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How powerful ‘fantastic and curious learning’ really is

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, including the Great North Greatsconference in Newcastle last October, part of the Great North Run Culture Programme.

“We have pondered and puzzled, questioned and wondered, searched and explored, talked and debated and been challenged and had our curiosity stimulated,” adds Katy. “And the best thing is there is so much more to come.”

 

Hola! SOLE Spain is born

SOLE Spain has just come into the world, with the aim of creating a new way of training teachers in the future.

Javier Bronchalo, who is the brainchild behind this project, took inspiration from Sugata’s self organised learning environments (SOLEs) to come up with the idea of bringing people together who are interested in disruptive education processes.

SOLE Spain’s goal is to bring the country’s teacher training universities together to create better self-management processes and help empower students to take control of their own learning, SOLE-style.

“The training of future teachers needs restructuring due to learners having different needs now in our ever-changing society,” says Javier. “We’re inviting everyone interested in disruptive processes in education to join us, where they will experience first-hand the creation and implementation of an educational project based on Prof Sugata Mitra’s work.”

SOLE Spain is using the global School in the Cloud project as a basis for its activities, which anyone can participate in anywhere in the world.

Javier told me that trainee teachers and individuals from other relevant careers will be coming together all over Spain to join in the experience of creating the SOLE Spain project. “We will be working out a methodology together based on Big Questions in primary and secondary schools,” he explains. “The process of how students approach self-regulated learning will be also observed as part of teacher training.”

The team is currently looking to set up a pilot project in different universities in Madrid and possibly Barcelona, to use as a basis to scale up this project with other universities across Spain in September 2016.

Between October and December last year, SOLE Spain’s initial work was in collaboration with trainee teachers at three universities in Madrid: Autonomous University, Complutense University and Francisco de Vitoria University, who were all ‘eager and enthusiastic’ about their SOLE workshops.

They carried out the same hands-on research with students from different specialties related to education and teacher training. These subjects were as diverse as nursery and primary ICT and pedagogy to didactics of fine arts and sport.

Students and trainee teachers divided into groups of four of five and used the Big Questions section of the School in the Cloud website to investigate the SOLE process.

Once their investigations were complete, they presented their thoughts and possible answers to the other students, which prompted interesting discussions. These students were also introduced to the SOLE Spain concept and invited to participate in its co-creation.

So what’s next for SOLE Spain? They have already received in-kind support from Newcastle University’s SOLE Central to help and advise them set up but they are now looking for means to make it financially sustainable and have plans over the next few months to help spread the idea across the country.

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The plan is to run a pilot project in Spain, from January to June 2016, where they will:

  • Carry out SOLE sessions in the teacher training universities to show students how it works and to invite them to play an active role in the project
  • Train future teachers how to run a SOLE session, so they will be ready to put this into practice in schools as part of their training
  • Contact different primary and secondary schools to carry out SOLE sessions with the trainee teachers as part of their training
  • Analyse all the data from this pilot project

If you would like to know more about SOLE Spain, follow them on Twitter or Facebook or visit their website.

Turning the art world on its head

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, giving them the opportunity to expand and reflect on what they have already achieved.

As part of this initial development stage, Helen has been in discussion with the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead and Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. She would also like to collect ideas, opinions and questions about the project from the School in the Cloud community to help take it forward.

We’ll be re-visiting this story on social media next year, but if you would like contact Helen in the meantime, she can be reached by email.

About Helen
After graduating from Glasgow School of Art, Helen spent 10 years working as an Artist Educator in school and community settings in Scotland and the North East.

Since completing a MA in Library and Information Management, she has worked in cultural and creative education for organisations such as the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art and Tyne and Wear Museums.

Formerly a Research Associate at Durham University, Helen is now a SOLE Central Research Fellow at Newcastle University, where she is bringing together SOLE pedagogy and arts-based learning practice. She also teaches art, craft and design on the University’s Primary PGCE course for trainee teachers.