Sunday, February 19, 2012

Teens Talking about Knowledge and Virtue

In my Philosophy for Teens class, the students have been learning about the skills necessary for good conversations; listening, clarifying, paraphrasing and elaborating ideas with examples.  They have also been introduced to Socrates' dialectic; teasing out weaknesses in arguments using only questions instead of statements.  The Socratic method is the ultimate teaching tool because the 'student' themselves comes to understand that they had the 'knowledge' all along, even if the knowledge was that their initial assumption was flawed and now they must re-examine their argument.

Conversation is essential to learning and students love to talk!  In Academic Conversations: Classroom Talk that Fosters Critical Thinking by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford, teachers can find many great ideas for integrating these important skills in any subject area.  I shared the five core conversation skills with the students in the Philosophy for Teens class and asked them to come to class with their ideas mapped out on a graphic organizer I had prepared.  Then, in pairs, they tackled Plato's idea  from Protagoras about knowledge being the greatest virtue.  The students were introduced to the  American philosopher Martha Nussbaum's assertion that compassion is the greatest virtue. Their conversations were recorded and I chose one to launch what I hope will be our very first podcast!  This is the fourth year I have taught this class and from the beginning I have wanted to record our amazing conversations.  The greatest obstacle was their understandable hesitance about being recorded.  But for the first time in four years, I have a group who is willing to share their incredible mental meanderings, authentic questions and positively wonderful conversations with the world.

In this nine minute conversation, you can hear Marie-Lise skillfully get Brandon to agree that his argument needs some attention.  She does a Socratic 'slam dunk' on him by about minute six where you can hear other students giggle and Brandon moans audibly.  They did a great job trying out their skills and hats off to Brandon for his honesty.  He actually changed his mind and agreed with Marie-Lise.  How many adults do you think could learn from him?

Have a listen for yourself.  The students would be thrilled if you left a comment!

(This is cross posted at

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chance Favours the Connected

Chance, serendipity or maybe just too much time in front of the screen brought another sweet connection this week.  I have 'discovered' some of my favourite educators are reading the same book I am; David Weinberger's "Too Big to Know".  I heard Spark's Nora Young (from CBC) interview David Weinberger and immediately recognized a thinker who asked valuable questions.  He spoke about the shape of knowledge that has changed as a result of the digital revolution.  Information is no longer shackled to print and paper; it has been liberated and hyper linked right to your questioning mind.  What an idea!  Think of it; information is morphing from a pyramidal structure (top down, hierarchy, controlled by the few) to a network, shaped by the users and the nodes of that network.  It's simply brilliant and the implication of that idea has no end of exciting consequences.  So I bought the audio book the within the hour and began listening to Weinberger.

 In the same Spark episode, Nora Young also interviewed Luciano Floridi, a philosopher of information who asks the question, "Why is the information revolution so dramatic?"  We have been through three previously revolutions, according to Floridi.  From Copernicus (we are not the center of the universe) to Darwin (man is not the center of creation) to Freud (human beings are not the pinnacle of rational creatures) but this digital revolution is the most dramatic.  How does this impact our self understanding?  Who is man and what is his purpose?  These metaphysical questions have lived in the philosopher's heart from before Socrates.  Now, in this digital revolution, Floridi attempts to answer that question; we are interconnected information organisms.  And, we are not alone.  The shape of the network, the connections to like minds, to information, to nodes in our networked circles, reminds us that we are not alone.

Pretty dramatic stuff.  All I wanted to do was shout out the virtual book club on Twitter #edbookclub where the good folks (many from - another serendipitous story) will be discussing Weinberger's book.  A virtual book club on Twitter; another brilliant idea.