Inspiring Student-Led Learning With SOLEs

sole-sugata(Image taken from

Unable to sleep early last week, I did what any educator would do to pass time – jumped on TED! Browsing through the list of tags and topics, something in my mind connected with Educational Scientist Sugata Mitra’s TED-Talk videos. I had watched them previously but not with a level of attention that was really required to truly ascertain his message, his values and philosophies.

So, I clicked on his video titled ‘The child-driven education‘, and then, with curiosity and excitement igniting, ‘Build a school in the cloud‘. If you have a spare 30-40 minutes, I highly recommend watching these clips, if not for Sugata’s wit and humour, then for his kind soul (not to be confused with SOLE – that’s later!). As a speaker, he blends humour with ingenuity, an honest and forthright recollection of his ‘experiments’ and educational ideology.

He reiterates the notion that students learn best from, and with, one another. In fact, these days, all children need are an internet connection (and a smart device), a small group, and a source of admiration and encouragement. That those three elements are all it takes for authentic, purposeful student-initiated learning to take place might seem far-fetched upon first thought.

I decided to test out Sugata’s ‘Self Organized Learning Environment’ design in my Year 3 class during the week. We established these environments on two occasions – once to form some basis of a summative assessment in a mathematics unit about shape, another to provoke deeper thinking and curiosity for the beginning of a unit of inquiry about needs and wants.

The School In The Cloud Website  allows educators to create SOLEs for their group of  learners. Within this website, you can start your SOLE, share and connect with a global learning community, as well as logging your own experiences with SOLE and the progress of your learners and their learning.

All it takes to begin is setting a time limit – 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes, entering the number of students in your learning space, and a BIG Question.

The Big Question can be phrased in many ways, depending on the scenario. I elected to pose my Big Question as: “Why do we need to learn about shapes?”. Students were then divided into groups of 4 – each group was given one iPad (Broadband), one piece of A2 paper, pencils, texts and a designated area within the learning space. They were told they would have 60 minutes to answer the question in a way that would allow others to learn from them.

So, in a nutshell:

  1. Five groups of 4 with an iPad, paper and pens
  2. 60 minutes to respond to the question
  3. The teacher observes and provides feedback/assistance when required

Is that really all there is to it?


Collaboration – Initially I stood back and made some observations about the way they selected their groups, where they chose to set up, how they planned to tackle the big question, and the vocabulary they used in their communication. All groups were different throughout – some were consistent, some started well and dissipated as time passed, and some took a lot of time to get the ball rolling before ending on a high.


Encouragement – Groups were given time to ‘grandma’ around the learning space – to briefly peer over the shoulders of their classmates and gather ideas or inspiration to improve their own learning. However, if they chose to ‘use’ some information that they had found, they were encouraged to leave feedback to that team and let them know that the information was invaluable. I felt that this was one of the more positive aspects to come out from this experiment. Our numeracy coordinator also joined us to ask questions, share ideas and provoke thinking from our learners.


The big finish? Given that this was our first attempt at creating SOLEs in our learning space, I was more interested in the collaborative nature of the activity, and the learners assessing themselves with regard to how they contributed as a part of the group, and how their group operated overall for an hour. Responses varied:

  • ‘We worked well together because we shared ideas.’
  • ‘We assigned roles and everyone contributed.’
  • ‘We argued about how we should display our ideas.’
  • ‘I didn’t think we would work well together but we did.’
  • ‘I saw different groups doing different things.’

Our conversation turned to the skills required to success when we learn collaboratively. We referred to the PYP transdisciplinary skills and decided that the most important skills we needed to think about for the future were the need to resolve conflicts when they arise, to demonstrate attentive listening, to make decisions as a group and adopting a variety of roles. I gave the students 30 seconds to think about which skill they saw as an area for improvement for the future and wrote it on a post-it note.

– – – – –

The best part about the experience? My belief is that Sugata Mitra set up School In The Cloud to strengthen global connections in learning. One of my students posed a wondering in his SOLE, and wrote it down. I took a photo of it and put it on Twitter.


The response?

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 11.14.51 pm

– – – – –

So why SOLEs?

On the day following our first SOLE, several students came to me asking when we could ‘do another SOLE’. I asked them why they’d like to have another go at it:

  • ‘We learn from each other.’ – student-centred
  • I find out new things from my friends.’ – collaboration
  • ‘It’s fun!’ – engaging
  • ‘I feel like I can share what I know in my own way.’ – personalisation, differentiation
  • There are so many websites with information to help us!’ – research skills
  • We want another big question!’ – inquiry approach to learning

It’s all about SOLE!

A big thanks to @schoolincloud @sugatam


About Dean Kuran

I'm a primary school teacher at an IB PYP school in Melbourne, Australia. I believe in establishing positive environments in which students can develop confidence and curiosity, while nurturing the skills that will benefit them outside of the learning space.
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One Response to Inspiring Student-Led Learning With SOLEs

  1. GolFan says:

    Hi Dean,

    Thanks very much for sharing. I really enjoyed reading about how the students reacted positively to the new learning environment.

    However, I’m curious about how the students answered their Big Question? Why did they think they need to learn about shapes?


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