Chapter 2

Big Questions

“What are you… exactly?” she asked, still not sure she was in the right place.

“We are philosophers!” declared the Fat One.  “We think and we explore the biggest questions of them all.  Do you know philosophy, little girl?”  Delphi shook her head.

“What’s… phi… phisopholy?”

Socrates is in prison - but this is Athens, and Delphi knows there's more than one big thinker in this city.  However, when she tracks them down, they turn out to be nothing like she hoped.  They look like people you'd cross the street to avoid and can't seem to agree on anything at all.  But they do seem to ask a lot of questions...

 

Big Questions:

  • What is philosophy?

  • How do you ask philosophical questions?

  • What is the best way to live?

 

Skills focus:

  • Asking questions you can't easily answer

  • Thinking of our own philosophical questions

  • Understanding what makes a good question

 

Lesson Overview

This lesson introduces the subject of philosophy explicitly and focuses on questioning skills. The purpose of the lesson is to develop the children’s understanding of philosophy as a subject and start to develop their imaginations in terms of thinking philosophically. The children will learn what makes a philosophical question and come up with their own suggestions. The story also introduces different ideas about the best way to live, through the opinions of the different philosophers. The children will then have the opportunity to practise the skills learned so far in a short enquiry about what makes a good life.

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Lesson Blog: Big Questions

 

5th October 2019

 

Hi everybody,

 

Welcome to the next chapter of Delphi the Philosopher!  This week our story takes us to the Acropolis and to four very strange men who practise this strange thing called ‘philosophy’.  This lesson is mainly focused on developing the children’s questioning skills, and as you’ll see, the children’s ability to reason and question really develop over this lesson.  There’s also quite a few giggles too!

We begin the lesson by joining Delphi as she thinks about Socrates’ words from the last chapter – that the only thing he knows is that he doesn’t know anything.  We discussed this briefly, mainly as a warm-up – and of course, I wanted to see that the children were using the sentence stems we introduced in the last lesson.

Listening to partner talk is crucial when the children have these discussions.  When I listened, I could hear plenty of ‘I’m not sure yet because’ which was what I wanted to hear.  We also started a working wall of some of the ideas and characters we met so far which we can keep adding to as we go along.

Then we followed Delphi up the Acropolis to meet this strange group of men who call themselves philosophers, and I did my best with a range of rather silly voices.  They tell her what philosophy means – something which is, of course, rather hard to define.  For now, we define it as “asking the most important questions in life and trying to answer them by thinking,” but this will develop even within this lesson.  But what is most important is the questions!  As Delphi settles down to talk to them, she is given rather a strange task.

The children responded to this task with a mix of delight and bafflement but soon got in the spirit of it.  Why do this task?  Because it’s a brilliant way of developing children’s imaginations to ask questions that they have never thought of before and can’t answer.  I can’t remember where I came across this activity (so apologies for not crediting it – let me know if it was you), but it’s always been a favourite so I wanted to include it in the story.

From here, it was only a short step to thinking about philosophical questions.  Well, once we’d worked out how to say ‘philosophical’.

With Delphi giving them a few examples through the story, the children were soon able to generate a whole range of philosophical questions (and many other types of questions besides!)  Children are so naturally good at this.  You only need to give them a push in the right direction.  Take a look at a few!

We spent a bit of time exploring each other’s questions, before we started to discuss what makes a ‘good’ question.  This video shows exactly the purpose of all this – in the space of a few minutes we’d gone from asking a cup what it’s like to get drunk, to discovering metaphysics.

This lesson isn’t just about questioning skills though.  Delphi then finds herself in the middle of a debate about what makes a good life.  Although Delphi and the children don’t know it, they’re actually engaging with the debate between the different schools of post-Socratic Hellenistic thought here.  We have the ‘Fat One’ saying gaining pleasure is most important (our Epicurean), the ‘Strict One’ saying it is most important to control your emotions (our Stoic) and the ‘Dopey One’ saying we can’t know what the best life is (our Sceptic).  Of course, there is the ‘Smelly One’ too…  But who is right?

This next discussion is a wonderful example of the progress the children have made.  As you’ll see, the children are already responding critically – some have reasons why they agree, others are not sure because they want to agree a bit with more than one, and one girl even wants to get at the philosophical question behind their ideas.  Speaking as their class teacher, I know this kind of discussion simply would not have been possible a few weeks ago.  Take a look.

We finished the lesson by thinking about the ‘Smelly One’, Diogenes the Cynic.  Delphi asks him if he needs anything – but he responds in the same way as he once did to Alexander the Great.  I’ll leave you to read the story to find out what that was!

It was a great session – full of surprises and big, silly thinking.  I could see some real progress from the children’s discussions and, again, it was so much fun!

Let’s see how Rosie got on this week, with her class of Year 5’s!

I went home on Friday with a really happy feeling after another successful day in which the children listened, laughed and learnt alongside Delphi. I think out all of the lessons so far this was probably my favourite. It was one of those lessons where you could really see the journey from the beginning to the end and it was really obvious that the children had made progress in just one hour.  This particular lesson is called ‘Big Questions’ and we certainly uncovered over a hundred big questions within it.

We began by having some reflection time on the quote from Socrates last week – “the only thing I know is that I don’t know anything at all.” Lots of children were still unsure and immediately resumed their use of the ‘I’m not sure yet because…’ sentence stem. But equally, they were all keen to give it a go and try to explain their thoughts on the matter. One child admitted that he had gone home last week and asked his parents about what they thought Socrates had meant! The quote has been sitting on a wall at the very front of my classroom so I could quite imagine that it has been buzzing around some of their heads all week.

In the story, Delphi meets four philosophers with four very different personalities. The children were instantly transfixed by them all, particularly Diogenes in his barrel. By half way, the class seemed to be in agreement that they found the ‘fat one’ hilarious, the ‘smelly one’ disgusting, the ‘dopey one’ cool and they didn’t seem to like the ‘strict one’ at all. In fact, a child sat right in front of me went from pulling a nasty face whenever the ‘smelly one’ was mentioned to laughing manically every time the ‘fat one’ spoke. Entertaining for me as well as them, I guess!

What is good about this lesson is that the children finally get to see and understand what philosophy is all about – asking big and important questions and trying to think of possible answers. The activity involving asking questions to a cup was absolutely brilliant for leading the children into the philosophical world. Yes, I had some very strange looks when I asked them all to begin talking to a travel mug I had borrowed from the staff room but it didn’t take them long to be bitten by the big question bug. Questions immediately came flying in: “What’s it like to be a cup?” “Which type of drink makes you happiest?” “Does it feel different when you have a cold drink inside you than when you have a hot drink?” Some children even began to ask the cup questions about whether it could solve the big problem surrounding Socrates and setting him free. They clearly felt like this was the cup of wisdom! I loved teaching this part of lesson both last year and this year as the children get to go through the experience Delphi has in the story at exactly the same time. It is particularly satisfying to see a child’s face light up when the question they had thought of is then reiterated in Delphi’s thoughts too!

We moved on to thinking about big questions in general. Questions we couldn’t necessarily find the answers to. At first the children were a little hesitant - I could tell they had lots of big, silly questions that had appeared in their mind but were a little unsure whether they should write it down or not. But, as soon as one child dared to write “What if toilets could talk?” they all seemed to just burst with questions! Through this activity and with the help of the dialogue in the story between Delphi and the philosophers, we could work out whether the questions we had brainstormed were big enough to be considered as philosophical questions. We learnt the difference between what would be classed as a ‘scientific question’ that can be answered and a ‘philosophical question.’ We used ‘why…’, ‘how…’ and ‘what if…’ to build up even more ideas! I think the children surprised themselves with how many questions they could actually come up with.

Towards the end of the lesson, we discover the philosophers in the middle of a debate about what a good life should be. The children listened and then responded to each of the philosophers’ ideas and tried to judge for themselves who they agreed most with. There was a clear split in three directions (I think my class had clearly made a pact to never agree with the ‘strict one’ in any circumstances) and this meant that our discussion skills could come into full use. I could hear so many children using the ‘I agree/disagree with that because…’ sentence stem more independently and this week, in particular, I saw great improvement in the class’ listening skills when another child was giving their opinion. The highlight this week has to be when one child announced very confidently at the final discussion point, “I agree with Diogenes because I’d rather be smelly and happy than be clean and unhappy.”

But Delphi didn’t stop at the end of the lesson for us this week. We had some free time at the end of the day and I decided to fill it with some class discussions based on some of the questions the children had generated earlier that day. Our main question we were trying to answer was: “If the ground was made out of jelly, what would life be like?” The reaction was brilliant! We had contributions that explained it would be the best because you’d be able to eat all the time and then instant reactions that challenged the idea and explained that if we were to eat the ground there would be no Earth left for us to live on. This led to the question ‘would it be possible for humans to survive on a world made of jelly?’ and then ‘Would it be fair to wildlife if the world was made of jelly?’ The children actually began to take it all quite seriously at one point, they were really into it! It was an absolute joy to be a part of and just shows how easy you can slip philosophy into the primary classroom. Our second question was a little stranger: ‘what if people’s hands were their feet and their feet were their hands?’ I won’t go into to much detail of some of the gross ideas my Year 5s came up with in response to this…

Anyway, it was another fantastic week of Delphi and I can’t wait for week 4!

 

Want to bring out the Big Questions in your class?  Click the link below to download the Enquiry Pack or click here for the entire scheme of work for Delphi the Philosopher.

See you next week!

(Explicit consent has been obtained to publish the photos and videos on this website. Do not copy or replicate these in any way. Many thanks to parents/carers for their support and to Mrs Hegedus, TA superstar, for taking the photos.)

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