Socratic Seminars in Earth Science and AP Environmental Science

Ellen Post, Rochester City School District

Socratic seminars have been shown to increase critical thinking. This is a challenge for many of my students. On state assessments they are fine with basic content, regurgitation or memory questions; however they struggle when asked to think critically about the content.

In order for me to see some success using Socratic seminars I had to scaffold carefully. I did my best to choose text that met my students reading levels (lexile scores = range 800-1200) and moved them up over time. I ran units simultaneously with one class using seminars and one without. I then switch classes for the next unit. Data was collected on two different class sections of earth science and one section of AP environmental science.

To measure student motivation, a survey was given to students and I recorded student feedback and observations during class work time, seminars and discussions throughout the units. A comparison of assessments showed an 8.4% increase in scores on assessments when Socratic seminars were used during the unit. Student survey results showed an increase in motivation and positive feelings about the class.

I found that preparation for the seminars is time consuming, especially when I first began. However, I have found that when comparing the length of class time used to cover a topic was less than the previous year, and students understanding were deeper and retention was higher.   For more information on this work, please see my action research report.

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