You may be wondering what in the world schools and clouds have in common. Well this is not a school floating beautifully along a white fluffy cloud; this is a school that is unique, innovative and built on technology. Aha moment, the cloud is the technology and this is a completely online schooling system. How is it possible to have a completely online learning solution with no traditional classrooms, no traditional teachers? Read on and you could be amazed.
What’s it all about?
Well the ‘School in the Cloud’ is the brain child of Sugata Mitra, who in fact won a TED Prize for this concept. What’s it all about? Well it is literally an online learning environment which is built on the ethos of ‘don’t intervene’ and to let children discover stuff by themselves, to a point of course as intervention by real live educators is incredibly important too; but you know what, this man has thought of everything!
Sugata Mitra has set up ‘labs’ with computers in. Kids make their way merrily to the ‘lab’ to learn and discover and teach themselves in some respects. The kids are not entirely left to their own devices, they have drop in ‘Grannies’. It gets more interesting by the minute; kids teaching themselves, drop in ‘Grannies, what next? Well these drop in ‘Grannies’ are educators and retired teachers, who volunteer their time, and they conduct lessons with kids over Skype. Somewhat different, yes, highly innovative, a big yes too. Think of the ‘Grannies’ as a teacher that isn’t in a classroom, but an online virtual teacher that is just a mere Skype call away. They provide the lesson framework and structure for the kids, and then off the kids go on an exciting journey of exploration.
How are ‘sessions’ structured?
First and foremost the ethos is about self-learning, and the structure is called Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE), and each of these teacher and student sessions are called ‘SOLE’ sessions. This idea of SOLE is to enable kids to embark on a learning adventure, to have fun and explore their lessons of the day.
The ‘Granny’ has a three phased approach to each of these sessions which includes asking the big question, the investigation and the review.
The big question is all about telling a story, giving some visual stimulation to the kids, nominating a helper and then posing the question. The question is the critical part of these sessions and the idea behind the questions is not for kids to be able to find an easy answer, but it’s about stimulating their creativity, encouraging group discussions, using their critical thinking skills and importantly to learn to work together as a group. A big question is not just about saying ‘what can you tell us about the moon’ it could be along the lines of ‘what will happen to Earth if the Moon were to get bigger, stop rotating on its axis or even what would happen if the red giant got larger, or the sun got hotter’. In this way kids are encouraged to learn about the solar system but also to investigate the outcomes of certain reactions. As we said, this gets them thinking in different ways.
Next comes the adventure…now the kids go off into their groups and explore the big question. At this point the ‘Granny’ becomes less active and is more of an onlooker. She might give some input to spark new theories, or to challenge their thinking, but the main idea is for her to be as invisible as possible and let the kids get on with it.
Now it’s time to review what the kids have found out. They all come back together and have a discussion with the ‘Granny’. This can lead to further discussions, pushing the boundaries of thinking and getting those young minds working even harder. This is the final part of the session, and the kids get praised for their efforts and are also asked to think about what went well and how they can improve next time. Pretty neat huh? Then the next day’s learning adventure starts all over again.
What makes this so different?
The thing that really stands out about this approach is the fact that kids are given the tools and the opportunities to learn and discover things by themselves, with guidance of course, but they are the ones who are figuring out how to go about solving a problem, how to go about answering the question; in essence they’re leading the investigation which gives them brilliant life skills; they learn to be self-disciplined, to ask questions, to challenge thinking, to understand that failure is a part of life and how to deal with that failure to turn it into a success. Quite frankly these are outstanding skills for the big wide world that awaits our kids after their school career.
This completely different style of learning could give your kids a real adventurous and hands-on learning experience. Think about the possibilities…they are endless. This type of education could even ultimately fit within a normal school environment to push the boundaries of knowledge, or if you home school or road school, this could be a brilliant extension to their learning process.
Sugata Mitra turned his dream into a reality through determination and passion and there are now five schools, or labs, firing on all cylinders and fully operational; two schools in the UK and three in rural India.
In our books it ticks all the boxes for innovation in schooling and giving kids brilliant life skills that will carry them through to be the next generation of movers and shakers. We reckon that this could become something quite big, watch this space to see how the School in the Cloud develops.