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Socratic seminar examines controversial environmental topics with students leading the conversation

The controversial question had been posed: Should we continue to sell and use plastic water bottles? Grade 6 students gathered in Lindsay Silbereisen's Science classroom in early January and began to present evidence and analysis to support either side of the argument during their first Socratic seminar. The Seminar examined controversial environmental topics and utilized elements students had practiced in their History and English classes. The preparation with their CEA - claim, evidence, analysis, is related to their English book club reflections and respective job roles and the inner/outer circle is similar to a style used in a recent History class debate. 

According to readwritethink.org, "The Socratic seminar is a formal discussion, based on a text, in which the leader asks open-ended questions. Within the context of the discussion, students listen closely to the comments of others, thinking critically for themselves, and articulate their own thoughts and their responses to the thoughts of others."

On Wednesday, January 8, the inner circle consisted of Lance DiBenedetto, Kayla Barta, Elizabeth Abbott, Hayden Sutherland and Eric Seagran. Their partners, Kendi Mwenda, Gillian Lehneis, Sophia Santomaro, Nikolas Nikeas, and Benji Hugon completed the outer circle. The evidence presented ranged from scientific facts on water usage to thoughtfully articulated opinions on a world existing with/without plastic. The inner circle participants shared their claim and evidence and were graded based on their listening and speaking/participating skills and the outer circle was responsible for taking notes on their partner using the Cornell system, a format for condensing and organizing class notes.

Pros and cons from the seminar included:

Pro 1: Banning bottled water would reduce waste and protect the environment.
Con 1: Banning bottled water removes a healthy choice and leads to increased consumption of unhealthy sugary drinks.

Pro 2: Banning bottled water would protect local water supplies.
Con 2: Banning bottled water restricts consumers' access to a product they want, and negatively affects small businesses.

Pro 3: Banning bottled water would save money, and public water fountains are convenient and plentiful.
Con 3: Bottled water is a practical emergency water supply.

The class provides students with opportunities to present their research and engage in real-life debates with respect and collaboration. Lance provided research that showed 93% of Americans think that bottled water should be available and 30% won't have another source to go to if it is eliminated. Also, he added, that according to World Bank in 2017, the cost of clean water is 150 billion/year. That can buy a lot of plastic bottled water. "I enjoy discussing wide-spread issues in today's society, along with hearing the ideas and opinions of my fellow students. The seminar was a fun and interactive experience," comments Lance.

Kayla enjoyed the seminar because students were not limited to what they could and couldn't say. "I learned that both sides of the argument had very good reasons to support their side. This type of lesson helped me to better understand the issues not only because we got to hear multiple points of view, but also everyone had something slightly different to add. Also we weren't just given the information. We had to conduct research and work to find the information to support each side, which was definitely more challenging."

Learn more about the Middle School program at King.