Socratic Seminars and Collaborative Learning in Regents Physics

Matthew Greene, Environmental Science and Physics Teacher, Rush-Henrietta Senior High School

Regents physics has been traditionally taught through the use of lecture-based instruction, which has been shown to be less than effective than more engagement-oriented teaching strategies. In this study I was interested to see if a more collaborative approach to learning would have an impact on my students’ understanding of physics.

I have been experimenting with a strategy called circle whiteboarding, a modified version of a Socratic seminar where students lead a discussion to come to a group consensus on a solution to a problem. In years past I have used whiteboarding infrequently in class, at the most once per unit due to the large amount of class time needed. In this study,  my classes participated in two to three seminars per unit for each of the four units in the first semester.

I saw a consistent growth in class test performance from unit to unit during the first semester. Student averages on the mid-term exam were higher this year than any of the past four years I have taught physics. Student perception of Socratic seminars also increased from the start of the school year to the end of the first semester.

Socratic seminars using circle whiteboarding as a tool improved my students understanding in physics, as test scores increased throughout the semester. Interestingly, my students began to enjoy and ask for the session with increased frequency. I was surprised to see students realize the value of the practice, and advocate for its use as a method of instruction. My classes now pick whiteboarding as the preferred method of review for tests and quizzes. For more information on Socratic seminars via circle whiteboarding, please visit my action research report Socratic Seminars and Collaborative Learning in Regents Physics.

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