Philosothon UK

Academy Learning is pleased to invite you to participate in a Philosothon!
King’s College Taunton hosted the first UK Philosothons, inspired by the work of Matthew Wills, Perth, Australia and since then Philosothons have quickly gained momentum and national recognition. There are many schools now running successful Philosothons across all education sectors.
What is a Philosothon?Contact

Fun before term end

As this complex school year draws to a close we thought that you would enjoy one last Philosothon Task to get that grey matter working. Download – Community of Inquiry: Vaccination Conundrums, set yourself up in teams and start the conversation. This is a supportive exercise to help each other develop.

What is a Philosothon?

The aim of the Philosothon is to promote philosophical enquiry and rigour by bringing students from Years 9-13 together around stimulus material which allows the group to move beyond discussion towards critical inquiry. The model used for the event is the Community of Inquiry, where the idea is not at all to ‘score points’, but to enable the group to move towards awareness of underlying concepts that are inherent within the stimulus sent to schools and critical understanding of different positions and arguments that arise as a result of dialogue around the stimulus. Students are encouraged to ask questions of other students in the group which analyse the issue at stake, which probe deeper and which try to understand and clarify both their own viewpoints and arguments and those expressed within the group. No formal philosophical expertise or grounding is expected of students, and groups should be jargon-free zones; what the judges will be looking for is students’ ability to move the argument on through genuine awareness of different responses and the reasons behind them, and critical inquiry into the reasons put forward by group participants.

Students should develop

  • The disposition to care for good reasoning and intellectual honesty;
  • The ability to criticize ideas impersonally and to accept the impersonal criticism of one’s own ideas;
  • A willingness to listen with an open mind to the ideas of others;
  • The capacity to identify and tackle problems;
  • An interest in exploring ideas, and;
  • A willingness to take the intellectual risk of offering ideas for evaluation and criticism from one’s peers.

I would like to thank you and everyone else involved in the Philosothon last evening for such an enjoyable and enlightening evening. It was truly wonderful. Last night, listening to the groups expound their ideas of the “Good life”, I was amazed and delighted to hear them progress (self-propelled) from the benefits of wealth to the greater benefits of altruism. As for the experience of the proceedings “if you could bottle it and sell it you would make a fortune”! Thank you.

philosothon pics - preparing for the competition - reading the tasks 1
philosothon pics - preparing for the competition - reading the tasks 2
philosothon pics - preparing for the competition - reading the tasks 3
philosothon pics - the tasks - mixed age group teams carefully listening to each other 1
philosothon pics - the tasks - mixed age group teams carefully listening to each other 2
philosothon pics - the tasks - mixed age group teams carefully listening to each other 3
pics philosothon - the prize giving ceremony 1
pics philosothon - the prize giving ceremony 2
pics philosothon students giving feedback and the winner 1
pics philosothon students giving feedback and the winner 2
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A Philosothon is a friendly “competition” between small teams in which students participate in a series of “Communities of Inquiry” and are judged by the quality of their participation. Students are asked to consider open-ended questions which require an extended response and typically involve appeal to more than one discipline. Students are asked to have a conversation (using the community of inquiry method), in mixed age group teams about a clearly defined philosophical or ethical issue. They are judged by professional philosophers from local universities on the level of their engagement with the topic and with each other. There is already evidence of the benefits to children who learn to use the community of inquiry method of learning (Professor Keith Topping, University of Dundee, 2007), and we hope to build further on this evidence. Philosophy is commonly pigeon-holed as a separate discipline but what is particular to Philosophy is that it is not just some thing that students learn about, but it is something they do. Philosophy is an activity that in a life well-lived (for Socrates this was ‘an examined life’) one learns to perfect. The uses of Philosophy extend, and can be applied, to the full range of subjects. This strongly suggests that those who are given such opportunities will benefit widely from it throughout life.

Community of Inquiry

A COI, first developed by Professor Matthew Lipman, provides an educational setting which demands questioning, reasoning, deliberation and the challenging of preconceived ideas. Community of Inquiries cultivate and develop problem-solving techniques. The very big difference between the Philosothon and the debating society is that one of the most important criteria of success is collaboration with peers. The engaged participation of the participants encourages students not simply to score points using multiple rhetorical devices but to engage together in the world of ideas to examine a difficult philosophical or ethical topic.

Everyone was working together to come up with the most intellectually sustainable understanding that they could. Another extraordinary thing was that although the Philosothon was a competition it hardly felt competitive at all. Students almost forgot that they were being judged against each other. The “prize” for the students was just being in the discussions and being able to thrash out these things. A medal for winning was just the icing on the cake. Everybody walked out feeling like the proverbial winner.

The benefits of “Communities of Inquiry” have been well documented: Over 74 studies of COI provide evidence of positive cognitive and social outcomes arising out of the “Community of Inquiry” approach. Teaching children reasoning skills early in life through this method greatly improves other cognitive and academic skills and greatly assists learning in general. An extensive analysis of the benefits of COI can be found in a recently published article by Millett and Tapper which appeared in Educational Philosophy and Theory (2011) entitled “Benefits of Collaborative Philosophical Inquiry in Schools.”

Some typical questions which students might wrestle with in a Philosothon:

  1. Can a robot be conscious?
  2. Is there a right to be rescued?
  3. Why are humans easily deceived?
  4. What is ‘the good life’ and how can it be achieved?

Involve Universities

One of the strengths of the Philosothon is that it is a collaborative involvement between Universities and Secondary schools. The communities of Inquiry are facilitated by PhD students in Philosophy, and closely watched by the judging panel consisting of university academics in Philosophy.

An inspiring sense of what young people are capable of when they’re given a conducive environment for thinking and discussion.

I would like to thank you and everyone else involved in the Philosothon last evening for such an enjoyable and enlightening evening. It was truly wonderful. Last night, listening to the groups expound… Read more


Contact the Academy Learning office for more information ([email protected]) and details of our FREE PD and resources for running your own event.

“The thinking skills can be used across a variety of subject areas and ages. Philosothon resources provided were excellent.”

“I can certainly vouch for the usefulness of the training. The strategies for anchoring, for the proper use of procedural and substantive questions in facilitating a discussion, and the sequence of moving from establishing background knowledge, through asking questions about specific examples, to asking questions about general themes, were very useful…”

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