Socratic Seminars

Socratic Seminar Fall 2015

  1. Science and Mysticism: Using quotes from the texts below answer the following: How Does Mysticism Differ from Science?
    1. Text: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/19/science/mystics-and-science-hawking-s-views.html
    2. Text 2: 
    3. Text 3: 
  2. General Relativity. Answer the question using quotes from the text. How is general relativity significant 100 years after its discovery?
  3. What is Time? Answer the question using quotes from the text and conversation. What is Sean Carroll saying time is? Is his argument sound?
  4. Energy: What does the search for advanced alien civilizations and the Kardashev scale teach us about our own civilization on earth?
  5. Love: What is love?

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Socratic Seminar Spring 2014

  1. Socratic Seminar 1: There is No Such Thing As Everlasting Love. Essential Question: Is love solely a biochemical response? Why or why not?
  2. Socratic Seminar 2:  Matter & Energy .  Transcribed Text Let’s cut to the chase: as of July 4, 2012, the Higgs Boson is the last fundamental piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics to be discovered experimentally. “But,” you might ask, “why was the Higgs Boson included in the Standard Model alongside well-known particles like electrons and photons and quarks if it hadn’t been discovered back then in the 1970s?” Good question. There are two main reasons:First, just like the electron is an excitation in the electron field, the Higgs boson is simply a particle which is an excitation of the everywhere-permeating Higgs field. The Higgs field, in turn, plays an integral role in our model for radioactive decay, called the weak nuclear force (in particular, the Higgs field helps explain why it’s so weak). We’ll talk more about this in a later video, but even though weak nuclear theory was confirmed in the 1980s, in the equations the Higgs field is so inextricably jumbled with the weak force that until now we’ve been unable to confirm its actual and independent existence.The second reason to include the Higgs in the standard model is some jargony business about the Higgs field giving all other particles mass. But why does stuff need to be “given” mass in the first place? Isn’t mass just an intrinsic property of matter, like electric charge? Well, in particle physics…no. Remember that in the Standard Model, we first write down a mathematical “ingredients list” of all the particles that we think are in nature (and their properties). You can watch my “theory of everything” video for a quick refresher. We then run this list through a big fancy mathematical machine, which spits out equations that tell us how these particles behave.Except, if we try to include mass as a property for the particles on our ingredients list, the math-machine breaks. Maybe mass was a poor choice… but most particles we observe in nature do have mass, so we have to figure out some clever way of using ingredients that will spit out mass in the final equations without it being an input – kind of like how you can let yeast, sugar and water ferment into alcohol that wasn’t there to begin with.And as you may be thirstily anticipating, the solution is to toss a yeasty Higgs field in with the other ingredients of the Standard Model, so that when we let the math ferment, we get out particles that have mass! But this model also brews up something we DIDN’T intend: a solitary Higgs particle, the infamous boson. And since the model works so well to explain everything else, we figured it was pretty likely that the lonely boson is right, too!To summarize, the Higgs Boson is a particle which is a left-over excitation of the Higgs field, which in turn was needed in the Standard Model to 1) explain the weak nuclear force and 2) explain why any of the other particles have mass at all. However, the boson is the only bit of the Higgs field which is independently verifiable, precisely because the other bits are tangled up in the weak nuclear force and in giving particles mass. The fact that the Higgs Boson is so independent from the rest of the Standard Model is why it’s the last piece of the puzzle to be discovered – and if it turns out to be exactly what was predicted, the Standard model will be complete.The only problem is that we know that the standard model ISN’T a complete description of the universe (it entirely misses out on gravity, for example). So to physicists, it would be much more interesting AND helpful if the Higgs boson turns out to be not quite what we expect… then we might get a clue as to how to reach a deeper understanding of the universe. So even though we just made a discovery, we can’t sit back and relax. We need a hint, Mr. Higgs.  Essential Question: Why is the Higgs Field significant?
  3. Seminar 3: Time. Sean Carroll on Time. Assignment: Reflect on what the underlying idea of the text is and its significance.
  4. Seminar 4: Pale Blue Dot.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmP4Xzt0rN4

Socratic Seminars Fall 2014

All students must complete five seminar reflections for the first semester.

  1.  Socratic Seminar 1: Confucianism. Using the text, information from our seminar, and your research on Confucianism, reflect on the importance of filial piety and obedience in your life. What is the appropriate balance of obedience to maintain? Should you remain obedient to parents? To the state (government)? Where was Confucius wrong if at all?  OR using all available resources reflect on whether Confucianism is a religion/spiritual system or a philosophy/governmental system? Use evidence from the text and your research to support.
  2. Socratic Seminar 2: Taoism. Reflect on the significance of the yin and yang and the balance between them in understanding the Tao.
  3. Socratic Seminar 3: Hinduism. Reflect on the following statement as it relates to the seminar, the text and our dialogue: ‘You create your reality. All of it. Every last bit of it.”
  4. Socratic Seminar 4: Buddhism. Reflect on whether you agree with the Hindu doctrine of Atman, the Buddhist doctrine of Anatman or whether you feel they are the same OR reflect on the relative importance of belief vs. compassion. Which is more important? How do they inform how you live your life?
  5. Socratic Seminar 5: Why Religion?  Using evidence from the text and our seminar, reflect on why religion matters.
  6. Socratic Seminar 6: Scientists Harness Human Power. Using evidence from the text or the conversation reflect on what you learned about electricity from this seminar. Also, what is the significance of the scientists’ work?
  7. Socratic Seminar 7: The Transistor . Why is the transistor called the most important invention of the 20th century and what impact will it have on future technologies?
  8. Socratic Seminar 8: Global Warming’s Terrifying Math. Summarize the issue that the article describes. Reflect on what we should do about it moving forward using evidence from the text or the seminar conversation.
  9. Socratic Seminar 9: AI Smarter than Humans. What do you think AI will be able to do within the next thirty years? Use evidence from the text or the seminar to justify your answer.

Second Semester Spring 2014 Socratic Seminars

  1. Socratic Seminar 1: Time. Sean Carroll on Time. Assignment: Reflect on what the underlying idea of the text is and its significance.
  2. Socratic Seminar 2: Gravity. 20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Gravity.  Choose one of the twenty facts. Complete a QCQ reflection on that fact.
  3. Socratic Seminar 3: Black Holes. What is a Black Hole? & Stephen Hawking: ‘There are no black holes.’ What is the significance of black hole physics?
  4. Socratic Seminar 4: Love. There’s No Such Thing as Everlasting Love (According to Science). Reflect on whether love can last forever.
  5. Socratic Seminar 5: Light. The Power of Light.  Reflect on what struck you about the text? What did you learn?
  6. Socratic Seminar 6: Education. The Wall Part 2.  What is your ideal learning environment?
  7. Socratic Seminar 7: Beauty. Crash Course on Humans: Aesthetics. Is beauty is a simple biological imperative? Why or why not?
  8. Socratic Seminar 8: Grit. The Importance of Grit. What behaviors limit you from achieving success through deliberate practice? How could you change that?

First Semester Fall 2013 Socratic Seminars

  1. Socratic Seminar 1 – During the first week, we will complete two separate seminars using two different texts. Text one is a transcribed interview with physicist Richard Feynman on Curiosity. The audio version of it is attached below.        Text two is a symphony of science productions using speeches given by Feyman, Carl Sagan, Neil Degrasse Tyson and Bill Nye.  
  2. Socratic Seminar 2 – We will do our first seminar on matter and energy exploring ideas behind the conservation of energy. The text is in the attached site. Second Socratic Seminar Text.
  3. Socractic Seminar 3 – We will continue our study of matter and energy and complete a seminar using a text from Henry Reich, creator of the educational YouTube channel MinutePhysics. Our first unit this semester will be on mass and energy, so we will be doing a seminar trying to unravel the mysteries of the Higgs Boson. The text is below. .  Transcribed Text Let’s cut to the chase: as of July 4, 2012, the Higgs Boson is the last fundamental piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics to be discovered experimentally. “But,” you might ask, “why was the Higgs Boson included in the Standard Model alongside well-known particles like electrons and photons and quarks if it hadn’t been discovered back then in the 1970s?” Good question. There are two main reasons:First, just like the electron is an excitation in the electron field, the Higgs boson is simply a particle which is an excitation of the everywhere-permeating Higgs field. The Higgs field, in turn, plays an integral role in our model for radioactive decay, called the weak nuclear force (in particular, the Higgs field helps explain why it’s so weak). We’ll talk more about this in a later video, but even though weak nuclear theory was confirmed in the 1980s, in the equations the Higgs field is so inextricably jumbled with the weak force that until now we’ve been unable to confirm its actual and independent existence.The second reason to include the Higgs in the standard model is some jargony business about the Higgs field giving all other particles mass. But why does stuff need to be “given” mass in the first place? Isn’t mass just an intrinsic property of matter, like electric charge? Well, in particle physics…no. Remember that in the Standard Model, we first write down a mathematical “ingredients list” of all the particles that we think are in nature (and their properties). You can watch my “theory of everything” video for a quick refresher. We then run this list through a big fancy mathematical machine, which spits out equations that tell us how these particles behave.Except, if we try to include mass as a property for the particles on our ingredients list, the math-machine breaks. Maybe mass was a poor choice… but most particles we observe in nature do have mass, so we have to figure out some clever way of using ingredients that will spit out mass in the final equations without it being an input – kind of like how you can let yeast, sugar and water ferment into alcohol that wasn’t there to begin with.And as you may be thirstily anticipating, the solution is to toss a yeasty Higgs field in with the other ingredients of the Standard Model, so that when we let the math ferment, we get out particles that have mass! But this model also brews up something we DIDN’T intend: a solitary Higgs particle, the infamous boson. And since the model works so well to explain everything else, we figured it was pretty likely that the lonely boson is right, too!To summarize, the Higgs Boson is a particle which is a left-over excitation of the Higgs field, which in turn was needed in the Standard Model to 1) explain the weak nuclear force and 2) explain why any of the other particles have mass at all. However, the boson is the only bit of the Higgs field which is independently verifiable, precisely because the other bits are tangled up in the weak nuclear force and in giving particles mass. The fact that the Higgs Boson is so independent from the rest of the Standard Model is why it’s the last piece of the puzzle to be discovered – and if it turns out to be exactly what was predicted, the Standard model will be complete.The only problem is that we know that the standard model ISN’T a complete description of the universe (it entirely misses out on gravity, for example). So to physicists, it would be much more interesting AND helpful if the Higgs boson turns out to be not quite what we expect… then we might get a clue as to how to reach a deeper understanding of the universe. So even though we just made a discovery, we can’t sit back and relax. We need a hint, Mr. Higgs.
  4. Socratic Seminar 4 – Seminar four will be on Global Warming. It is comes from an article in the Rolling Stone by Bill McKibben. Fourth Socratic Seminar Text
  5. Socratic Seminar 5 – Seminar five will focus on The Kardashev Scale of civilization development. http://articles.latimes.com/print/2008/jul/22/opinion/oe-shermer22
  6. Socratic Seminar 6 – Seminar six will be on Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Most Astounding Fact.
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