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A useful guide to how to run your own SOLE. Our toolkit is free to use and adapt to your own environment through Creative Commons licence.


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School in the Cloud is learning at the edge of chaos; a place to come together to discover and explore self-organised learning (SOLE).


Big Questions


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A great Big Question will get your SOLE off to a flying start, but deciding what to ask is the hardest part! Children love questions with no easy answer.


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Grannies to the core


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Pune



We catch up with Liz Fewings, one of the members of the Granny Cloud Core Team, to talk about its origins and what the future holds.

Liz, a self-confessed ‘cloudaholic’, has been part of this project since 2009, when it first began. Like many others, she responded to an article in The Guardian newspaper in the UK which asked for retired teachers to volunteer an hour each week to talk with children in India.

“Back then we were a small band of English men and women, many of whom had never even heard of this strange thing called Skype,

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We catch up with Liz Fewings, one of the members of the Granny Cloud Core Team, to talk about its origins and what the future holds.

Liz, a self-confessed ‘cloudaholic’, has been part of this project since 2009, when it first began. Like many others, she responded to an article in The Guardian newspaper in the UK which asked for retired teachers to volunteer an hour each week to talk with children in India.

“Back then we were a small band of English men and women, many of whom had never even heard of this strange thing called Skype, let alone actually used it,” says Liz. Following a long telephone conversation with Newcastle University, she then had to work out how to install Skype ahead of her first call to India.

“I was so anxious, waiting at home with a reassuring cup of tea within reach,” Liz admits. “And suddenly there was Suneeta (Kulkarni), in a hotel ‘somewhere in India’ with her own mug of tea and a beaming smile – and that was me hooked! Just two ladies chatting over a cup of tea which set the tone for the years to come.”

In those early days, communication was through email and a Wiki, which was rather formal and didn’t offer any real chance for the Grannies to get to know each other. However, following the first Granny Cloud conference in Newcastle, UK in 2010, friendships started to form and a Facebook group was set up shortly after, which remains an important and active community today. Prof Sugata Mitra’s TED Prize nomination was even made through this group!

“Facebook is where we support each other, share new ideas, get glimpses of the centres and keep up to date with what is happening,” says Liz.

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Grannies | India | TED Prize

Korakati - feature Korakati: where learning happens against the odds

TED Lab - Korakati

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TED Lab - Korakati

Korakati: where learning happens against the odds


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Korakati

  Location: Korakati



Korakati is well off any popular tourist trail: to get there you have to spend many hours on the road, take a boat up the Ganges and finally, a very bumpy van rickshaw up a dusty track passing huts, chickens and children along the way.

There’s an ‘other worldly’ feel about the place, which adds to its remoteness and is one of the reasons Sugata Mitra chose it for one of the TED Prize research labs. He knew just how hard it would be to create, but also just how much untapped potential there was here.

One person who probably questioned Sugata’s sanity on more than one occasion was project manager Ashis Biswas,

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Korakati is well off any popular tourist trail: to get there you have to spend many hours on the road, take a boat up the Ganges and finally, a very bumpy van rickshaw up a dusty track passing huts, chickens and children along the way.

There’s an ‘other worldly’ feel about the place, which adds to its remoteness and is one of the reasons Sugata Mitra chose it for one of the TED Prize research labs. He knew just how hard it would be to create, but also just how much untapped potential there was here.

One person who probably questioned Sugata’s sanity on more than one occasion was project manager Ashis Biswas, whose job it was to sort out the logistics involved in constructing the building and getting it up and running. For example, when you look at the glass sides of the lab and then back at the only track they could have come along, it’s nothing short of a miracle that they got here in one piece!

The children at Korakati use the Internet to learn many things: for example, we were presented with beautiful handmade paper boxes topped with a rose when we arrived last month and inside were an origami flower and a jumping frog! The children had taught themselves how to make them using YouTube, with a little help from granny Jackie Barrow.

Natural challenges

There are, however, times when nature gets the better of this lab: the Internet connection, which is made possible thanks to a large bamboo pole erected on the roof, can be unreliable due to the distance from the hub, so a dongle has to be used instead, dangled from an open window. Water is also often scarce, and when there isn’t enough,

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Ganges | Granny Cloud | India | Origami | TED Prize | Tourism

Greenfield Arts - Feature How powerful ‘fantastic and curious learning’ really is

TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

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TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

How powerful ‘fantastic and curious learning’ really is


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

  Location: Newton Aycliffe



2015 was a year of unexpected opportunities, amazing connections and wonderful learning experiences for the SOLE lab in Room 13.

Located in Greenfield Arts in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, UK, it is one of the original seven TED Prize labs and recently celebrated its second birthday.

Co-ordinator Katy Milne marked the occasion in style by joining the Granny Cloud and other educators for the India tour in February 2016.

“One of the most powerful and rewarding things for me is the understanding the Engine Heads (the committee of students who run Room 13) have developed and the language they have found to express and reflect upon how they learn,” says Katy.

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2015 was a year of unexpected opportunities, amazing connections and wonderful learning experiences for the SOLE lab in Room 13.

Located in Greenfield Arts in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, UK, it is one of the original seven TED Prize labs and recently celebrated its second birthday.

Co-ordinator Katy Milne marked the occasion in style by joining the Granny Cloud and other educators for the India tour in February 2016.

“One of the most powerful and rewarding things for me is the understanding the Engine Heads (the committee of students who run Room 13) have developed and the language they have found to express and reflect upon how they learn,” says Katy. “They have flourished in a learning environment that has allowed that to happen.

“It is so powerful as they make meaning for themselves and know how to apply their capabilities to any situation. They are also amazing advocates for SOLE and I’m looking forward to extending this further and providing even more opportunities for more learners.”

To celebrate Room 13’s 2nd birthday artists Nicola Golightly and Laura Degnan were commissioned to make the short film and a Little Book of Big Questions, with the first copy being handed to Sugata to mark his birthday which is coincidentally just a day before Room 13’s!

In the past year, Room 13 has:

  • Hosted educators from across the UK, India,The Netherlands, Belgium, France, New Zealand
  • Skyped with Grannies, Suneeta (Dr Kulkarni)in India and new friends across the country
  • Asked Big Questions about the moon, dancing, clouds, the Internet, ourselves,each other, the Victorians and how rivers work, among others
  • Shared experiences with teachers and students and organised SOLE sessions forprimary and secondary schools from across the country
  • Spoken at conferences in the UK and Europe,
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Arts | Education | Grannies | Greenfield Arts | Learning | TED Prize

SOLE gets royal seal of approval


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Korakati



You know how most conferences are just a little dull and you end up daydreaming at least once during yet another Powerpoint presentation? Well, not this one. From the outset, when the hall was filled with the children’s voices singing their ‘welcome song’ written and composed by lab co-ordinator Madhura Rajvanski, it was evident this conference was going to be a bit different from the norm.

All the grannies, co-ordinators, teachers and School in the Cloud team gathered in Phaltan, Maharashtra last Thursday for the conference which marked the end of an amazing week visiting the TED Prize research labs in Korakati,

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You know how most conferences are just a little dull and you end up daydreaming at least once during yet another Powerpoint presentation? Well, not this one. From the outset, when the hall was filled with the children’s voices singing their ‘welcome song’ written and composed by lab co-ordinator Madhura Rajvanski, it was evident this conference was going to be a bit different from the norm.

All the grannies, co-ordinators, teachers and School in the Cloud team gathered in Phaltan, Maharashtra last Thursday for the conference which marked the end of an amazing week visiting the TED Prize research labs in Korakati, Chandrakona and Gocharan. We’d travelled by bus, boat, car, plane and van rickshaw and clocked up more hours on the road in under a week than most of us would do in a month (Sugata put it into context by saying we’d travelled the equivalent of Newcastle to Athens!) and yet everyone was still upbeat and full of energy.

In each lab we visited, we were blown away by the generosity and welcome we received, but at Phaltan, where the lab is located in Pragat Shikshan Sanstha’s Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan Marathi medium school, it was taken up another level.

As we arrived, handmade necklaces were placed around our necks and the children greeted us in their own languages, dressed in amazing finery to represent the diverse cultures and religions within the school.

Parents had been up since 6am to create artworks such as this peacock below, made from powdered paint, and the walls of the classrooms were adorned with everything from flamingos to flowers. We were blown away by the creativity of the whole community, as well as by their amazing culinary talents. We not only enjoyed sweet treats in the wonderful Diwali room,

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Grannies | TED Prize

first_ted_prize_feature First TED Prize lab has global reach

SOLE Central

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SOLE Central, TED Lab - George Stephenson High School

First TED Prize lab has global reach


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central, TED Lab - George Stephenson High School

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



It hardly seems two years ago that George Stephenson High School opened the doors of the first School in the Cloud lab in the world. Head of Design and Art Amy-Leigh Hope, who was there from the beginning, shares some of her highlights below. You can also watch a new video of Amy in action in a SOLE session, filmed as part of Jerry Rothwell’s upcoming documentary The School in the Cloud.

Some of Amy’s highlights since the opening:

Interacting with other schools – UK and across the world

“I have been lucky enough to meet and work with many amazing people,

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It hardly seems two years ago that George Stephenson High School opened the doors of the first School in the Cloud lab in the world. Head of Design and Art Amy-Leigh Hope, who was there from the beginning, shares some of her highlights below. You can also watch a new video of Amy in action in a SOLE session, filmed as part of Jerry Rothwell’s upcoming documentary The School in the Cloud.

Some of Amy’s highlights since the opening:

Interacting with other schools – UK and across the world

“I have been lucky enough to meet and work with many amazing people, from Newcastle University to schools in America, Australia and beyond,” says Amy. “We have Skyped into a SOLE session alongside schools in New Jersey, had visitors from Australia and shared many ideas, resources and experiences.”

One of her favourite sessions was linking up with a local middle school to take part in a joint science SOLE with Year 7 children around the Big Question ‘Can science solve world hunger?’. “Being pestered by the children for more lessons like this afterwards was a very proud moment.”

Seeing the room grow and develop

Amy says the room has gone from strength to strength since it opened – so much so that it’s now difficult to get in for a session as it’s often fully booked! “I know I am lucky to work in a school where teachers and senior management totally embrace SOLE,” says Amy. “Working alongside such a dynamic team has developed my own practice and created a buzz in the school among both staff and students.”

Skyping into India

Last year Amy’s Year 7 class Skyped into Phaltan SOLE lab in India,

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TED Prize

new_start_feature A promising new start

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SOLE Central

A promising new start


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



This September, for the first time in 14 years, Joe Jamison didn’t walk into his classroom excited for the new school year.

However, it’s not yet another disillusioned public school teacher story: Joe’s so fired up about education that he’s prepared to step way outside his comfort zone.

So much so that he’s done something he vowed he would never do – get an office job. Although granted it’s a little different from the norm: they’ve just put him on plane to West Africa.

Joe’s now working for Pencils of Promise (PoP) after a series of serendipitous events which began after he watched Sugata Mitra’s TED Prize talk.

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This September, for the first time in 14 years, Joe Jamison didn’t walk into his classroom excited for the new school year.

However, it’s not yet another disillusioned public school teacher story: Joe’s so fired up about education that he’s prepared to step way outside his comfort zone.

So much so that he’s done something he vowed he would never do – get an office job. Although granted it’s a little different from the norm: they’ve just put him on plane to West Africa.

Joe’s now working for Pencils of Promise (PoP) after a series of serendipitous events which began after he watched Sugata Mitra’s TED Prize talk.

“I saw Sugata’s talk and was blown away. I thought ‘Oh man, I have to find out how to do that in my classroom’,” he says. “So I took it, tweaked it and played with it a little and in the first week of the new school year in 2013 I just hit the ground running with my 5th graders. I was fortunate to have a lot of admin support behind me and the kids took to it very quickly – it just took off.”

Joe has worked closely with the School in the Cloud team at Newcastle University ever since and when it came to selecting a class to feature as part of the Work Wonders Project collaboration between Sugata, Microsoft and PoP, his was an obvious choice.

Once they’d see him in action running a SOLE with students at Lawrence Intermediate School in New Jersey, USA the PoP team wanted Joe onboard to help set up SOLEs (self organised learning environments) in their schools in Ghana.

When I spoke to him last week he was about to embark on his first trip outside of North America,

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Education | Learning | Newcastle University | Skype | TED Prize

Testing time for students - feature image A testing time for students

SOLE Central

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SOLE Central, TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

A testing time for students


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central, TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

  Location: Newton Aycliffe



How do you tell one quantum particle from another? No, it’s not a bad joke, it’s a question posed to the Engine Heads at Greenfield Community College.

Seventeen-year-old Harry Crawley was shadowing Sugata Mitra for a day to find out more about SOLEs. He’s currently studying maths, further maths, physics and Spanish and his questions certainly had this group of 14-year-olds scratching their heads.

The scientific challenges he devised were based on A level questions normally tackled by students four years older.

“They found it quite difficult as it was quite a bizarre experience,

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How do you tell one quantum particle from another? No, it’s not a bad joke, it’s a question posed to the Engine Heads at Greenfield Community College.

Seventeen-year-old Harry Crawley was shadowing Sugata Mitra for a day to find out more about SOLEs. He’s currently studying maths, further maths, physics and Spanish and his questions certainly had this group of 14-year-olds scratching their heads.

The scientific challenges he devised were based on A level questions normally tackled by students four years older.

“They found it quite difficult as it was quite a bizarre experience, unlike anything they normally do in a SOLE,” says Katy Milne, Director of Arts and Creativity. “They were given the Big Questions to explore SOLE-style in groups but had to answer it on their own as if they were taking an exam.”

It was all part of Sugata’s plan to illustrate how the examination system could be changed to better suit the needs of students and their future employers. He argues that the current exams do little other than test their ability to retain facts, which fails to prepare them adequately for today’s workplaces.

testing_time_students_insert

Visiting journalist Joseph Lee from the TES, a weekly UK publication aimed primarily at school teachers in the UK, sat in on the Greenfield SOLE. He wrote a feature for the TES earlier this month about Sugata’s research which showed that eight-year-olds could answer exam questions seven years ahead of their age group if they worked together using the Internet.

Pupils from nearby Byerley Park Primary School have also been taking part in SOLEs in Greenfield’s Room 13 several times a term since January. Katy has noticed that regular sessions with these 10-year-olds have already resulted in some interesting developments.

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Greenfield Arts | Inventions | Maths | Physics | Quantum Mechanics | Quantum Particle | Spanish | TED Prize | TES | Victorians

Filmmaker gets stuck into SOLE


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: Korakati



When you bring together inspiring individuals who are trying to change the world, you create a force to be reckoned with. Such is the case with the pairing of documentary filmmaker Jerry Rothwell and Sugata Mitra.

I caught up with Jerry over Skype from a bustling café off London’s Victoria Station, as he took time out from promoting his upcoming film How to Change the World.

Jerry has been following Sugata around since 2013, having secured the first Sundance Institute/TED Prize Filmmaker Award to help bring the School in the Cloud story to life.

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When you bring together inspiring individuals who are trying to change the world, you create a force to be reckoned with. Such is the case with the pairing of documentary filmmaker Jerry Rothwell and Sugata Mitra.

I caught up with Jerry over Skype from a bustling café off London’s Victoria Station, as he took time out from promoting his upcoming film How to Change the World.

Jerry has been following Sugata around since 2013, having secured the first Sundance Institute/TED Prize Filmmaker Award to help bring the School in the Cloud story to life.

“Sugata is a fascinating individual for a documentary – he’s articulate, funny and provocative,” says Jerry. “He seems to be able to combine a great simplicity in his approach with a great complexity of ideas. I’ve seen him running a SOLE in various locations and he’s very engaging – you get a very real sense of what it’s about from watching him.”

However, making a film about Sugata and SOLE is not without its challenges, both physically and metaphorically. It’s a hard trek to reach some of the rural locations in India: Korakati, the most remote, can often take the best part of a day, including travelling by cycle rickshaw and boat. In self organised learning environments you also never know exactly what will happen when you turn up!

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Jerry and his film crew resort to going barefoot to get to the lab at Chandrakona during the monsoon.

“By its very nature it’s anecdotal, about telling stories rather evaluating the process,” says Jerry. As a result, he’s decided to tell a selection of individual stories over a longer period of time to give a feel for how SOLE develops and its importance to local communities.

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Communities | Documentary Film | TED Prize

touching_the_clouds_feature Touching the clouds at Gocharan

TED Lab - Gocharan

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TED Lab - Gocharan

Touching the clouds at Gocharan


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Gocharan

  Location: Gocharan



Most journeys in India involve a fair few sharp intakes of breath for those unfamiliar with the infamous driving: creating three or even four lanes where there is officially two is commonplace and the horn is a means of constant communication. So I was pleasantly surprised to suddenly pull up outside Area 0 at Gocharan after a relatively short and relatively uneventful road trip from Kolkata.

And what a sight to behold! It was like turning up at an elaborate Indian wedding – flowers strewn everywhere, shehnai music blaring out and women milling around in their best saris.

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Most journeys in India involve a fair few sharp intakes of breath for those unfamiliar with the infamous driving: creating three or even four lanes where there is officially two is commonplace and the horn is a means of constant communication. So I was pleasantly surprised to suddenly pull up outside Area 0 at Gocharan after a relatively short and relatively uneventful road trip from Kolkata.

And what a sight to behold! It was like turning up at an elaborate Indian wedding – flowers strewn everywhere, shehnai music blaring out and women milling around in their best saris. I felt somewhat under-dressed for such an occasion.

medium_e8f46cf6-5f04-4c35-861f-4cea19494868

We were met by Ashish Biswas, Ted Prize labs project manager, looking as proud and slightly apprehensive as any father of the bride. One of the most rewarding parts of this trip has been meeting people in person who I would normally only communicate with via email or phone or Skype, such as Ashish.

Before all the formalities began and the light began to fade, I decided to tackle the challenge set down by Sarah Schoengold at TED – to get a photograph which illustrated the unique honeycomb design of Area 0. The design of this flagship lab was actually the first Sugata sketched out very early on in the project.

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I never thought it would be that easy, but I didn’t actually think I would personally be scaling great heights to achieve it. A trip to the roof of the nearby nursing home resulted in a good, but not complete shot (above). So it was off down a dirt track and into the darkness of a bemused local man’s house to climb his many stairs to his roof across the way.

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Skype | TED Prize

Phaltan School in the Cloud - feature image The 6th Learning Lab is Officially...Open!

TED Lab - Phaltan

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TED Lab - Phaltan

The 6th Learning Lab is Officially...Open!


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Phaltan

  Location: Phaltan



Today we are delighted to celebrate the opening of our 6th learning lab which is located in Phaltan, a small town in Maharashtra, India. Since Sugata Mitra won the TED Prize in 2013, 5 similar environments have been opened in both India and the UK as part of the global experiment in self-organised learning; the final flagship site is due to open in Gocharan early next year.

Initiated by Newcastle University and TED Prize, this lab is the first one located in a school where English is taught as a subject alongside all the others. The language used throughout the school is Marathi,

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Today we are delighted to celebrate the opening of our 6th learning lab which is located in Phaltan, a small town in Maharashtra, India. Since Sugata Mitra won the TED Prize in 2013, 5 similar environments have been opened in both India and the UK as part of the global experiment in self-organised learning; the final flagship site is due to open in Gocharan early next year.

Initiated by Newcastle University and TED Prize, this lab is the first one located in a school where English is taught as a subject alongside all the others. The language used throughout the school is Marathi, which is the official language of Maharashtra state. “Imagine using an Internet where there is hardly anything at all in your mother tongue – that’s what it’s like for these children,” says Dr Suneeta Kulkarni, Research Director for School in the Cloud.

The new learning lab is specifically designed to facilitate SOLEs, where children collaborate to answer big questions using the internet. These child-focused learning sessions are fuelled by curiosity and discovery, providing children with the space and freedom to explore. It is located close to the school gates and overlooks the playground and residential area, so is easily visible to the local community.

Many lessons were learned from building the other learning labs and these have been taken into account during this construction, including the glass windows stopping at eye-level. “That kind of design where the glass is up to the ceiling is fine in the UK but there’s much more light here and it makes it difficult to see the screen – it also gets too hot!” explains Dr Kulkarni.

Connectivity, as with many of the more rural School in the Cloud sites, is one of the greatest challenges here and so a back-up dongle is being used in case the regular broadband fails.

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Children | Comprehension | English Language | Granny Cloud | Internet | Learning | Newcastle University | Phaltan | Self-organised Learning | TED Prize

Greenfield Arts Ted Prize - feature image Sally Rix: Greenfield TED Prize Lab update

TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

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TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

Sally Rix: Greenfield TED Prize Lab update


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Greenfield Arts (Room 13)

  Location: Newton Aycliffe



Just before school broke up for the summer I visited the TED Prize lab at Greenfield Community College in County Durham. Their SOLE room – also known as Room 13 – opened in February of this year and I was curious to know how the children had found the first 5 months or so of their SOLE experience.

I was greeted by an absolutely delightful group of students, all of whom have had the opportunity to use the room quite regularly since it opened. I found their thoughts on the subject fascinating so I thought I’d share a selection of them here…

I’m curious about the room itself (it’s really beautiful!);

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Just before school broke up for the summer I visited the TED Prize lab at Greenfield Community College in County Durham. Their SOLE room – also known as Room 13 – opened in February of this year and I was curious to know how the children had found the first 5 months or so of their SOLE experience.

I was greeted by an absolutely delightful group of students, all of whom have had the opportunity to use the room quite regularly since it opened. I found their thoughts on the subject fascinating so I thought I’d share a selection of them here…

I’m curious about the room itself (it’s really beautiful!); I have done SOLEs in a traditional classroom setting and I wanted to know whether the students thought it was important to have a specific environment dedicated to the process.

It turns out they think it’s really important: “It’s more calming, more child-friendly” and “It’s better in the room, it’s more exciting.” Although there were questions too “But could it distract you? Like some people just want to mess around with the bunnies.”

When asked about whether the room would maintain its appeal over time they were honest about the novelty effect, “It depends how it’s kept, it needs updating every 6 months or something, then people won’t lose interest.”

One of the things that greatly impressed me was their sophisticated understanding of the concept of self-organised learning. When asked how the room was different to the rest of school they explained that,

“It’s independent. No teachers telling you what to do. You do it in your own way.”
“You’re given an objective and you get into groups. You can change groups.

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Education | Greenfield Arts | Room 13 | TED Prize