November 6, 2015

Teaching Binary Using the Socratic Method

2 minute read


Yesterday, I saw this article shared on Reddit’s programming subreddit. I can’t due justice to the article, so I won’t even try to summarize it. (Definitely read it before reading on here.)

However, I think it’s worth sharing because it highlights one of the most fundamental things that we take for granted when trying to teach friends or family something (not all of us are trained teachers). Not every new concept is actually so complex and layered that it can’t be easily intuited by someone with basic knowledge. Often, we simply don’t go about motivating the understanding properly.

In the article, the children may not have necessarily had any connection to binary, but they knew how to count, and how we use fingers. By conceptually “backing up” from the arithmetic base to the reason why that base is used (without using such advanced terminology), even children are able to piece out the concept of a different arithmetic base, and to extend their understanding of the arithmetic they know in one base to other bases. It was simply a matter of relating the concept to its roots, and building up from there, rather than starting at the top and trying to drill down. I sincerely believe that if we follow this model in our day to day lives, of simply starting with “why” and then proceeding to “how”, we can make our communication of ideas, both big and small, much easier.

© Jeff Rabinowitz, 2020