Philosothon

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2016 FAPSA Australasian Philosothon Anglican Church Grammar Qld

 

Click here to link to the website of the most recent FAPSA Philosothon.

Conducting a Philosothon

Rationale – A Philosothon is an event that encourages school students to investigate ethical and other philosophical questions in the context of ‘communities of inquiry’. Participating in the event helps students to develop higher order thinking and communication skills through a series of discussions with students from other schools. These discussions are facilitated by philosophy teachers and adjudicated by a panel with appropriate academic or educational qualifications. While there is an element of competition in a Philosothon, it aims to promote a sense of community by developing a shared understanding of values and purposes in a spirit of cooperation. It also develops skills in inquiry-based learning, ethical reasoning, higher-order reflective thinking and a search for meaning through dialogue about open questions and contestable concepts.

Guidelines – Below you will find general guidelines for conducting a Philosothon. Some of the guidelines are meant merely as advice, while others need to be followed in any Philosothon associated with FAPSA. In particular, the starred guidelines (*) for students, facilitators and judges, including their marking criteria, must be followed unless prior permission to vary them has been obtained from FAPSA. Size and constitution of groups: In a Philosothon students are divided into discussion groups. The recommended size of a group is around 7-8 students, although this may vary depending upon the number of schools involved. Normally, there is one student in every group from each school participating in the Philosothon; but if, say, only 4 schools were involved then there would be 2 students from each school in a group. Division into age-related groups should be considered when a range of year levels is involved in a Philosothon. For example, students in Years 9-10 (Stage 5) might be placed in different groups from those in Years 11-12 (Stage 6). Discussion topics and timing: The number of topics to be included in a Philosothon depends upon the length of time available for the event, but it is usual to have 3 or 4 topics. Discussion of each topic should run for 15-20 minutes, with appropriate breaks.

Here is a short list of possible topics.

  • Ethics Under what circumstances should a person lie? Are there any absolute moral values? Is it morally worse to actively kill a person than to passively allow that person to die? Is torture ever permissible? Is human nature either naturally good or evil? Do people have a right to be rescued? What is it to live a good life?
  • Metaphysics Does God exist? Does the universe have a purpose? Do human beings have free will? Can a robot be Conscious?
  • Epistemology Can religious belief be justified? Is knowledge more than a matter of opinion? Is science our best guide to real knowledge? Is there anything that we can know with absolute certainty?
  • Social and Political Philosophy Given that roughly 50% of the population is female should our political institutions be required to have 50% female representation? Is democracy the best form of government? What is it for a society to be free? What is more important for a good society, freedom or equality?
  • Aesthetics Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? What makes something a work of art?   *Preparing students: It is essential that students participating in a Philosothon are familiar with the community of inquiry process. Ideally, community of inquiry style teaching and learning should have been integrated into their regular studies. At a minimum, students need preparatory coaching prior to participating in a Philosothon. The following pointers can be used to give students the general idea of what is expected:

Guidelines for students

  • Be prepared for a discussion rather than a debate
  • One person speaks at a time
  • There is a need to ask questions
  • Deep listening is integral to the process
  • Take time to reflect and think carefully
  • Give reasons for your opinion
  • Check your assumptions, reasoning and evidence
  • Ask others for reasons, definitions, evidences, examples or assumptions as necessary
  • Define and discuss points of difference as well as points of agreement
  • Admit when you change your mind about something that you may have thought earlier

Remember:

  • A sense of community is essential
  • All opinions are to be respected
  • The discussion makes the pathway; it is not set by a leader
  • Differences are a fundamental part of the process
  • Accept that others may disagree with you, and you with them
  • Conflict and mistakes made in good faith are to be seen as opportunities for learning and growth
  • This is a thinking process that can challenge assumptions and preconceived ideas
  • It may be that you need to change your mind
  • It is NOT about winning an argument
  • It is about thinking more deeply about matters of importance to you as a member of the community

For a detailed introduction to the practices involved, see the books dealing with classroom practice in our Resources section. *Facilitators and judges: Each discussion group has a Facilitator. The role of a facilitator is to assist students to conduct the discussion, intervening where necessary to spur the discussion along and help students to observe the guidelines. Facilitators are to ensure that all students have a fair opportunity to take part in the discussion. They can ask questions of the group, but they should not air their own views on the topic being discussed. Facilitators must be experienced in the process of conducting this kind of discussion and ideally should be classroom teachers with at least a Level 1 certificate from one of FAPSA’s Associations. For assistance with finding Level 1 trained Facilitators, please contact your local Association. Judges sit outside the discussion circle and grade student performance. Judges must be either academic philosophers, or FAPSA Level 2 trained personnel, experienced philosophy teachers, or other people with academic qualifications in philosophy. Below you will find performance criteria and a marking schedule for student performance. Variations to the schedule must be approved by FAPSA where a Philosothon is in any way associated with FAPSA. For correspondence with FAPSA on this and related matters see Contact Us. Please note that FAPSA does not supply judges. In case of difficulty finding judges, your local Association may be able to help. Recommendations for awards: At a Philosothon, it is traditional to make awards for the best individual and overall school performance. While this introduces an element of competition, it should be emphasised that a Philosothon is not a debate and the performance criteria are based upon the extent to which students excel in engaging in collaborative philosophical inquiry.

Performance Criteria

Grade

  • Shows superior ability to engage in the collaborative inquiry process
  • Demonstrates sophisticated understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Employs rigorous and sophisticated justification and reasoning
  • Consistently tackles areas of difficulty through effective questioning
  • Always develops own and others’ ideas insightfully
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Excellent

  • Shows considerable ability to engage in the collaborative inquiry process
  • Demonstrates a sound understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Nearly always gives justification and employs good reasoning
  • Often tackles areas of difficulty through questioning
  • Usually develops own and others’ ideas insightfully
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Highly Competent

  • Engages consistently and competently in the collaborative inquiry process
  • Demonstrates reasonable understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Often gives justification and reasons well
  • Occasionally tackles areas of difficulty through questioning
  • Occasionally develops own and others’ ideas insightfully
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Substantial

  • Makes a limited contribution to the running of the inquiry process
  • Demonstrates limited understanding of concepts central to the topic
  • Sometimes provides justification and engages in reasoning
  • Engages in some discussion but with limited insight
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Limited

  • Hinders the running of the inquiry process; e.g. by asking rhetorical or disjointed questions  
  • Demonstrates little understanding of the concepts central to the topic
  • Virtually never provides justification or attempts to reason
  • Offers nothing but the occasional comment
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Experiencing Difficulty

  • Dominates or withdraws from the inquiry process, failing to treat peers with respect or to share responsibility for the conduct of the discussion

Zero

                                                                                                                                                                      MARKING SHEET

CRITERIA

Excellent

 

5

Highly

Competent

4

Substantial

 

3

Limited

 

2

Experiencing

Difficulty

1

 

Not

Shown

0

Promotes the inquiry process
Understands concepts
 Justifies and reasons
Develops own and others’ ideas

TOTAL:               / 20

History of the Philosothon In October 2007 eight schools accepted the invitation to send their best philosophers to participate in the first ever Philosothon at Hale School in Perth, Western Australia. It was a concept conceived by the Head of Philosophy and Ethics, Mr Matthew Wills and the Head of Gifted and Talented Ms Leanne Rucks. Each year since then the number of schools has grown prolifically and in October 2012 twenty six Western Australian schools participated in the sixth annual WA Philosothon at Hale school. This growth has been replicated by schools in other states of Australia where they have been building their own Philosothons. Recently 22 schools participated in the 4th Sydney Philosothon at Ascham School while 18 schools participated in the 4th Annual Melbourne Philosothon at Ballarat Grammar’s Melbourne city campus. AB Paterson College on the Gold Coast hosted the first Queensland Philosothon and most recently Philosothons have been held annually at the University of Queensland. Philosothons are currently being held in 16 locations around the country, New Zealand and the UK. The first Primary School Philosothon was held at the National Art Gallery of Victoria in 2012 with eight primary schools involved. For more information about the history and organisation of the Philosothon see the article Fostering the Exploration of Philosophical and Ethical Questions among School Students in Australia by Matthew Wills, published by the American Philosophical Association.

Australasian Philosothon In July 2011 Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Associations (FAPSA) decided to host the first Australasian Philosothon at Cranbrook School. Each Australian state sent three teams (those schools that won the 2010 Philosothon in each state) and so twelve schools in total arrived in Sydney to participate in the inaugural event. The three days consisted of speakers, games and Communities of Inquiries. University academics awarded points to students on the basis of their ability to construct an argument collaboratively on interesting philosophical and ethical issues. Encouragement awards were sponsored by the Australasian Association of Philosophy. ABC’s Radio National produced a programme about this event and to listen to the “The Philosopher’s Zone” broadcast on Radio National from 3rd September 2011, please click on the link below: “The Philosopher’s Zone” broadcast on Radio National on 3rd September 2011. More information about the FAPSA Australasian Philosothon can be found on the following website: http://www.philosothon.org

Participating in the FAPSA Australasian Philosothon: Invitations to participate in the FAPSA Australasian Philosothon are sent to the winning schools from each regional Philosothon conducted in the preceding year in proportion to the number of schools participating in each Philosothon. If there are 8-12 schools participating in a Philosothon, then FAPSA will invite the top school from that Philosothon. If there are 13-24 schools participating in the Philosothon, then FAPSA will invite the top two schools. If there are 25-35 schools involved in the Philosothon, then FAPSA will invite the top three schools.

REPORT Download a report on the success of the 2011 Australasian Philosothon here.   RESOURCES: Resources are available on the Philosothon website.   ENQUIRIES: If you have any general enquiries regarding running or participating in a Philosothon, please email Philip Cam.