go_for_song_feature Grannies go for a song

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Grannies go for a song


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



When Sugata Mitra gives you an assignment, you can be pretty sure he’s not going to be impressed with a cut and paste from the Internet.

But it’s not as daunting as it might seem: students report that you simply have to think for yourself, look at things from a different perspective and the rest just fits into place, SOLE-style!

Hilary Meehan, who has just finished a Masters in International Development and Education at Newcastle University, knows this first hand. When asked to tell the story of the Granny Cloud as part of Sugata’s Future of Learning module,

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When Sugata Mitra gives you an assignment, you can be pretty sure he’s not going to be impressed with a cut and paste from the Internet.

But it’s not as daunting as it might seem: students report that you simply have to think for yourself, look at things from a different perspective and the rest just fits into place, SOLE-style!

Hilary Meehan, who has just finished a Masters in International Development and Education at Newcastle University, knows this first hand. When asked to tell the story of the Granny Cloud as part of Sugata’s Future of Learning module, she knew she was going to have to push the boundaries a little. “Sugata said he didn’t want a traditional write up,” she says. “He simply told us ‘don’t make it boring’, and didn’t give any more guidance than that.”

She realised most of the students were either doing videos or voice-over slide shows and wanted to do something different, so decided to “go for it” and record a song instead.

Fortunately, her boyfriend is a musician and just happens to have a recording studio in his house. Once she’d bought the rights to the backing track,the lyrics and melodies soon fell into place.

There should be a bit of prior warning, however, before you listen to the track below. “The tune gets seriously stuck inside your head,” says Hilary.“One of the tutors on the course loved it but said he couldn’t shake it for the rest of the day. I hadn’t thought about it in ages until just now and I’ve realised it’s still in there, going round and round!”

Listen to Hilary’s song here.

The 25-year-old used information from the Granny Cloud blog,

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Granny Cloud | Music | Skype

new_start_feature A promising new start

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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

sole_searching_feature It’s time to ask SOLE-searching questions

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It’s time to ask SOLE-searching questions


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



SOLE researchers are getting ready to ‘hack’ the largest education research conference in the UK.

As far as we know, this is the first time that self organized learning has been integrated in this way and it’s likely to come as a bit of a surprise to many delegates at the BERA (British Educational Research Association) conference in Northern Ireland this week.

Gone will be the traditional conference set-up of an attentive audience listening to an authoritative speaker, replaced instead with an audience-led exploration of the technology/pedagogy divide.

Getting down with the kids: a self organized conference session is being led by SOLE Central research fellow Dr Anne Preston.


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SOLE researchers are getting ready to ‘hack’ the largest education research conference in the UK.

As far as we know, this is the first time that self organized learning has been integrated in this way and it’s likely to come as a bit of a surprise to many delegates at the BERA (British Educational Research Association) conference in Northern Ireland this week.

Gone will be the traditional conference set-up of an attentive audience listening to an authoritative speaker, replaced instead with an audience-led exploration of the technology/pedagogy divide.

Getting down with the kids: a self organized conference session is being led by SOLE Central research fellow Dr Anne Preston.
 Participants will be choosing one of three Big Questions put forward on social media in the lead up to the conference. “Who knows what might happen?” says Anne. “It’s likely, in true SOLE style, to descend into total chaos for a while, but hopefully something meaningful will emerge by the end of it all.”

The idea for this session originally stemmed from the reaction to a keynote given by Sugata Mitra last year at the IATEFL conference. Many English language teaching professionals in the audience notoriously walked out when he suggested that in future teaching would be redundant.

“While we have readily embraced most of what the Internet has to offer with hardly a murmur of dissent, when someone suggests it can also be used to help children teach themselves, it causes a lot of soul searching (no pun intended!) from a fair few educationalists,” says Anne.

So who is right and who is wrong? The indignant teachers or the professor who leads SOLE Central at Newcastle University, a team dedicated to bringing together researchers,

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BERA | Digital Technology | Education | Language | Pedagogy | Technology

colombia_feature Changing education in Colombia

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SOLE Colombia

Changing education in Colombia


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Colombia

  Location: Colombia



“The SOLE community in Colombia is growing. We know something big is coming, and we know this is the paradigm shift our education needs to empower children all over the country.”

That’s the words of Sanjay Fernandes, speaking about the amazing progress that has been made in Colombia in a matter of months.

SOLEs started running in Colombia last year, with incredibly positive results: over 70 sessions took place in public libraries and kiosks in rural areas, supported by 20 SOLE ‘ambassadors’.

This year the SOLE team decided it was time to expand to allow people of all ages to participate in this life-changing learning experience throughout the country.

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“The SOLE community in Colombia is growing. We know something big is coming, and we know this is the paradigm shift our education needs to empower children all over the country.”

That’s the words of Sanjay Fernandes, speaking about the amazing progress that has been made in Colombia in a matter of months.

SOLEs started running in Colombia last year, with incredibly positive results: over 70 sessions took place in public libraries and kiosks in rural areas, supported by 20 SOLE ‘ambassadors’.

This year the SOLE team decided it was time to expand to allow people of all ages to participate in this life-changing learning experience throughout the country.

And they have some powerful allies on board: the Ministry of Technologies and the Ministry of Culture and Colciencias (the government agency responsible for science, technology and innovation). “Their support has been tremendous and working together with them we plan to run SOLEs with over 150,000 children in schools, libraries and public kiosks in rural and urban areas,” says Sanjay.

They are currently at the design stage of this year’s project, including everything they learned from last year’s pilot to make sure SOLEs can adapt to Colombia’s cultural requirements.

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This process involves designing educational tools that allow SOLEs to occur organically, without the need for constant follow-ups, but rather as a method that allows people to discover the answers they need to improve their living standards on their own.

“It is equally important to develop a system in which we are able to receive their data to both measure the impact of SOLE and what needs to be done to improve next year,” explains Sanjay. “Our purpose is to find a way in which SOLE becomes a life-changing agent within their communities,

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Education | Learning

Being a ‘granny’ is not as easy as it might look


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Location: India



The Granny Cloud has been up and running since 2009 when Sugata first put out an appeal in a UK newspaper for grandmothers with a spare hour a week who would like to talk to children in India and help them with their English skills.

There are a handful of loyal stalwarts still remaining from those early days, many of whom form a self-organised core team to help to recruit, interview and advise new recruits.

But there are far more who have fallen by the wayside, often daunted by the prospect of actually being a School in the Cloud granny once reality sets in.

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The Granny Cloud has been up and running since 2009 when Sugata first put out an appeal in a UK newspaper for grandmothers with a spare hour a week who would like to talk to children in India and help them with their English skills.

There are a handful of loyal stalwarts still remaining from those early days, many of whom form a self-organised core team to help to recruit, interview and advise new recruits.

But there are far more who have fallen by the wayside, often daunted by the prospect of actually being a School in the Cloud granny once reality sets in.

Dr Suneeta Kulkarni, research director for School in the Cloud based in India, says she can completely understand how they feel. “It can seem completely overwhelming to start with,” she admits.

“There’s a lot more tech available now than when we first started and I know that can put some people off, but this is not the crux of the interaction. If you’re comfortable with it, then use it by all means, but it may actually hinder the process if it’s a brand new group not used to computers or the English language.

“It’s really just about chatting with the children about whatever takes your, and their, fancy. When you start with a new group you need to get a feel for their environment, who they are and what they like. I’d always say don’t go in with a plan – just go with it. Just say ‘hi’ and take it from there. At the end of the day, the primary aim is to have fun, and that goes for the granny as well as the children!”

Suneeta often advises new grannies to think of those initial sessions as a bit like turning up at a family gathering where there just happens to be a group of children who are really keen to talk to you!

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Education | Grannies | Granny Cloud | Language | Teaching English

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

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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.

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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

turning_art_world_feature Turning the art world on its head

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Turning the art world on its head


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne



It’s not enough to turn the education system upside down: SOLE is about to enter a world many of us consider off-limits.

Contemporary art is often portrayed as an elitist world full of large canvases with coloured dots and hefty price tags, but Helen Burns believes it doesn’t have to be that way.

The SOLE Central research fellow has spent her career helping children and adults explore their creativity through contemporary art and now she’s applying all she’s learnt so far to a new exciting project.

Gallery in the Cloud will give school children and other gallery audiences the chance to become curators of their own contemporary art galleries.

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It’s not enough to turn the education system upside down: SOLE is about to enter a world many of us consider off-limits.

Contemporary art is often portrayed as an elitist world full of large canvases with coloured dots and hefty price tags, but Helen Burns believes it doesn’t have to be that way.

The SOLE Central research fellow has spent her career helping children and adults explore their creativity through contemporary art and now she’s applying all she’s learnt so far to a new exciting project.

Gallery in the Cloud will give school children and other gallery audiences the chance to become curators of their own contemporary art galleries. Supported by the SOLE method of learning collaboratively in groups, they will create digital artworks inspired by their own experiences that will reflect their own individual identities.

The resulting art collection will be self-curated, using cloud-based technology to create an ever-evolving gallery.

“It challenges the usual conventions of a gallery space and turns the concept of an ‘art world’ on its head, focussing instead on the ‘experience’ of art, which is accessible to everyone,’ says Helen.

Turning art world on its head - robot

This dented war robot (above) is from one of Helen’s previous art-based learning projects. The child who made it said it represented their experience of learning as ‘battered, but not giving up’

Helen is focussing initially on children at transitional periods in their education, such as SATs. “These are tough times for them,” she says. “A combination of the skills and resilience gained through creating contemporary art using SOLE could have a really positive effect on their ability to cope when they’ve got a lot to deal with.

“SOLE pedagogy and contemporary art actually have a lot in common as they can both be good vehicles for developing your own ‘voice’ and there are no wrong answers.”

The artists will be able to constantly revisit their artwork over several years,

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Art | Arts | Baltic Arts Centre | Durham University | Education | Granny Cloud | Orkney Islands | Pedagogy | SOLE

jam_sandwich_feature How to make a jam sandwich, SOLE style

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How to make a jam sandwich, SOLE style


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - SOLE Central

  Location: Bedfordshire



If the average adult sat down to work out how to teach basic coding, they probably wouldn’t naturally think of a jam sandwich.

But that’s exactly what this SOLE group of home schoolers did with their presentation to computer science teachers.

Anna the (real life) robot was given a set of instructions to follow to make the sandwich, which may have resulted in a lot of mess, but certainly got the message across about how to teach the subject far more effectively than a textbook.

Jacqueline Emkes, an e-Learning consultant and part-time maths teacher,

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If the average adult sat down to work out how to teach basic coding, they probably wouldn’t naturally think of a jam sandwich.

But that’s exactly what this SOLE group of home schoolers did with their presentation to computer science teachers.

Anna the (real life) robot was given a set of instructions to follow to make the sandwich, which may have resulted in a lot of mess, but certainly got the message across about how to teach the subject far more effectively than a textbook.

Jacqueline Emkes, an e-Learning consultant and part-time maths teacher, runs SOLEs for home educated children at Biddenham International School and Sports College in Bedfordshire, UK.

They have been running since 2013, supported by the college and the local authority’s PLACE programme for children who are not in school but on the Elective Home Education (EHE) Register.

One of the biggest challenges Jacq faces is the diverse age range of her group – from eight to 12-years-old – which means she is often diverted from her original lesson plan. There are usually around 15-20 children, but the numbers fluctuate as families come and go.

“Inevitably ‘normal’ behaviour rules go out the window,” says Jacq. “Children are soon found scrolling the internet lying on the floor, under a desk, on top of a desk, perched on a table. Anything goes – it’s all learning! The children can move around freely, help other groups and indeed swap groups.”
Jacq’s SOLE makes good use of the safe social learning platform Makewaves where they can upload their work to create movies, pictures and stories to share with the group.

They are also encouraged to critique each other’s work (in a positive and helpful way, naturally!) and even family members and the college’s principal have been adding their own comments to help improve student’s work.

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Children | Computer Science | Education | Food | Human Behaviour | Internet | Jam | Robots | Sandwiches | Sanitation

powered_people_feature SOLE: Technology that’s powered by people

TED Lab - Phaltan

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TED Lab - Phaltan

SOLE: Technology that’s powered by people


  Author - School in the Cloud

  Partner(s) - TED Lab - Phaltan

  Location: Phaltan



If I was to go back to school anytime soon, I’d want Arun Chavan as my teacher: he’s intelligent, articulate, inspiring and best of all, not afraid to rock the boat a little.

Now in his third year of a PhD in Evolutionary Biology at Yale, USA, Arun may have come a long way from his home village of Shirgaon, India but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

It was there that Arun first encountered the Internet as a 12-year-old, placed in a hole in a wall by Professor Sugata Mitra as part of his early experiments into self organized learning.

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If I was to go back to school anytime soon, I’d want Arun Chavan as my teacher: he’s intelligent, articulate, inspiring and best of all, not afraid to rock the boat a little.

Now in his third year of a PhD in Evolutionary Biology at Yale, USA, Arun may have come a long way from his home village of Shirgaon, India but he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

It was there that Arun first encountered the Internet as a 12-year-old, placed in a hole in a wall by Professor Sugata Mitra as part of his early experiments into self organized learning.

Now Arun is taking part in Skype sessions at the School in the Cloud lab at Phaltan, Maharashtra, just an hour from where his parents grew up. Having known School in the Cloud’s research director Dr Suneeta Kulkarni since he was a child, Arun didn’t take much persuading to give something back to the project.

His first session – switching often between his native language Marathi and English – was with a small group talking about all the different birds and trees found around the school.

“The Hole in the Wall seems a very long time ago now,” Arun admits. “I do remember surfing the net and searching for things and that it was all in English – a language I barely understood at the time. I used to copy it down and go back to ask my father what it meant.”

Arun, unlike many of his peers, was in a privileged position as he had educated adults around him who helped to foster his love of learning.

“I was very fortunate that my father was involved in so many things outside of my own village,” he explains.

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