The Philosophy Advantage: PART 2

By Sarah Brandt, Rubicon International

In Part 1, we talked about reasons why including philosophy in classroom instruction can be valuable. Now, we will explore philosophy’s topics and methods to examine exactly WHAT we mean by philosophy and provide examples for both at the elementary and secondary levels.

Topics of Philosophy:

Ontology deals with the nature of being. This includes questions about identity – why do things exist the way they do? These are the broad questions that drive a child to seek out answers.

At an elementary level: pose a question along the lines of, “How do I know our class pet, Hops the bunny, is here in his cage?” In answering this, encourage students to think about all 5 senses, such as how Hops smells, what he sounds like, and what he feels

At a secondary level: introduce the Ship of Theseus Paradox, asking students whether the Ship of Theseus is still the Ship of Theseus if it loses a plank and you replace it with a different one. What if you replace 2 or 3 planks, or half the boat? If you replace all the planks with new ones, is it still the Ship of Theseus? This is a great baseline for considering personal identity and what makes us who we are.

Epistemology deals with the nature of knowledge. More simply, it looks at the criteria are for knowledge versus opinion.

At an elementary level: show your students optical illusions to demonstrate how your eyes sometimes see things differently. Ask why the picture appears to be moving and how we know that it is not. Then, give some real-life examples such as how water distorts what we see.

At a secondary level: compare Newton’s foundation for empiricism and the scientific method with rationalist schools of thought. Ask students how they know 1+1=2. Do they know this because it is a fundamental principle of our world or because they’ve observed and tested it?

Ethics examines how to live a good and moral life. It includes defining morals on societal and individual levels.

At an elementary level: use literature to discuss ethics in context. For example, The Story of Ruby Bridges is about a six-year-old black girl who must attend an all-white school in 1960. After reading this, ask students questions like: “Why were the other parents angry Ruby was attending school with their children?” “How did Ruby feel and why?” “If you went to school with Ruby, how could you make her feel more welcomed?”

At a secondary level: ask your students what it means to live a good life. Is it happiness? Love? Accomplishments? Kindness? And, how do these different ideas influence morals?

Logic focuses on reasoning skills. It is the process of building and applying sound arguments, as well as understanding the validity of claims.

At an elementary level: have your students fill out logic puzzles, such as this fruit puzzle. Then as a class, ask your kids, “which fruit does Kelly have and why?” This exercise helps students practice articulating what led them to their conclusion.

At a secondary level: before your students write a persuasive essay, introduce basic logic, including the structure of premises and conclusions and what it means to be a valid or sound argument. Then, have them practice making different types of arguments, such as unsound but valid, before they begin writing their essay.

Methods of Philosophy:

Critical thinking is the practical application of logic. Encourage your students to consider what they learn from a critical lens. To do this, ask students to consider possible reasons for an outcome before teaching them the answers. For example, why are rain clouds darker than other clouds? Or, why do salty chips make you thirsty?

The Socratic Method emphasizes discussion. This is one of the oldest methods of instruction and remains important in modern education. Having open discussions in which you encourage students to voice their thoughts, respect others, form arguments and then consider the strengths of those arguments is a powerful method of instruction at any level.

Working philosophy into your instruction can be a fun way to spice-up the classroom, while simultaneously fostering intellectual skills that will greatly benefit your students in their educational pursuits and beyond the classroom.

Share with us how you you are incorporating philosophy into curriculum at!

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