Phaltan: two years on it’s an international affair

Today (3 December 2016) is Phaltan Lab’s 2nd birthday. The Granny Cloud was active at this location for over a year before the lab was set up and today we share this lovely blog from Granny Edna Sackson, who knows the children there well. We find out what happened when her class in Australia linked up with India for some lively sessions over Skype! This summer, she also got the chance to meet the children in person for the first time and you can read more about it at her blog link below.

“Hands on heads. Now shoulders. Where are your shoulders? Well done!”

This is the first time Jess and Tyler, two Aussie Year 6 students, interact via Skype with preschoolers at Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan (KNB), Phaltan as part of the Granny Cloud project. The little ones on the other side stare wide eyed at these two strangers on the screen. Who knows what they they are thinking!

On the Phaltan side, the session is facilitated by 13 year old Shruti, whose English and computer skills were enhanced by her own Granny Cloud experiences over a number of years. She confidently guides, encourages and translates as required. This is part of an experiment to introduce this kind of exposure at a much younger age to gauge its impact.

After a while, the children begin to warm up and join in, first one, then another, as Jess and Tyler slowly introduce the body parts and sing the song “Heads and Shoulders, knees and toes’. Their excitement is evident through their muttered exchange of observations in between… ‘Heads and shoulders… the one in white is joining in!.. knees and toes… oh wow look at the little one in the middle!.. heads and shoulders…they’re getting it!… knees and toes… look, look they’re all doing it!!…’”

It’s an adrenalin rush that I recognise from my own Granny Cloud sessions, even now after all these years, that comes from a rewarding exchange with children when you see it’s going well and they are responding.”

After the session I ask the girls what surprised them. “How quickly they caught on. It was really awesome that we got to teach them. Can’t wait till next week!” And from the other side? Prasana, who’s researching the effects of early interactions of this kind: “It was wonderful. The little ones warmed up so quickly.”

Read more about Edna’s experiences with children and teachers at Phaltan on her blog, What Ed Said:

Blog post: The day I met my kids
Blog post: A different workshop 

Edna is an educator, workshop facilitator and learning consultant. She is also Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme( PYP) school in Melbourne, Australia.

Photos courtesy of Edna Sackson.

Brett Millott

Organisation: SOLE Australia Network

Brett is a primary school principal in Melbourne, Australia. With his colleague Paul Kenna, they have collaborated in SOLE action research in their schools since 2010, working closely with Professor Sugata Mitra and associates from the University of Newcastle, UK.

Brett is the Principal of Aberfeldie Primary School, which can be best described as a middle Australia school. The school is multi-cultural with no group being greatly over represented than any other group. Continue reading

Paul Kenna

Organisation: SOLE Australia Network

Paul is the Principal of Belle Vue Park Primary School in Melbourne, Australia. With his colleague Brett Millot, he has collaborated in SOLE action research in his school since 2010, working closing with Professor Sugata Mitra and Newcastle University (UK).

Belle Vue Park Primary school serves a multi-cultural community in the Northern Melbourne suburb of Glenroy where for many families English is their second language. Continue reading

SOLE Australia Network

SOLE Australia Network is a group of schools who are interested in developing SOLE as a mainstream classroom teaching strategy. The SOLE Australia Network is led by Paul Kenna, Principal of Belle Vue Park Primary School and Brett Millott, Principal of Aberfeldie Primary School.

Our interest in SOLE began in 2010 when we attended a State Wide Principal Conference that had a strong Learning Technology focus. Sugata Mitra was one of the key-note presenters and his ideas immediately struck a chord. It seemed that this quite significant paradigm shift in the way group learning was conducted would address a need that we had observed in our schools. Students were completing the tasks set for them by their teachers, but weren’t developing that level of passion for learning or being really active participants in the learning which we felt was so important.

It became very apparent from our early classroom trials that SOLE was able to do just that. Promote interest in learning and help develop the collaborative learning skills that are so important.

The action research we have led has been based around our “Theories of Action” that have relevance to the students, staff and school. They also reflect many of the directions set by our Education Department.

Theories of Action:

• If children are exposed to challenging text in a group situation they are more likely to be able to read and understand it than when they are on their own.
• If students are provided with choices and some autonomy in their learning then they will become more engaged
• If student collaboration and teamwork is promoted on a daily basis then students will develop more harmonious and positive relationships.

• If teachers acknowledge the dynamics of a student’s learning (spurts and lulls) then teachers spend less time investing energy and effort into behaviour management.
• If teachers foster and promote an inquiry mindset in their students then the students will be more inquisitive and curious learners.
• If teachers provide greater opportunities for students to learn for themselves then the students will become more engaged and take greater responsibility for their learning.

• If schools place an emphasis on discovery and investigations then students will learn to investigate for themselves
• If a school nurtures curiosity in their students then the students will explore wider range of concepts with a greater degree of enthusiasm.
• If a school provides learning environments that promote confidence and independence then students are more likely to be confident and independent.

Perhaps what makes the Australian iteration of SOLE different has been the way that it has been embedded into learning sequences which achieves our two goals – these being to ensure that the system required key concepts and content is delivered and that inquiry is the vehicle for this.

Our SOLE strategy is very much linked to the emotions of learning and the readiness of the students to engage in the learning. The planning and thinking by the teacher that occurs before the initial investigation is really important as this is the key to a successful session.

Our SOLE sessions follow the model that is used universally. Following our initial successes we felt that there were other elements we could investigate that could enhance the strategy to improve student learning and that has been the impetus for our work ever since.

We believe the success we are achieving is built on the approaches we utilise following the research component where students participate in elements of Vocab catching, peer and teacher feedback, metacognition linked to learning focus and effort, application of knowledge, evidence of learning – all these components surround the initial investigation and provide depth and rigour to the learning.

Interest in the Australian SOLE community is growing both in Victoria and interstate. More and more, teachers are looking for something a little different, something contemporary where the focus is student based, engages students and addresses their needs.

The action research for SOLE has been based in Melbourne since 2010. There is now growing interest interstate particularly in the South West Sydney region where we implemented a successful large scale trial in around 80 primary and secondary schools.

More recently we have partnered with other schools to use the SOLE philosophy in a community of practice. This community of practice has ensured teacher and Principal collaboration and more importantly has provided students from the different schools with the opportunity to learn with and from each other. This initiative has been the vehicle for introducing Coding into our schools, and the development of an Arts Appreciation program in co-operation with a local Art Gallery.