Tuesday, 30 June 2015

SOLE with a twist

After planning it before Christmas, we were very much looking forward to visiting Greenfield Arts’ SOLE Room 13, again. They do amazing work with students of different ages, and are one of the schools chosen to host a SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) area. When last there, we observed a ‘SOLE Grannies’ session (more info on these here), but today was going to be a little different. We were running a session of Digital Mysteries within the SOLE room – with some features of SOLE, but not quite the same.

Mrs Pattison, two colleagues and her year five class walked along the road from Byerley Park Primary School. They often make visits to Greenfields for SOLE sessions, and do really well. If you don't know SOLEs very well, these are “created when educators and/or parents encourage kids to work in groups that they form, and are free to change, to answer big, open questions by using the internet” (SOLE toolkit). The origins lie in Professor Sugata Mitra’s Ted-Prize winning talk here. To find out more, go to School in the Cloud.

Students were provided with mini iPads, enough for half of the class. It is deliberate that they only have one between two, as mysteries are designed to be worked on together and they can both interact with the screen at the same time. The whole process is designed to encourage discussion throughout – so they’re always engaging with each other.

Pip the Dog – 5 minute intro

Since students have not used our app before, we started with a little introduction with Digital Mysteries: Pip the Dog, a fairly simple PSHE/Citizenship app. It didn’t need much explaining but we went through; how to resize a slip, how to progress from one stage to the next and what each stage asks from you.

After about 5 minutes we asked if everyone was ready to begin the full session, and there was lots of shouts of ‘Yes!’, it was time to move on.

Theo in Ancient Greece

Since the students had covered Ancient Greece in another term, we chose Digital Mysteries: Theo in Ancient Greece as the task for this session. This was good to re-jog their memories at the same time as collaborating, thinking, learning new things and reflecting.

The main question in this app is ‘What is Theo most proud of about Ancient Greece?’

Set up
  • Mostly pairs, one three, then as the time went on, a few working on their own.
  • Medium difficulty (each app has Easy, Medium and Hard settings – this usually determines how many slips and hints the group are given). In this case, Hard would have brought in an extra topic to consider – democracy.
  • Two stages – reading, then grouping the slips, followed by typing in their answer and then the Reflection Stage. By default, there would usually be a Sequencing Stage in between grouping and answering, but we eased them in for today, especially because we wanted more time than usual to reflect at the end.

While it wasn’t a traditional SOLE session as such, we were in SOLE Room 13. It’s a flexible working space, with brilliant decor and different places to sit. In traditional SOLEs, the students are free to sit wherever, move around and have full control over their learning. One of the walls is clear glass – so it is a small way of observing what is going on.

What we did, was integrate some elements of a SOLE session. We stayed within the room for a little while until we knew the students were settled into the task (as well as for taking some pictures).

Reading Stage
  • Students got to grips with this straight away: there are a few different ways of making the icon sized slips bigger so you can read everything on them. Many tended to double tap and a few used the ‘pinch and zoom’ gesture.
  • The majority of students read the slips in numerical order – this helps them be organised as they know which they have read. The information on the slips is deliberately not in correlation chronologically with the numbers of them, so this works fine.
  • Some read the slips together and some pairs had a pattern of having one student re-size the slip then the other reading it while the other listened.
Grouping Stage

Students are asked to create at least three named groups to sort the slips into. There was a good mixture when having a look at the end. One pair did only have two (relevant, not relevant), but even this helped see how the students thought (that's why we call it Brains on the Tablet).

Reflection Stage

As mentioned, there would usually be a Sequencing Stage, but due to the nature of the session and the time restrictions, the students then went straight to typing in their answer. The Reflection Stage then followed. For the groups that got to this point, it was so good to see the enthusiasm and pride on many of their faces.

The two in the video finished before everyone else, and the benefit of this set up in Room 13 was how freely they could move around and show other pairs bits of their process. This was excellent to see. One group, when asked how many groups they had made and what they were called, started talking about theirs, and used the Reflection Stage to emphasise their point. This ‘Stimulated Recall’ was interesting.

Back to us…

Katy Milne (Director of Arts and Creativity) and Mrs Pattison very kindly asked the students lots of questions at the end. These involved thinking about the setup, the content of the app, the usage of the app, what they’d learned and whether they’d do it again.

Some questions asked:

How many groups did you create?

One pair created six different groups/categories, which was interesting, and several others: four or five. As mentioned, there was one pair who created two groups.

What did you learn in this session that you didn’t know before?

A few students talked about the main character Theo. An answer included ‘We learned that Theo has a statue of him’. We then made it clear that Theo was a fictional character who was created in that time frame to help them learn about what it would be like to be someone at this time.

Another answer was ‘that builders used columns called Doric, Ionic and Corinthian to hold up roofs’ and that ‘the British Museum in London is built in a classical Greek style’ (interesting that this student used the iPad (on the app’s Reflection Stage) to point to this fact.

What was Theo most proud of about Ancient Greece? (The main question)

There was many answers but the majority said that it's Theo and his father being in the Olympics. An addition was that one of his favourite foods is olives and ‘because he won the Olympics, he got a prize of an olive crown, so he would have been proud of that’ – the connecting of two separate pieces of information was good to see. A different answer was that Theo would have been most proud of his uncle’s building work. On the Hard level of this mystery, additional slips about democracy would have been added – this could have brought in a different slant.

What did you think of how you were grouped together? Do you prefer how you usually work in a SOLE session, in bigger groups, or were you pleased with working in pairs?

Following on from the success we’ve seen in the bigger groups before, it was surprising to note that the students who spoke up, really found benefit in working in pairs:

“When you’re in pairs, you just listen.”

“I like it in little groups more, because you concentrate better.”

When Katy then asked if they felt free to move around (a big benefit of SOLE), one students said they did when they were finished: ‘Well they didn’t really get it, so me and Ryan sat and helped them’.

If you could think of a way to improve the app/mystery, what would you suggest?

It can of course be difficult for students to put their hand up and say something they feel may upset someone, but we tried to encourage them as much as possible, because feedback can only help us improve. One student did say it would be good if there was some way you could get rid of any notes and sticky tapes that you didn’t need any more/you’d done by accident – there is in actual fact, a ‘Trash’ group where you drag and drop stuff you don’t need. So although you can’t get rid of it entirely (the idea is that all thoughts/notes/actions are there if needed), you can remove it from main view and concentrate on the bigger picture.

Would you use Digital Mysteries apps again?

This was met with many enthusiastic exclaims of ‘yes’ and ‘definitely’, and when asked if they thought they could do a fresh mystery without any ‘instructions’ next time, they were very confident. A few highlights:

‘I thought that it was a bit different to any other game. In a good way.’
‘It was new.’
‘I liked it because I never knew you could do, like, this type of stuff on it.’
‘It was easy to use.’


It was a brilliant afternoon. We want to say a big thank you to Katy who organised the session, as well as James Brady for ensuring that all of the tech was running smoothly for the students.

Also a big thank you to Mrs Pattison and her colleagues for bringing the students in, asking questions and being supportive of the task. Of course, another thank you to the Byerley Park year five class who came in. They were a pleasure to work with, came up with some great ideas and were very polite at the end, coming up to us to say thank you.

At some point in the future, it will be great to do it again!

To read Greenfield Arts' blog post on this session, click here.
To try Digital Mysteries, go to our Developer's Page on the App Store.

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