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Q & A

 Socratic Brain Teacher Demonstration Webinar

Question & Answer Session following May 7, 2015 Webinar

Have you used WebAssign before?  If so, how is this similar, or different?

 Stephen Collins:

Yes. I have looked into WebAssign on several different occasions. About a decade ago the development head at WebAssign gave me access to its inner workings to play around with it. I found it lacks robust ways to integrate what is going on in the classroom. Seamlessly integrating pre-assessment activities before students are ready for online practice and integrating higher-level collaborative activities are not well supported within Web Assign. Also, originally WebAssign was not designed to support standards based assessment although there are probably ways to work around that. The bigger challenge is how to integrate what is going on in the classroom with online practice and assessment. 


Does this work with all levels of physics?  AP Physics 1....or first year physics?

Stephen Collins:

I have taught physics at the Senior, AP, sophomore and freshman level. It works very well for first year physics. Adding content for AP physics is a work in progress.

Michael Dolan:

For next year, the best fit for a pilot is 1st year physics. Socratic Brain has been used in Algebra I and we have longer range plans for many STEM subjects. But, that will take more time and resources  . . .

The vast majority of the content is in physics and some is in Algebra.


You mentioned a partner program for algebra - could you provide more details of that?

 Stephen Collins:

The 9th grade Algebra course that my colleague Matt Owen set up in Socratic Brain is an excellent complement to the 9th grade physics curriculum. He put a lot of work into making it common core compliant. He recently presented at NCTM.  We have 9th grade students taking both classes: algebra and physics. It is working very well and has been quite successful.


Is this a mobile-friendly site yet, or is this best designed for computers/tablets?

 Stephen Collins:

Yes. Quite well. A lot of my students love their phone. About a 1/3 of them will pass using a laptop from the cart and use their phones to take quizzes or practice.  The quizzes have their own security system so the teacher controls where and when quizzes are taken. Socratic Brain works pretty well on both iPhone and Android. There is no Java implemented which tends to make it Apple friendly.


Can you watch your students complete tasks "live?" i.e. - if I give them free reign on their phones to "do homework," can I be checking that they are, in fact, doing homework?

Stephen Collins:

John, that is a great question about watching live. I have seen software that allows teachers to peep in to students’ screens. Rather than do that, the teacher dashboard includes a column that provides the number of seconds since the student last provided input. This is quite helpful with my A.D.D. students who may be distracted. Socratic Brain also updates in real-time when students complete a practice or an assessment.

This is more helpful than teacher dashboards from many current online programs, which only update once a day or upon an event occurring, like the student exiting the program. I found that type of reporting is not very helpful in real-time management of the classroom.


How do you think Socratic brain complements the modeling cycle?  Is it an effective tool inside and outside class?

 Stephen Collins:

One of the ways Socratic Brain supports the modeling cycle is it gives me the opportunity to track collaborative activities, like white boarding. Students will demonstrate through discussion that they have a grasp of the material and I can award them credit for that as I move through the classroom interacting with student groups. It also helps student to know what to work on next and it makes it easy to put the right group of students together at the right time. This supports more personalized instructions. Socratic Brain organizes the material and helps the teacher organize the students so that they are working on the right material collaboratively grouped with the right students.


Could this be paired with/have you paired Socratic Brain with a flipped classroom? And what would be the pros/cons of that?

 Stephen Collins:

Absolutely. That “Learn” button can be the gateway to any online resource whatsoever. It can pair to videos, widgets, and documents.


Do parents support this program?  Often parents are not used to modeling...have you found that this helps to ease the transition to this type of instruction?

Stephen Collins:

I am doing a lot of different things that constitute change in many parents’ eyes.

  • -       Physics 1st (Physics in 9th grade)
  • -       Standards Based Grading
  • -       Modeling Instruction
  • -       Mastery Based Learning
  • -       Asynchronies and differentiate pacing

 All of us using teaching methods that are different from what a parent may have experienced invest time helping parents understand the benefits. 

 By the end of the school year, the relationships I have built with my students, are reflected in a phenomenal relationship with their parents. The more personal relationship results from spending so much of the classroom time working with small groups of students.

Michael Dolan:

Stephen and I created a non-profit to help make Socratic Brain available to teachers everywhere. The majority of the funds we have raised come from parents thrilled with the changes Socratic Brain supports in the classroom. As both a teacher and a parent I am well aware that you will never have all the parents happy all the time. Yet we have a large majority of very happy parents.

Stephen Collins:

That point can’t be over stated. Parents have been our biggest supporters.


What are the costs for piloting this platform?

 Michael Dolan

Socratic Brain charges $25/student/year. However, at this point we are far more concerned with identifying teachers and schools with the best opportunity to improve student outcomes. If a school is a great fit for a pilot, but funding is an issue we will work with them. That being said, funding is limiting our ability to offer Socratic Brain to more teachers more quickly, so it is obviously an important issue.


Have you discovered evidence, using Socratic Brain, that students gain more confidence with the concepts of physics?  Motivates  both high end and low end students?

 Stephen Collins:

Jennifer, like many of you I administer the Force Concept Inventory (FCI) at the beginning and end of the year to track how effective I am in supporting the conceptual understanding and learning of my students.

The software really supports the high aptitude, high motivation students. It does this by supporting a more collaborative classroom and the ability to practice and take assessments as much as, or as little as, they need to to achieve mastery.

At the lower end, motivation is at the human level. It needs to come from the teacher. I get the opportunity to develop a strong relationship with the students. The enhanced face to fact time has far more impact than even the most engaging software


Thank you!  Great to hear about the parent donation!  A random you still do "board meetings" with your students?

Stephen Collins:

Yes. Absolutely. The day I had the photographer in for this presentation just happened to be one where we did not do a lot of board meetings.


The learning curve for the software seems considerable due to wide functionality of the software (that’s a good thing). Summer is an excellent time for a teacher to get it all together for classroom deployment. Will a trial of the full version of the program be available to us for the summer?

Stephen Collins:

Don, once we find a great fit we could get a trial running in days. Teachers could play around with it and they could get it into students’ hands. We will also have a workshop in New Orleans to get teachers together. We believe collaboration not only supports great outcomes for students but also for teachers.

 Michael Dolan:

It was about this time last year that St. Andrew’s, in Austin TX, got a trial of Socratic Brain running. We collaborated with Stephen and Matt in New Orleans over the summer and have had great success piloting Socratic Brain this year.


What criteria do you need from a school to be selected as a pilot?

 Stephen Collins:

1. Enthusiastic teachers who are energetic, forgiving and willing to work on the fly. The fact that y’all are on this conference call is a great testament to those characteristics.

2. Good access to an Internet connected device at school and home for each student

3. Strong support from the school

4. Ability to participate and collaborate with other Socratic Brain teachers


Is Socratic Brain used more before and after class for the teacher to get the class organized in the groups that need specific help?  or used during the class time

 Stephen Collins:

I have found it helps to look before class to group and set up the class. However, we have 100 minute classes so regrouping may happen multiple times during a class. Some students are really stuck and may need a lot of support and four or five different approaches. Others quickly master a target and move on to a new group.

Michael Dolan:

We have 50-minute classes. Before each one starts I decide on initial groups, usually of 2-4 students. Typically I group students with similar mastery level for specific learning targets. However, I also like to pair a student who has mastered a target or an entire unit with students who really struggling. Through this regrouping process some students have found their “physics soul mate:” someone from whom which they learn more readily.


Can you talk about how using Socratic Brain has helped with differentiation?

 Stephen Collins:

I don’t see any way that I could have the level of differentiation in my classes without it. Today I had students working on four different types of projects, from explaining the Big Bang to constructing a musical instrument. Within the projects different students are at different places in the project. I am still able to make sure that students who are stuck on something get the help they need or students who missed a class or two can be paired with a student who can quickly get them up to date. Differentiation for the individual student is so greatly simplified that there is no way I could duplicate that if I had to go back to paper.


Or perhaps talk about your biggest success (and failure!) using Socratic Brain. :)

 Stephen Collins:

The biggest successes are individual students. This year, a girl, real bright kid, had gotten a long way by being a very hard worker. She had always achieved by memorizing facts and learning how to do what the teacher taught her to do.

When she got to the top level assessment for the first time she was confronted with something really complicated requiring her to pull together knowledge from many different places. She had never been asked to do that before. She stayed late and kept struggling, kept working.

When she finally bridged the gap from the lower level concrete operational thinking that had been demanded of her in middle school, the type of learning that she thought was the “be all end all” of education, the type that she was really good at, the look on her face was amazing. When she finally did some real critical thinking for herself and achieved a real hard challenge, she lit up.

 She is going to spend her whole summer in a research laboratory because she suddenly really loves science. That is just this one example from this year.