A study of the impact of socratic seminars on a sixth-grade science classroom
Smith Piasecki, Fiona Alyse
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Not only do we expect our future scientists to have a deep understanding of science content, but we expect them to be able to communicate these ideas. Previous research shows that student-led classroom discussions not only encourage the development of critical thinking skills and a depth of knowledge, but they teach scientific discourse practices and aid in academic language development. This study investigated the impact of preparing for and participating in Socratic Seminars on the depth of student content knowledge. Additionally, it aimed to determine the impact of Socratic Seminars on student confidence with science content and the achievement gap between English Language Learner (ELL) and non-ELL students in a 6th grade science classroom. To make this determination, every other science unit included a Socratic Seminar as an extension activity. To examine the effect of Socratic Seminars on content knowledge and the achievement gap, the study compared the results of end of unit content assessments, Socratic Seminar scores, and student interviews. To measure student confidence, the study compared student responses on end of unit reflection surveys, weekly reflections, and interviews. Quantitative results indicated no impact of Socratic Seminars on student's depth of knowledge of science content or in closing the achievement gap and mixed impact on student confidence. However, qualitative results indicated an increase in content knowledge and confidence for all students. Although this study provided mixed results as to the impact of Socratic Seminars on content knowledge, confidence, and the achievement gap, student statements and questions during seminars, in addition to interview results show that Socratic Seminars promoted deep exploration of ideas and had a positive impact on the Next Generation Science Standards, Science and Engineering Practices of Engaging in Argument from Evidence and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information. They are therefore a valuable extension activity format in a science classroom.