Keeping my mouth shut…

I posted last week about my success with my very first Socratic Circle.  It was so successful that I couldn’t just take one day for the discussion, we had to use the next day as well.  The lesson I used was from Robert Kaplinsky’s site which has some great real world problems that are engaging and thought provoking.  The problem we used was deciding between a 20% off coupon or a $5 off $15 or more purchase at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  Wednesday I had the kids do Robert’s activity and prepare for the circle using the inner circle page.  Thursday we went over all of the answers to the problems and then started to discuss the big question- Which coupon is best?  By the end of the day on Thursday, I knew we were on to something good, we just weren’t quite there yet, so we continued on Friday.

The hardest part for me during this whole process was deciding how much I was supposed to/should say to get them started.  And this definitely depended on the class.  By Friday, my 3rd hour was almost to the end of their discussion.  About 15 minutes into class, they had clearly all reached the same (correct) conclusion and I presented them with a challenge problem to discuss.  My 5th hour needed some more direction.  There were a few students who presented some ideas and I used those ideas to ask a few guiding questions to get the students on track.  By the end of class, I felt good about how we left things, but would love to see them asking the questions in the future.

Enter my 6th hour.

I did my intro, this is where we left off, this is the big question… and asked who wanted to start.  Five students joined the inner circle and I told them to go.  So they had a general discussion that ended in the conclusion that the 20% off coupon was best for high prices and the $5 off coupon was best for low prices.  Now the questions I want to ask are “What are high and low prices?” and “What about the $5 not being used under $15?”  But as I am getting to the point where the group is stalling and I am feeling like I need to get them on track, a 6th student from the outside circle stood up and walked to the center.  She sat down and said, “I am wondering what you mean by high and low?  Like can you be more specific?”  So I’m thinking, ok, great, that’s what we need!  So they discuss a little more, start to narrow down the ranges for when the coupons are best, and I switch out the center circle.  New 5 students.  Same situation.  They pick up from where the other group left off.  Again, they got to a point where I am just about to open my mouth… and a 6th student joins the group and asks exactly the right leading question.  Again, and again, and again.  Until it is now 45 minutes later and I have just watched in delight as they got closed in on exactly where they needed to be!  It was a thing of beauty.  Had I talked, I would have ruined it all!


5 thoughts on “Keeping my mouth shut…

  1. This is another good insight. I am sure you’ve seen Dan Meyer’s TED talk, but this is exactly the kind of decision he means by “Be less helpful.” It is a constant struggle to figure out exactly where that line lies since each class is different. I enjoy reading your reflections. Great work.

  2. Thanks for posting the use of the Socratic Circle in math. I have observed it in Language Arts, but had not seen it used in the math classroom. Can’t wait to read more about how you got started, I know it is a great analytical and communication piece.

  3. Wow, I would LOVE to try this in math, but I would need to see it modeled first. I may give it a try. The hardest part would be the initial startup, I think. I find it hard to keep my big mouth closed, too. 😀

  4. Pingback: Explore MTBoS- Socratic Circles | thenumbertwentyone

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