Socratic Circle

Today was just one of those days… that makes every single hard moment so so so worth it. 

Is all because of the Socratic Circle.  This is a new thing going around that I have also seen called a Socratic Seminar.  We were introduced to this concept back near the beginning of the year and there are about five teachers from across the school (K-8) who have tried to do this.  The main example we saw was from a language arts classroom, and it seemed to work best with language arts or social studies where there could be two sides to an argument and the kids had to pick one of the sides.  But I was determined to find a way to make this work in my room.  Then I read Robert Kaplinsky’s post and checked out his amazing website.  Man, are there some awesome lessons on there!  I found this lesson and decided to try it for a Socratic Circle.  The basic idea of the lesson is to figure out which Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupon is best- 20% off one single item or $5 off a $15 purchase. 

We began in class yesterday.  I had the kids do some review on how to find a percent discount of a number.  This is when I started to really regret my choice to do this.  While the basic idea of a discount was no problem, they couldn’t round to save their lives, they asked me a million times why we rounded to two decimal places, they tried to round every single problem to a whole number… After the review I had them do Robert’s activity.  I really hung back and did not answer a lot of questions, because I wanted the Socratic Circle to help iron out any problems.  This is when I found huge problem #2… or 3 or 4 or 5.  I was very frustrated at this point.  They were so good at finding the percent discount after our review that they wrote a percent sign after the $5 and treated it just a like a percent.  Sigh.  I left with a blog post written in my head entitled “Stupid Questions?” about why America’s children lack common sense and where we failed them along the line.  But I was busy last night, so you don’t get that downer post, you get this one!

Today I came in super nervous and convinced that I was going to spend my 75 minute classes having the kids stare at each other in misery all having no clue what the purpose of the activity was.  In walks my first class…

So now a basic overview of what happens during a Socratic Circle.  Preparation is done by the teacher and kids before hand.  I only needed one day, but it could also be an end of unit assessment type of thing.  There needs to be a big question that the kids have to write an answer to at the end of the activity.  The kids should come to the Circle with their opinion in their minds as well as reasons to support that opinion.  In class, 6 desks are put in a group in the center and everyone else is in a large circle around the outside.  5 kids sit in the inner circle, leaving the 6th desk open for someone who has something they want to say to jump in.  We walk through the questions that they have answered the day before.  Everyone in the outer circle should be taking notes and writing down points they want to bring up, but they aren’t allowed to comment outloud.  Every few questions, the inner circle people go to the outer circle and new students go in.  At the end, students have to write an essay answering the big question.  Our language arts teacher will be using the essay for an ELA grade as well.

So here is my first class, we are all set up and ready and I begin with the first questions on the page… Question 1- What is the price with the 20% off coupon.  I ask it, one kid answers it, all kids in the class look at me like, “Really?  You set all of this up for THIS??” And I start to get nervous.  So we trudge on through the first several questions, switching inner circle kids every once in a while and suffering.  Then we get to the big question- What is the best coupon?  A student says “20% off is always best”.  They all nod and stare at me again.  So I say, “Always?” and slowly an outer circle kid stands up and takes the 6th seat.  And away we went!

From then on, they were fighting to get to the 6th seat, proposing situations where 20% would be best, would be worst, begging me to switch inner circle kids so they can get in.  And then I found myself one minute before the end of the hour and I just couldn’t bring myself to stop them.  So I told them we would continue tomorrow and to think of what other points they wanted to bring up for tomorrow’s discussion.  Then I walked into the hall to overhear them talking about it, bring up points, using our respectful disagreement phrases…  Sigh of relief…

Same in my next two classes.  Up until the very last minute, groaning and yelling NOOOOOO! When I had them clean up and hurry to their next class.  I even had one girl clearly use a phrase that our ELA teacher uses with them as she asked a classmate to “formulate a bold thesis statement with supporting evidence”.

So while today went amazing, I do feel like the beginning math stuff made this Circle different than ELA/Social Studies ones since I wanted to clarify the math answers first, so I may have to think about how to change this in the future.  And it clearly can’t be done with a topic where there is one single clear answer, but this activity worked perfectly.  I did feel like I had to cut them off in the middle of the good stuff, and I definitely don’t feel like they could write the essay at this point, we still have work to do tomorrow, but it was so great to hear them discussing math!  They posed questions, they argued respectfully, they fought to participate.  And all I did was ask a few leading questions when they needed to get started.  I feel like this could only get better since they haven’t done anything like this before.

I will post the files I used, but I left my flash drive at school and I just had to blog about this tonight!


7 thoughts on “Socratic Circle

  1. My favorite part of your post is how when it was clear that they weren’t finding success with percent discount (and doing nonsensical things like treating $5 off like 5% off) instead of breaking the problem down even further, you went the opposite direction and gave it context, making it more complex. It really is thrilling when they take ownership of the problem and start making sense of the math. Having a rich context makes it much easier for them to do it.

    BTW, if you liked that problem you might want to check out these problems that also involve percent discount:
    – Is Gas Cheaper With Cash Or Credit Card?
    – What Michaels Coupon Should You Use?
    – Which Chinese Food Coupon Should I Use?

  2. Pingback: Keeping my mouth shut… | thenumbertwentyone

  3. I’m planning to implement Socratic Circles in my classroom but I’ll tweak it a bit. I know the students are to come to the circle prepared with questions; instead I might just give the small group that’s in the inner circle a task and the outer circle observes the mathematical practices taking place, group collaboration, etc. It’s more taking advantage of close proximity than it is a Socratic Seminar. Do you think that would work?

  4. Pingback: Explore MTBoS- Socratic Circles | thenumbertwentyone

  5. Pingback: Socratic Circle- Fundraisers | thenumbertwentyone

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s