Dr. Fleetwood's Website

Socratic Constructivism


As most students are quite familiar, historically, their classes have been the dissemination of information from the teacher to the students as the students sit in their chairs, likely lined up in a neat row. The problem, though, as most adults are quite familiar, is that life doesn't tend to present neat little problems to you and there often isn't someone there to give you the answer. This is particularly true in science where the very role of a scientist is to ask questions that have not yet been answered. Furthermore, one must develop a process by which to investigate a problem and derive possible solutions – this is also a fundamental feature of science, the process of inquiry, experimentation, analysis and making conclusions. Therefore, it only makes sense that for a student to be better prepared for life's challenges they must learn the process of how to approach a problem and how to go about finding a solution. These are the type of people we need to make the future a better place for all of us.


With this in mind, my teaching strategy would best be labeled as a Socratic, Problem-Based, Constructivist approach. This approach is based on the dialectic techniques of Socrates and the teaching concept of constructivism. Socrates believed it was more important to teach students to think for themselves than to tell them the 'right' answer. Furthermore, through reasoned dialogue, students can practice examining opinions and ideas logically, and gain deeper knowledge and insight than by memorizing pieces of information. Constructivism is the idea that we build new knowledge based on our current knowledge and experience; the new knowledge then reshapes the things we already know as we 'construct' our view of the world. Moreover, the best way to build that knowledge is through experiencing it first-hand, not by someone telling it to you – we learn best through active participation and experience. As such, I utilizes various methods (Socratic dialogue, case studies, research articles, real-world scenarios) to engage the students with 'problems' to solve without giving them the answer before-hand. Historically, by contrast, a student is given a project to do only after they have been lectured on the material and have some background knowledge. This is most often not the case in my approach. The point is to allow the student to discover new knowledge and in so doing to develop the skills to 'learn how to learn'. This is perhaps the most important skill one can garner in their education. We are only in school for a relatively short period of our lives, but learning goes on throughout our lifetime. So, in the end, the student should get both the content knowledge required and the skills necessary to obtain new knowledge on whatever they desire.

This change of approach can often come as a bit of a culture shock to the students. They are used to someone telling them a list of items and then regurgitating that list on the test (and then rapidly forgetting that information because the test is over). Furthermore, as noted by Allen and White in The Power of Problem-Based Learning,

A prominent feature of PBL is the overtly constructed and stated demarcation between what students know they know and what they don't know or are uncertain about. Students have learned to blur or camouflage this line for faculty, because awareness of knowledge gaps is rarely rewarded and often penalized. However, it is the starting point for discussion, and for generation of the new learning issues needed to make progress.

In other words, students need to learn that it is okay not to know something as long as you develop ways to find a solution. These methods involve locating resources and evaluating their appropriateness, as well as the skills necessary to read technical information from, for example, scientific papers. In addition, group brainstorming and analysis are important aspects of PBL, so skills in communication and working with others are also essential.

Overall, the point is that students must learn to apply their knowledge, not just regurgitate it. And, most importantly, they must learn how to think.

 


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