Socratic Seminars in Science
Teachers entering the classroom this year were met with many uncertainties that went along with teaching in a global pandemic. Perhaps one of the most important questions that many at Mount Vernon had was how will teachers and students make deep, meaningful connections with one another without being in a completely face-to-face setting? One teaching strategy, the Socratic seminar, stood out from others in that it allowed for students to build connections with one another while getting and using the content in order to be successful in their classes. The Socratic seminar strategy utilizes group discussion-based lessons to allow students to explore topics beyond lectures and expand their critical thinking skills. This strategy allows students to build upon research skills, process their own and others’ ideas, articulate responses, and most importantly build relationships with their peers through discussions.
Students completed and fully participated in this course in a variety of different ways. In line with Mount Vernon’s hybrid model, students participated in the course entirely online, entirely in-person, or a combination of in-person and online learning depending on the situation. Regardless of the participation format used, students were able to get the content that they needed in order to get their thinking started by listening to a short, teacher-led large group lecture that was also streamed to students at home through Zoom. At the end of each large group session, students were reminded that they would be completing a Socractic seminar, and they would be reminded of the general topic that they would be discussing with their peers. Once each large group meeting was finished, students were given the option to either work individually or in groups to further their research and understanding about the given topic, which in this course were all related to evolution.
Having students participating in the class in a variety of different ways initially posed a problem when it came to the culminating discussions of the Socratic seminar. The virtually-attending students in the class did not feel like they were as connected in the discussion as those that were physically present. In order to work around this problem, class discussions were completed online through Zoom for both in-person and virtually-attending students on fully virtual days or hybrid situation days. Having students complete these seminars online also allowed the teacher to be more or less outside of the conversation and observe what students knew while still asking the occasional probing question. Another positive to completing the culminating discussions online was the ability to record each of the discussions so that students could rewatch them and learn from the information that their peers shared in the discussion and build on it for the next discussion.
Overall, employing this teaching strategy worked well for the students of this class as it not only allowed students to interact with one another in the classroom during a pandemic, but it also allowed students at home to have meaningful discussions and interact with their peers. Socratic seminars also allowed for assessment to take place on a competency-based level because students were able to demonstrate what they learned by showing how they could formulate their ideas in a less traditional way. Lastly, recording each Socratic seminar also allowed students to go back and reassess how they responded to their peers and self-critique, which was an important learning tool as it allowed students to better develop their thoughts and ideas. The completion of the module using the Somatic seminar strategy resulted in more confident students that better understood how to analyze, speak on, and find common ground on a given topic with their peers.