Global SOLE Event: Freedom City 2017

Become part of our Biggest Ever Big Question on Martin Luther King Day 2017 (16th January 2017)

On Monday 16th January, children in schools, community centres and other organisations are invited to answer a special Big Question posed by Professor Sugata Mitra to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, as part of Freedom City 2017. Along with people all over the world, you will have the opportunity to engage with Dr King’s ideas and form your own response to the Big Question – exploring the themes of connectivity and King’s legacy within an increasingly global society. Continue reading

SOLE UK

SOLE UK is a forum for teachers across the UK to post the different SOLE questions they have asked their classes and to share their findings. This is a great place to celebrate all things SOLE and to encourage other schools to have a go at using Professor Mitra’s inspirational SOLE approach.

The page will be led by Sarah Leonard. Sarah is an important part of the ‘SOLE Community’ globally, and is a full-time classroom teacher who sings from the rooftops about SOLE to all who will listen! Sarah’s class and school use the SOLE approach on a weekly basis as a way to learn together. the SOLE UK page is also an opportunity for teachers to ask for help and advice if needed. e.g. How to start your own SOLE or to troubleshoot any concerns you may have whilst teaching using this approach.

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Meet the family “unschooling” their kids in an olive orchard

Lehla Eldridge and her husband Anthony Rogers are pointing a laptop out of their second-story bedroom window. Below them, a cinematic Italian olive orchard stretches into the distance. “This is a kind of typical Umbrian landscape,” Anthony says.

I’m amazed by what they’re showing me on Skype. Not only is this the beautiful view from their home, it’s the beautiful view from their children’s classroom as well.

“I think most of the people around here know that we’re the English family who have three children,” Lehla says. “But I don’t know if they know they go to school or don’t go to school.”

Whether or not the local Italians know about Anthony and Lehla’s approach to schooling their kids, you can expect they would be quite intrigued. “The Italian schooling system is very rote-learning driven,” says Anthony, “it’s very structured.” Anthony and Lehla’s approach… is not.

Lehla and Anthony are English, but they’ve been “unschooling” their three children, Amari (11), Olive (11), and Jahli (9) in Italy since 2012. Lehla says her family’s approach is similar to self-directed learning, where “if kids want and need to learn, they learn.”

There’s no “typical” school day for the kids, Lehla says. But generally, they start their day by gathering for breakfast, before the kids all decide what they want to do. Sometimes they’ll do projects, read, go on Khan Academy, or check Big Questions on School in the Cloud. “They choose how they run their day,” says Lehla, “I follow them.”

Prior to engaging with this learning approach, Lehla says there seemed to be a “general unease and closing down of the kids’ spirits, energy levels, and enjoyment in life every time they were in a school setting.” So, she and Anthony explored ways they could school the kids instead.

After visits to some self-directed learning schools that proved to be too expensive, and another stint at an Italian school that closed after about six months there, Lehla and Anthony decided to let their kids learn at home. “Yes, it can be challenging,” Lehla says, “but it is also inspiring to watch our kids unfold into who they are.”

As part of their “unschooling” approach, Lehla and Anthony’s children will form their own self-organised learning environments (SOLEs) to answer Big Questions from School in the Cloud. Sometimes their children will be inspired to answer the questions by writing, making films, taking photographs, drawing, or dressing up.

“The best SOLE moment we have had without a shadow of a doubt,” says Lehla, “was when we hooked up with another SOLE on Twitter.” The SOLE on the other end was a classroom in New Jersey.

Lehla and Anthony’s kids asked questions back and forth with the class. One question was about the Underground Railroad. Lehla says learning about Harriet Tubman’s work to abolish slavery inspired deep learning in her children — so much so that they decided to create and record a puppet show about Tubman’s efforts. “I found it very inspiring and moving,” Lehla says, “It was a beautiful portrayal of a harrowing story.”

While her children are answering Big Questions, Lehla will in turn ask them to the School in the Cloud community as well.

Her most recent question “Do identical twins think the same thoughts?” was featured as part of the Big Question Challenge.

Lehla says her question about twins was meant to open up other questions, even if it didn’t have an answer. Plus, she has first-hand experience with the subject, because her two daughters are identical twins.

“I was interested to ask them whether they thought they thought the same thoughts,” she says. “Often, I think they do, and I can almost hear them thinking.”

Lehla and Anthony invited their daughters to join our chat, to give their thoughts on the question. They agreed: “Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.”

Anthony and Lehla are nearly three years into “unschooling” their kids. So far, everyone seems quite happy with the experience. “When kids learn on their own, but have good guides around them,” says Lehla, “I think the learning takes on a whole new dimension, as respect is given back to the kid and ultimately faith that children can be self-directed learners.” Anthony adds, “It is a respect for the fact that children are born wanting to learn.”

You can learn more about the Eldridge-Rogers family’s “unschooling” experience, and the olive orchard they live on, at unschoolingthekids.com.

And follow them at:
@unschoolthekids and facebook.com/unschoolthekids

How do we remember and why do we forget?

Sugata Mitra, founder of School in the Cloud, posed an intriguing question on You Tube: How do we remember and why do we forget? His question was more than just a question. It was a Big Question, and it kicked off Skype in the Classroom’s Big Question Challenge in 2015 — an opportunity for select educators around the world to submit their own Big Question videos which students then answered by forming SOLEs.

Rebekah Davis, a teacher in North Carolina, says her students used self-organized learning to answer Sugata’s Big Question and “surprised themselves with how much they were able to learn in such a short amount of time.” Here’s some of their results:

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Elisa Farrell, a third grade teacher outside of Dallas, Texas says her students used SOLEs to answer Sugata’s question as well. “We’ve had research lessons before,” she says, “but seeing their approach to this question (being deliberately hands-off!) was a good eye-opener on future topics to cover.”

Some of those future topics Elisa mentions could be created by you, or your students!

There’s also further inspiration for Big Questions from Sage Franch:

Or this one from Mark Wood:

 

The Granny Cloud on tour: first stop, London!

“The Granny Cloud could become to learning what Skype is to instantaneous video-conferencing.” – Prof Sugata Mitra

Anyone accidentally stumbling upon a gathering occurring just off Liverpool St in London last Saturday could have been forgiven for thinking they’d walked in on a reunion of old friends.

In fact, most of the people in that room – who had travelled from all over the UK and Europe to be there – had never actually met in ‘real life’, but had shared many hours together online, as part of the Granny Cloud*.

The Granny Gathering, organised by Liz Fewings, was a day filled with food, laughter and ideas and the chance to chat with Newcastle University’s Prof Sugata Mitra about the School in the Cloud and how the ‘grannies’ are a vital part of its future.

Technology – the most challenging part of making the School in the Cloud work on a daily basis – was even on our side as we managed to have an excellent Skype connection with Suneeta Kulkarni, research director for the School in the Cloud, who joined us for the entire session from India.

From hearing about learning hairdressing (with truly hair-raising results!) and construction via the Internet in further education from PhD student Cathy Ellis (who is researching the use of SOLEs in this environment), to how children in the USA and Ghana come up with the same answer to a Big Question, there was plenty to discuss.

For example, how YouTube is bringing about a revolution in how we acquire skills. Sugata was imagining a future where retired lawyers and plumbers could be called upon online and raised the question whether this could be a natural extension of the Granny Cloud.

“I often turn to the Internet as a last resort,” he said.“But for a generation now, it is the first thing they turn to. If we take the existing Granny Cloud, we have a lot of people who have lots of skills – should we just restrict ourselves to teaching children if we have these skills to share?”

As part of this, he asked the group for their opinions on helping out with Newcastle University’s PGCE programme to help young teachers understand how self-organised learning environments work. Those present were keen to explore this at a later date.

Sugata spoke about how SOLEs make something happen that we really can’t pin down quite yet as it’s very difficult to measure. “It’s the way they level out the playing field for children whose circumstances are very different and show huge differences in traditional comprehension tests,” he said.

He also shared many anecdotes with us all, such as the children’s response in the USA and Ghana to a question about why the Blue Whale is the biggest creature on the planet. They both came up with similar reasons, such as it having space to grow, but in the USA, one child added that it was a ‘bit like when the Irish came to Texas. They grew bigger because they had the space!’

It was also a time to reflect on how fragile a SOLE environment can be and how easily the learning dynamic can be affected by phrasing a question in a certain way or using a particular word. Sugata gave an example of how his intention was for the children to look into how homo sapiens evolved through learning to cook after showing them a TED talk on the subject but, because the facilitators of the session said ‘go ahead and research the brain’ rather than ‘I’ll leave you to research the topic’, the children simply researched the brain and missed the cooking point entirely.

There was talk about how the role of a ‘granny’ was very different in the UK’s School in the Clouds than those in India and how this was evolving – in some cases they are now helping with homework in the UK!

All the ‘grannies’ present had had issues with technolog and Sugata agreed that this, rather than the pedagogy, is the biggest challenge of the project. When problems occur, it’s worth remembering that in some of the more remote Indian locations, the connection is via a dongle about nine foot away precariously hanging out of a window at the mercy of a gust of wind or passing bird!

Another of Sugata’s ideas was to create more of a drop-in Granny Cloud rather than just structured sessions so children could search for an available granny online and then dial in for a quick chat. “Of course, you would not be able to have any lesson plan and would need to be able to react onthe spot – rather like if your doorbell rang and 15 children came in,” said Sugata. “It’s the digital equivalent of looking in the fridge to see what you’ve got to offer them! Key to this approach, he stressed, was not to overload existing ‘grannies’ but to boost the numbers available.

Jackie Barrow said she was concerned about how many people applied to be ‘grannies’ and then lost interest and there was a discussion about how this could be addressed. Steps are already being taken to follow-up in these instances, but there were ideas for a ‘digital staff room’ or similar space where people could drop in to ask for advice and support each other more.

Several of the people present admitted, even after years of being a ‘granny’, they still felt nervous each time and realised this could be a huge barrier for someone new to the project.medium_052b8623-edd2-4fa4-b75b-96172eeb8eb3

There was also a general consensus that, as in the tradition of Iyengar yoga, it was important to have knowledge passed down so there was an universal approach to being a SOLE ‘granny’, to help avoid it ‘splintering if it gets too big’ and losing sight of why the Granny Cloud exists in the first place. Those who had been part of the project for many years wanted to share how much they had learned from Suneeta’s wise words and direction during this time and how valuable it was to have her to guide them.

People also spent some time chatting about whether it was right that children could request a particular ‘granny’ and the possible repercussions of negative feedback. It was generally agreed, however, that it might be useful for some sort of constructive feedback mechanism to be put in place so ‘grannies’ could continuously tailor their sessions to better meet the needs of the children.

Liz Fewings also asked those present if they would be interested in setting up a charity to help raise funds for some of the SOLEs operating outside of the School in the Cloud (some of the ‘grannies’ have already successfully raised funds for equipment in several locations) and there was a general consensus that this would be worth following up. Do get in touch with Liz via this platform if you want to know more about this.

And, in the tradition of self-organised learning environments, we all picked up some new knowledge, such as how the Granny Cloud perfectly reflects the technology it uses. Skype works on a peer-to-peer basis so there is no centralised server. Instead, each small computer looks for another nearby to help out to pass it on, so one syllable of what we say could be handled by a computer in Hong Kong, the next in New Zealand and so on.

“It appears seamless and continuous,” explained Sugata.“This reflects the true nature of peer-to-peer in that lots of people with little money can collaborate and produce the same end result as a large corporation with a lot of money. At the moment there is no full-time person whose job is the Granny Cloud and that still makes me quite happy.”

However, he did raise the issue of whether there was a need for a more formalised approach in future: should we have a Granny Cloud Charter for example or trademark it? Big Questions to discuss at a later date….

*For those new to the project, the term Granny Cloud refers to the many e-mediators across the world who enable this project to work on a day-to-day basis.

Many people think you think you have to be an actual granny to take part, but this is far from true! We have both male and female volunteers of all ages in the Granny Cloud but what they all share is a universal ‘grandmother approach’ which perfectly complements the self-organised learning environment.

By providing unconditional encouragement and being appreciative of the children’s efforts, irrespective of whether or not they understand what they are trying to do, these ‘Grannies’ help to create an environment where children can thrive and grow in confidence.

The Granny Cloud was initially formed to provide educational support for children in remote, disadvantaged settings in rural and urban areas in India. The objective was that children would become confident and become more fluent in English, which would help their studies.

Today, it is also an integral part of The School in the Cloud project where the Grannies also help to set children off on their own adventures by providing ‘Big Questions’ to stimulate a child’s natural curiosity.