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Incorporating the Socratic Method While Teaching STEM

Teachers can facilitate thought-provoking classroom discussions in a variety of ways. If you’re looking for a unique strategy to build your students’ critical thinking skills, the Socratic method is worth exploring. As we dive deeper we’ll discuss the Socratic method and how teachers can use this philosophy while teaching STEM. 

What is the Socratic Method? 

The Socratic method is a form of discussion that encourages critical thinking through the use of questions. This style of dialogue challenges the way students think and work to unlock new ideas. Named after the Greek philosopher Socrates, this method of teaching dates back to the second half of the fifth century BC. In order to expose contradictions in his student’s arguments, Socrates would question their beliefs. He pushed students to look beyond the obvious and cross-examine everything. Today, teachers can use the Socratic method to help students explore and understand difficult concepts in law, medicine, and, of course, STEM.

The 6 Categories of the Socratic Method

Simply asking questions for the sake of challenging ideas isn’t enough to make your lesson worthy of Ancient Greece. It takes a specific type of question to uncover the root of a concept. Below are the six categories of questions Socrates posed to his pupils. 

1. Clarification

These questions require students to ponder and explain what their argument is. Clarifying questions ask students to identify what exactly they are thinking about. Examples of clarification include “Can you explain further?” and “What exactly does this mean?”

2. Challenge Assumptions 

Challenging assumptions is a great way to encourage critical thinking. By posing questions such as “Is that always the case?” and “Could you solve the problem in a different way?”, you can push students to explore outside the boundaries of their beliefs and preconceived notions. In doing this, students can understand the topic from a different perspective and come to a solution they may have missed before. 

3. Evidence and Reasoning 

After students provide the rationale for their argument, it’s time to explore their reasoning. Question how they know this information and why they believe it’s correct. Examples of evidence and reasoning questions include “How do you know that?” and “What evidence do you have that supports your argument?” 

4. Alternate Viewpoints 

Students typically make arguments from a specific perspective. It’s important to question this perspective to demonstrate that different viewpoints are equally valid. Examples of questions you could ask include “What is the other side of this argument?” and “Who benefits most from this perspective?”

5. Implications and Consequences

Due to implicit bias, students may present a solution without considering the possible consequences. By using the Socratic method to force students to think beyond the present problem, you can help the student develop better long-term solutions. Asking “How does that impact ___?” or “What if you’re wrong?” is a great way to guide your students towards higher thought processes. 

6. Challenge the Question

At times, it can be helpful to consider the question itself. Questioning the question’s motives (very meta, we know) and taking a moment to consider if you’re asking the right questions can help shed light on the topic as a whole. Consider asking, “Why do you think I asked this question?” or “What does this question mean?”

Other Socratic Method Frameworks

What are the 5 Socratic Questions?

As teachers, we don’t always have the luxury of spending time thinking of life’s big philosophical questions for a lesson plan. A quicker way of building questions that still get the most out of your Socratic Method lesson is to consider asking “The Five Ws”. These are considered the key questions in problem-solving and information gathering. “The Five Ws” include 

  • Who
  • What 
  • When 
  • Where 
  • Why

What are the three steps of the Socratic Method? 

If thinking through “The Five Ws” feels overwhelming, follow the three steps of the Socratic method. 

  • First, pose the question. 
  • Second, provide an answer. 
  • Lastly, evaluate the answer’s validity. 

You’ll likely find yourself asking some of the questions above. However, following three simple steps rather than going through a list of questions may make this teaching style feel more approachable. 

Socratic Method and STEM

Science and technology fields like engineering often require students to think critically. Developing this skill will help them learn how to solve complex problems and discover innovative answers. Using the Socratic method in conjunction with other teaching methods can help students learn to question problems to discover a more robust and effective solution. 

Teaching Using the Socratic Method

Both the Invention Cycle and the Engineering Design Process require students to follow a series of steps to uncover a solution. Throughout each step, students must use critical thinking to determine objectives, identify constraints, test ideas, and evaluate concepts. Using Socratic questioning, students can thoroughly analyze challenges they encounter along the way, building their critical thinking skills and improving project outcomes. 

Socratic Method Example in Real Life Scenarios

Making Socratic Seminars a regular part of your curriculum is a great way to explore trending STEM topics more in-depth. Discussing current events helps to demonstrate the relevance and importance of what students are learning in the classroom. It also helps to broaden their worldview and gain insights into how different situations impact different populations. If you’re struggling to think of topics worth discussing, look at recent research and news for inspiration. 

Conducting weekly Socratic seminars works great as a means to begin incorporating Socratic questioning into your classroom. Seminars are teacher-facilitated discussions led by students. These discussions are question-focused, helping students better understand the challenge at hand. During these conversations, play the role of moderator. If the conversation goes silent try posing one of the questions listed below.

  • Can you rephrase the problem?
  • What other challenges does this problem present?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed solution?
  • Could this solution cause any unintended negative effects? 

Start Teaching Like a Philosopher

Everything in science starts with a question before seeking an answer. With the help of the Socratic method, you can encourage inquisitiveness in your students, helping them develop the critical thinking skills they need to thrive in a career in STEM—or any career they choose.

To learn more about the Socratic Method, watch our webinar: Teaching Strategies with Sphero: Socratic Method & Design Thinking.

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