioning as you have demonstrated. Thanks for sharing :-)

    1. I have an intense dislike of imprecise questions

  2. I think you thought "aweSUM"! Loved the questioning


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