Put Some SOLE Into Learning

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Photo via blog.ted.com

With a new school year rapidly approaching, many educators are likely wondering how they can continue to engage their students and incorporate different methods of learning into schools.

In Lois Holzman’s “What Makes For a ‘Happy School’?” article, she discusses her experience watching Sugata Mitra’s “Build a School in the Cloud” and “The Child-Driven Education” TED talks. Holzman explains that Mitra began his Hole in the Wall Project in 1999. During this project, Mitra placed a computer in a hole in a wall of an underdeveloped area in New Delhi; watching from a camera, Mitra witnessed children teaching themselves how to use the computer; they were also able to learn from watching one another use the device. Based on his findings, Mitra developed what is referred to as Self-Organizing Learning Environments, or SOLE. How does SOLE work, and what technology is required to set up a SOLE classroom?

According to Mitra’s SOLE Toolkit, students are given a big question, or have the option to come with a topic of discussion on their own. Big questions typically don’t have an easy answer; the purpose of the questions is to get the students thinking and collaborating. The students choose their own groups to discuss these topics or questions; they can change groups at any time. With the aid of technology, groups research potential answers to the questions, and then present their findings to the class. It is common that there will not be a single right or wrong answer to the topic.

For example, Holzman describes her experience visiting an elementary school in Harlem, where the SOLE method of learning is often used.  The students needed to answer the question “what is a black hole?” The groups would collaborate, talk and share ideas with one another, and constantly explore different resources to gather more information.

This method can have a tremendous impact on learning. In the article “A Radical Way of Unleashing a Generation of Geniuses”, it explains that, in the 1990s, “Finland pared the country’s elementary math curriculum from about 25 pages to four, reduced the school day by an hour, and focused on independence and active learning. By 2003, Finnish students had climbed from the lower rungs of international performance rankings to first place among developed nations.” The article goes on to explain that, according to findings from a study done at UC Berkley, children who worked on a problem with no instructor present were much more likely to come up with novel solutions to a problem.

In order to set up a SOLE classroom, there are a few pieces of technology that must be used. Because students will be going online to research these topics, they will need to have computers and internet access. The computers should a) have large screens so that students can gather and see the content as a group and b) be limited to one per every four students; this allows for greater collaboration amongst the students. An interactive whiteboard is also a helpful tool, as it allows the students to write notes or comments. Interactive whiteboards can be particularly helpful when students present their findings.

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Photo via SOLE Toolkit

The implementation process for SOLE can differ from school to school. Many schools prefer to begin implementation with one teacher using this method, and then seeing how successful it is. Some schools may use SOLE more than others, and it typically depends on student preferences for how they like to learn. If you are looking to implement SOLE into your school, Mitra’s SOLE Toolkit is a great resource to help you get started. The Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) School Support Pack is another helpful resource that goes over suggested tools to have, the teacher’s role in a SOLE classroom, and solutions to potential problems that can arise. If implemented correctly, teachers can see fantastic results with this method of learning.

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