Day 174 (of 184) SOLE summary
Self Organized Learning Environments. The idea was best articulated when I read “Beyond the Hole in the Wall” by Sugata Mitra, whose Ted Talk inspired me to continue some of my own explorations into technology and education and led to a concept I coined “technologization”. But most of my work was focused on individual learners, or occasional partnerships as we explored what has evolved as “geniushour”.
But SOLEs……that was something very different and radical (and I consider myself a pretty good disruptor [in a positive way] of traditional education) and something worth taking some time to explore.
I had already seen first hand how a classroom full of laptops can foster a caring, curious, and very engaged learning community. I also witnessed ‘too tight’ restrictions rather than ‘just right’ fits for technology in schools limited learning; one platform does not fit all and mobility trumps desktop anchors every time. I also saw how in my own way, telling my students to create a song on GarageBand (or audacity or others) for a Father’s Day present but that I had no idea how to do it (I lie sometimes) led to curious learners – and this modelled what I heard and read about in the initial work on ‘the hole in the wall’ (still a cooler name than Minimally Invasive Education) : providing tech and getting/staying out of the way. It worked….it works….so I was very open to the idea of SOLEs…
We started by talking about research. How it was okay to ask each other questions – and not just in their groups, but around the classroom. It was amazing to see how quickly the kids shifted away from stating ‘they stole our idea’ to instead giving credit (referencing) which group ideas were ‘borrowed/learned’ from and how it extended learning. I still chuckle when kids ask in a variety of learning times if they can (air quote) research (end air quote) in all subject areas!
And then, things started disastrously. I figured it would. I often refer back to ‘the implementation dip’ and here we had something very new. And much like what we learned with our work on geniushour see had many students who did not know how to make decisions (choices). From our geniushour “what would you like to learn about?” query that was inspired by a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon ( http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-kHBi-H5wqsU/UiTEwEBTugI/AAAAAAAAAng/vfparWHLIpc/s1600/calvin-hobbes-read-dinosaur.jpg ) that first stumped many of our 10/11 year olds…. having them ‘self organize themselves’ was a disaster. At first.
A few weeks of practice and taking advantage of feedback loops to refine what we were doing made things get more efficient and effective. We also quickly learned that one hour was not enough time to percolate over a question, form a group, get to an answer, share out, and then extend learning (deeper questions). But 90 minutes…..that started getting us working. I should’ve followed Sugatas advice in the book….but I was trying to fit into a wrong mindset: we needed to do things differently than what our traditional timetable encouraged.
And we explored curricular topics such as weather tools and how the systems of the human body connected (which then transferred into geniushour as many explored by building full sized human bodies – I loved the door hinges to represent knee joints!). We also explored ‘questions of interest’ like ‘why are manhole covers round’.
And the kids moved away from the too-familiar desktop lab (that I haven’t quite been able to expunge yet) and to the iPads and other BYODs that connected to our much faster wifi. And powerpoints transformed into movies. One group has even tried using minecraft. And we try to keep our groups to the suggested 4-6 but sometimes the groups have gone larger and smaller – but frequently the groups change around so it’s not the same group of four.
This year was my first foray into the idea of SOLEs and it has transformed who I am as an educator. But it has been scary. Letting students go down ‘wrong pathways’ and experience failures and frustrations can be hard. But the power of facilitating inquiry and exploratory learning is amazing – to ‘let go’ of being the ‘sage on the stage’ and instead become part of the learning process (I continue to lie sometimes saying “I don’t know”) and modelling and enabling ways to overcome obstacles and learn about a range of topics.
Shockingly when students are engaged in their learning – choosing how to find things out and discovering new ways to share their learning – time melts away. Topics open up more questions which in turn lead to even more answers and questions. And SOLE has also further enriched a community of learners that are looking to learn for themselves and support the group and larger learning community. And it still has more potential than what we have unleashed! Glad I have a split class and get to do some ‘looping’ – including working with next years students tomorrow where we will be introducing SOLEs now to be successful after summer! Or maybe even during summer…