Sally Rix: Greenfield TED Prize Lab update

Just before school broke up for the summer I visited the TED Prize lab at Greenfield Community College in County Durham. Their SOLE room – also known as Room 13 – opened in February of this year and I was curious to know how the children had found the first 5 months or so of their SOLE experience.

I was greeted by an absolutely delightful group of students, all of whom have had the opportunity to use the room quite regularly since it opened. I found their thoughts on the subject fascinating so I thought I’d share a selection of them here…

I’m curious about the room itself (it’s really beautiful!); I have done SOLEs in a traditional classroom setting and I wanted to know whether the students thought it was important to have a specific environment dedicated to the process.

It turns out they think it’s really important: “It’s more calming, more child-friendly” and “It’s better in the room, it’s more exciting.” Although there were questions too “But could it distract you? Like some people just want to mess around with the bunnies.”

When asked about whether the room would maintain its appeal over time they were honest about the novelty effect, “It depends how it’s kept, it needs updating every 6 months or something, then people won’t lose interest.”

One of the things that greatly impressed me was their sophisticated understanding of the concept of self-organised learning. When asked how the room was different to the rest of school they explained that,

“It’s independent. No teachers telling you what to do. You do it in your own way.”
“You’re given an objective and you get into groups. You can change groups. You do the research in the time given to find an answer.”
“It’s not the question and our answers that’s the point, it’s how we go about it and get our independent knowledge.”

A question about how students behave in the room resulted in an interesting exchange which further detailed their understanding:

“There are two groups of people, people who abuse the trust and people who embrace it and think about the task and about what’s possible.”
“Some people feel like they should mess about, messing about is learnt behaviour and if this room can teach people to change that behaviour, that’s great.”
“Certain people can’t change though, they’ve been acting how they’re acting so long that they can’t be different.”
“You login on a teacher’s account so there’s no Firewall. So some people told me they spend the lesson on Facebook or Twitter.”
“They should monitor what people do during the sessions.”
“No, they shouldn’t! That defeats the point of self-organising.”
“Let people go on Facebook if they want to, maybe they will get it out of their system and then they might not do it any more. It’s more exciting if it’s not allowed so say it’s ok and they might not.”

Next the teacher asked them which other areas of school were most like Room 13 and I was really interested to see that the places they listed were some of their ‘favourite’ spaces and all tended to be linked to creativity:

“The dance studio.” “Art.” “The Astroturf.” “The bottom of the field surrounded by trees.”

The students then turned this conversation into a discussion about the future of learning:

“This is an opportunity to start a different kind of education about how people can lead fulfilled lives and be good citizens. Room 13 is the next step to making that.”
“The worst thing about education is that we’re told where we have to be and how we have to be all the time. There are things we need for our brains but also things we need as human beings, if we learn all of these we could be the most evolved humans ever.”

Clearly the extracts here have been selected and interpreted by me; I have endeavoured to be as balanced as possible but the disclaimer is still appropriate!

I would particularly like to thank the teacher who managed the session and the students themselves for their incredibly thoughtful and articulate responses, it was an absolute pleasure to be allowed to listen in. If you would like to learn more about what has been happening in Room 13, please check out their blog at