[Edu-sig] socratic methods

Michal Wallace sabren@manifestation.com
Tue, 10 Oct 2000 15:42:04 -0400 (EDT)

On Mon, 9 Oct 2000, Jason Cunliffe wrote:

> I have come across some of what you are describing - but often called 'Mind
> Maps' which is popularized [coined?] by Tony Buzan in his work. His best
> know book is:

Yeah. I've never read Buzan's book, but from my undesrtanding, he came
up with the term.

Well, there's definitely some overlap. I realize now that plato is really
several projects:

1. A tool or library for drawing mind maps/ network graphs / whatever
   .. It should handle layout and all that stuff for these objects.. 
   Also, you shold be able to pick them up, move them around, and have
   the lines do the right thing.

   There's a TCL project called Mercator that sort of does this, but
   i'm nos sure how far along this is.

2. A generic inference engine / expert system / reasoning system.

3. A tool for socratic thinking / exploration.

> The system you mention implies some nice nuances which often get glossed
> over in the more populist mind-map 'market'. There is room for real
> improvement - and some juicy research to do.
> I suppose one axis is UML and Pattern thinking. A good new book I
> found last week:

You mean because UML looks like the same kind of diagram?

[lots of good links clipped]

> You may think this is going overboard for your application, adn may well be
> correct. But mind maps are fascinating because they tap into many aspects of
> our cognition, learning, perceptions. Thinking about how to model a system
> can go way beyond a simple stripped down smart paintbox interface.

It sounds like you're pretty intersted in this aspect!

To me, I'm only looking at the reality tree (a specific subclass of
these diagrams) as a way of visualizing an actual process that the
computer (or a live teacher!) would go through.

For example, if the goal is to teach recusion, and the example is
the fibonacci sequence, it's important that the student understand
how the sequence works. So in a socratic dialog, you might ask:

"what's the next number in this sequence? 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 ..."

And the student can either answer or ask for help. If they answer
correctly, we don't have to walk down the part of the tree that
explains fibonacci's sequence. We just say "that's called fibonacci's

If they answer wrong or ask for help, we back up and ask more
questions that can help them figure out how the sequence works.
(or just explain it to them)..

> Before making a Python version, you should definitely play with ''The
> Brain':  http://www.thebrain.com/
> It is among the most innovative interactive mind-map-like software
> interfaces I know of. Their focus is not for mind-mapping directly, instead
> focus is on meta-links and focus-based information interfaces. But you'll
> literally 'see the connection' when you play with it.

Yeah, I'm a brain user... Unfortunately, they own the patent for this
type of software, so plato will probably stay away from that.. Besides,
there's plenty of stuff you can do with just plain 2D. :)

> I am personally interested in all kind of maps. I think visually,
> spatially, dynamically. I use pen and paper to sketch for myself
> constantly as a thinking tool, but also regularly as support in
> conversation. I am certainly interested to work with you on this
> one.

Cool. :)

> I imagine in an educational python context, would be to have command line
> access to a mind-map causal tree connective type structure. One needs a few
> basic drawing tools, but need them to be interactive so one can organize
> them in rapid ways. But one also would like to be able to send messages
> between them, and be able to view the structure as XML or in some nested
> dictionary type class instance. The end result must be very simple to use.
> Should be supported by a versatile 'socratic' python engine capable of
> connecting to any other modules or systems.


Mercator uses an XML format to describe its nodes.... 

There's also the Neural Integrator, which might have some
interesting pieces we could steal.. I haven't tried it yet though:


> ### I am generally very wary about rigid cause and effect.. I think such a
> tool may be useful in schools to model philosophy and to also thus reveal
> the paradoxes and innate problems with cause+effect thinking as well as its
> great engineering virtues.. top-down / bottom-up. Programming depends deeply
> on cause-effect structures.. Life ? hmm well that is not so simple.. :-)

Not sure I agree with you on this.. Depends what you mean by "rigid",
I guess.. Many people often find themselves in the same situations
over and over again, thanks to our nervous system's wonderful ability
to learn and form habits.. Obviously, you can't control every single
thing that happens to you, but for ongoing or recurring problems,
there usually is a logical cause..

> Gato - Graph Animation Toolbox
> http://www.zpr.uni-koeln.de/~gato/index.html

Doesn't let you play with the graphs. Just shows how a
program navigates through one.. Kinda cool though, and might
be useful for debugging.

There's also a language calle Oz (www.mozart-oz.org) that includes
a graphical tool for debugging logic programs with constraints..

> PIDDLE -  Plug-In Drawing, Does Little Else
> http://piddle.sourceforge.net/

Would be pretty cool if we could have arbitrary shapes for stuff...
Maybe even based off of SVG descriptions.. All I'm looking for is
boxes, but I can see how lots of people would find this useful.

> PMing 0.0.1a -  Tiny wrapper to the ming library (to output swf files).

Hey! Now that's cool! I'll have to check that out. 


- Michal
www.manifestation.com  www.sabren.com  www.linkwatcher.com  www.zike.net