International symposium

We are very excited to be planning a series of events which are all part of our international symposium of teaching and learning next term.

We have plans with colleagues from Argentina who are visiting us in September, a colleague from Australia too, delegates from the Netherlands in October, friends in Cambodia will be skyping and there are also some regional visits planned from colleagues across the North East.

This will give us all the opportunity to explore ideas, share experiences and work together. Young people will be leading this series of events and will be working across nationalities to explore their curiosity through SOLEs and enquiry based learning.


The symposium runs from Thursday 11 September until Wednesday 8 October 2014. Can’t wait…

Guest post by Sally

A post by Newcastle University SOLEs PHD student- Sally Rix

“An update from Greenfield.

Students from one of the Ted Prize Labs tell us what they think of their SOLE room so far…

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, see the photo above!); I have done SOLEs in a traditional classroom setting and I wanted to know how important the students thought it was to have a specific environment dedicated to this 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 conversation:
– “There are 2 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 log in 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 anymore. It’s more exciting if it’s not allowed so say it’s ok and they might not.”

Certainly the students have a clear feeling of responsibility for their own learning and seemed to believe that the novelty of messing around would wear off in time.

One area of uncertainty seemed to be the role of the grannies. While these are typically used to help children in India develop their English language there has been some attempt to integrate them into the UK locations too. (Note: these students interviewed have a limited experience of the ‘granny’ role. We have been doing a lot of working exploring the role of the ‘granny’ and how they interact/ affect learning. We are continuing to explore this area.). The response of the students suggests that this might need further consideration as they were clearly unsure of how to make best use of them:

“There are grannies who watch over you. Sometimes you lose the connection. What’s the point of it?” “It’s an unnecessary waste of their [the granny’s] time. No-one talks to them, it’s not really benefitting anyone.”

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! I would particularly like to thank the teacher who ran 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 own blog at

As always, if you would like to get in touch – or if you have something you would like to share with the community on the blog – please email me on”

You can find this blog over on the school in the cloud website


Today we are meeting with one of the Newcastle University Team, PHD student, Sally Rix to talk about some of the technologies we use and areas where we may be able to improve things.

One of the things we have noticed when the young people interact with the granny, is that the sound is not always as clear as it could be due to the fact the other young people are working in the space with each other and things can be quite busy. We are looking to resolve this and fit a microphone to help improve the situation.

We are also very interested in a the app VEO which helps you to record what is going on in the SOLE space and annotate the video afterwards. This will be a really helpful tool for staff sharing ideas and making observations.

We are also keen to talk about the use of there Xbox, as so far it has been an absolutely brilliant resource for Room 13 (not for games yet although the EngineHeads are setting up a games night!) but for skyping, using the internet and having multiple apps going at the same time. Very exciting.

We are very lucky to have a supportive and creative IT team here who are keen to help us make the most of the technology. James has been particularly helpful in allowing us to explore the different technologies and get the most from them and finding creative solutions to any queries that have come up.

Looking forward to getting our heads together today!

Learn a language

Another great summer Room 13 activity is “learn yourself a language”.

We have provided the space, we have the IT equipment and we are encouraging young people to meet by offering lots of drop in times. We’ve also got some skypees handy that the young people can contact if required during some drop ins. Will be interesting to see what happens….