Welcome to the Hot Seat: Philosophical Chairs for Participatory Discussions

As we move forward with our inquiry into the future of work, students have formed birds of feather interest groups this week.  Since roughly half the class is interested in artificial intelligence as well as robotics, and other groups have topic areas impacted by these technologies, I thought it would be helpful to have students engage in a discussion around the pros and cons of the ethics of artificial intelligence.

We began by using Cris Tovani’s annotation strategies (I have slightly modified her version—see Chapter 5 of her book to learn more about annotations as an assessment tool) to mark up five articles.

Students had two articles from NewsELA and three news articles from the open web.  Students took about 30 minutes to read and annotate their articles with a focus on thinking about evidence and talking points that would support or refute the ethics of artificial intelligence.   A few students took up my offer to use colored mini-sticky notes to flag their “pros” and “cons” they had noted.

After this 30 minute period of reading, annotating, and thinking, each student then received an index card and was asked to write one of the following to describe his/her feelings on this statement along with his/her name:

  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Neutral

We then reviewed the procedures for participation in the philosophical chairs discussion and the purpose of it:

We then moved to the project room 400 across the hallway; students formed a squared off “horseshoe” with one side representing agree, one side representing disagree, and then the back or horizontal row representing neutral.  I was a bit surprised to discover roughly 85% of the class fell into the neutral zone, but I rolled with it.

At first, the students were struggling with a couple of points:

  • Articulating their talking point clearly in 60 seconds
  • Articulating a clear pro or con; many wanted to present both sides (I suspect this is why so many fell into the neutral zone?)

As moderator, I did gently remind the first few students in the “hot seat” to focus on a pro or con instead of explaining why they were neutral.  After a few rounds, they got stronger and stronger with their responses and began asking more thoughtful questions of the person in the hot seat and moving with their feet to another position when they heard a good point or compelling example to change their thinking.  Only once did I have to redirect a few students to show respect as listeners.

Overall, everyone did a great job following the rules of participation, and every person present got a chance to speak.  I do think strong articles and students annotating well are critical to helping students come prepared with relevant information and strong/specific evidence to share with the group.  My only regret is not budgeting more time for the activity—somehow, 45 minutes did not feel long enough!     We did not have enough time left to complete the essential post-activity reflection, but students jotted notes during the activity and will complete the reflection in class on Monday.

The ticket out the door was to write on the original index card whether your position had changed or not, and if so, what was the new position.  Nine students did change positions by the end of class, and 14 remained the same.  On Monday, we’ll do some reflections on the discussion as well as self-assessment.  Students will also meet in their birds of feather groups and finish their compass points discussion.  Bravo to Period 1B for a great job with first ever Philosophical Chairs discussion today, and I’m looking forward to more like this one!

Many thanks to the creators of these resources for inspiring me to try Philosophical Chairs!

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