SOLE = Socratic Method 2.0

Since the last time I spoke to SOLE México’s co-ordinator Oscar O’Farrill several years ago a lot has happened.

To be honest, I’d be surprised if great things hadn’t been achieved in the interim as it was obvious from Oscar’s passion and drive in the previous blog, that SOLE México was destined to make big waves in education.

For one, they’ve trained over 160 teachers. “It’s been exploding like crazy – it’s been amazing,” says Oscar. “There are now 11 people in the team where before it was only me!  We’re now working in several states in Mexico and I’ve been able to see how SOLE works in public schools, elementary, high schools, teacher training – all over.”

SOLE México secured a state contract for training 100 teachers from extreme rural communities (including the middle of a jungle) and are now carrying out a follow-up programme where they visit each of the schools to help the teachers make SOLE an ongoing process.
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Oscar says the importance of a follow-up to teacher training shouldn’t be under-estimated. “SOLE in theory is great, but to take it over a school cycle where many teachers want it focussed on their curriculum and expect regular evaluation, you have to design it around great Big Questions,” he explains.

“We’ve found that one session each week is not enough,” adds Oscar. “To me, SOLE is like Socratic Method 2.0 – basically going to the roots of the knowledge, sharing it and looking for it. Before they had only themselves and the teacher but now we have thousands of years of knowledge easily accessible through the Internet.”

From his experience, it can take several months to fully integrate SOLE as both students and teachers get used to a new way of learning. “You have to manage the change and watch over it because you cannot go from a totally controlled to an absolutely free environment overnight – mainly due to the teachers,” explains Oscar. “It’s a gradual process but I’ve seen that kids just do it – it’s natural for them and they feel more free. I always say teachers should not punish but make reflections on behaviour, acting more like a coach.”

SOLE México has a great team that goes into a private school to implement SOLE so teachers don’t need to, but that’s a lot of work, involving considerable human resources, so is not practical on a large scale. “I believe that if SOLE in Mexico wants to grow it has to be a social and economic project,” says Oscar. “Everybody who joins gets something out of it – the aim is to scale that up to make a nice social model, which is working so far.”

Later this month, they are running a three-day training programme for teachers that is 80% in person and 20 % virtual.  “You cannot just put a regular teacher into a SOLE with no preparation or support,” says Oscar. “They will go crazy and the kids will be frustrated – it will be chaotic. You have to help them surf through the chaos. Once the
teacher has a rapport with each team and each kid then it works much better; you have to be comfortable in their environment and understand that you are just someone who structures it to allow learning to happen, rather than controlling it.”

By the same token, Oscar employs a simple, but effective technique to ensure that schools and teachers who cannot afford training are still granted access to SOLE. SOLE México charges private schools (which only make up 5-10% of schools in the country) in order to give away free places to public schools.

He also often finds it takes time to get the children to actually listen to each other and that’s when the facilitator role is so important. “I get teachers say to me ‘are there not going to be teachers anymore?’ but that’s not the case,” he says. “Their role is extremely important but they have to change the style and approach to the way they teach. It has to move from knowing everything and being an authority figure to a facilitator that doesn’t give information but tries to motivate, guide and enhance the learning in each group.” (this is from Sugata Mitra’s Minimally Invasive Education)

The SOLE approach includes appointing a ‘leader’ from among the students. “This is a really important role,” explains Oscar. “You want the teacher to give away their authority in order for a group to self organise – you have to empower the leader and make them really feel in charge. This is not just theory, it happens. The leader will take charge but you have to take special care as kids can be dictators! If that happens, as a facilitator you have to ease up the environment and make them realise a different kind of leader is required – one that is positive and encouraging – not a dictator!”
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He also sees time and time again SOLE can level out the playing field for students, as each group goes at its own pace. “Some are fast to get to an answer so perhaps it’s not enough for them, but others with the same content take some time to get to it,” he says. “I’ve noted the different compounds of a SOLE: the power of knowledge in teams, the socialisation and how it involves planning, designing, communication, inter-social skills – everything really,” he says. “It’s like a mini society and it’s amazing to see how each team develops differently, even if they use the same resources to search for an answer.”

Oscar wants to make education more sociable and have a better understanding of digital and technological advantages as a tool rather than just a means. “We’re developing stuff that would have been unimaginable 30 years ago and I think we have to be careful about the ethics of all this,” he says. “The world needs this shift now – we need people able to work together for the sake of humanity and the planet. Society everywhere is really divided and broken and we have to do something about it. For me, one of the most important changes would be to make education more social.”

“Turning SOLE into a pedagogical strategy is helping to make that difference.”

He’s also working on a whole educational system with an elementary school in Mexico that combines SOLE, project based learning, emotional intelligence and artificial intelligence (AI). Out of this, he’s liaising with a company to build a software platform for AI within education. It’s a startup called Clever System whose goal is to create a low cost innovative school based on technology for the public and private sectors.

Oscar is currently out of the country, studying for a Masters in Cognitive Psychology at FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences) in Buenos Aries, Argentina, where he won a full scholarship.

“I’m happy because I’m a guy that likes to achieve stuff and put my mind to it to find a way to make it happen,” he says. “Sometimes I win, sometimes I don’t. Fortunately so far I’ve gained a lot, even by failing. There’s a lot of things that I want to do in my life and for the last four years SOLE has been one of them and it’s going good.”

On 17 October 2017 SOLE México will be taking part in BETT Latin America. Once he heard you could present using any format, Oscar decided, in true SOLE style, to do something a little bit different. He’s planning to have a global call during the 40 minute session, hopefully Skyping in Sugata Mitra and some key rural SOLE communities from around the world. If you’d like to be involved in this, let them know.

SOLE Spain

SOLE Spain’s goal is to bring the country’s teacher-training universities and schools together, to empower students to take control of their own learning. In an effort to scale the SOLE methodology across Spain in the next 5 years, the SOLE Spain team is currently setting up a research project across schools and universities in Madrid and Barcelona.

Starting in October 2016, the research project will focus on the ways students assess the knowledge and skills that are generated from working with SOLE as they search for and process information on the Internet as 21st Century learners. The project will primarily include urban schools with students at risk of social exclusion and students with special educational needs.

Through this project, it is hoped that elementary students will be able to develop the skills needed for a modern digital society, and have to opportunity to work in environments that favour inclusion and educational innovation. We will show students how SOLE works,  train future teachers, and carry out SOLE sessions within a range of different schools. As part of their implementation of SOLE in schools, SOLE Spain are going to include an e-learning system named Knowledge Constructors in their research project. Through this system, children will have access to a bank of Big Questions and communicate with each other.

SOLE Spain also plan to utilize the Granny Cloud with their SOLE students and allow them to truly understand the power of shaping one’s own learning.

Future plans for SOLE Spain also include the implementation of SOLE in non-traditional educational settings, such as public libraries, and to open their own SOLE Lab as a citizen laboratory for production, research and broadcasting of cultural projects which explore the themes of collaborative learning and digital networks that are central to the success of the SOLE method.

SOLE Argentina

SOLE Argentina aims to promote the SOLE methodology so that it becomes a well-known pedagogical theory which is shared, implemented and experienced by Argentine teachers on a regular basis. We aim to promote and advance 21st Century skills amongst primary and secondary students and teachers and enable them to fully participate and succeed in an interconnected global society. Our ultimate goal is to design and implement a set of educational policies based on the main tenets of the SOLE approach. To accomplish our vision, we have built a network of public-private partnerships with education professionals, NGOs, government and civil society agents.

As well as working in close cooperation with SOLE Central, we are setting up a research hub in Buenos Aires, Argentina through IITA (Institute of Research and Technology and Learning), a University of Buenos Aires agency.

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.