The School in the Cloud lab at George Stephenson High School opened on 22nd November 2013. It was the first of the TED Prize Project labs to start up. Several labs and the whole year later [3rd December 2014], the ‘SOLE Room’ at Phaltan also opened up, paving the way for ALL the children in the school [Pragat Shikshan Sanstha’s Kamla Nimkar Balbhavan – PSS – KNB] to have a chance to be in the lab and interact with the Grannies.
Phaltan had begun Granny sessions in mid 2013 after many months of long discussions to ensure it fit in with the school’s philosophy. At that point, with the limited resources available, The Granny Cloud was able to reach out to just Grades 6 and 7 in the old lab which had several old (almost ancient) computers with just one connected to the Internet. Having the new lab meant we could try reaching out to all the Grades (1 to 9) and not only for Granny sessions.
PSS Phaltan was one location that was wholeheartedly and unconditionally in love with the Grannies. None of the children wanted to be left out of it. They had even based their design of the lab on that! However, having Granny sessions for all the children meant that the lab was occupied all day with some or the other group in a session with a Granny. And very little time for SOLE sessions with big questions! And of course the children wanted to do that too…. However, PSS Phaltan is a regional language school and with their limited English, most of the teachers felt a bit unsure about running a SOLE session themselves.
Well, the lab was new, the TED project was still on and I visited every month. (This was mainly to gather data for the School in the Cloud project but that was just a terrific excuse to be “Granny in residence” and be able to spend several days a month with these gorgeous children!) So we would have SOLE sessions with different grades (even with an entire class of 35 to 40 children crammed into the lab at one time). 4 to a computer? Sometimes, it was more like 8!
The children at KNB engaged in a SOLE session 23rd March 2015 [Photo: Suneeta]
Anyway, to return to the connection between GSHS and PSSP. Among the things we have always been keen on encouraging, are joint sessions where children can connect with each other. Amy at GSHS was game for the attempt. So, in March 2015 we planned on a joint SOLE session between the children at GSHS and the children of Grade 6 at Phaltan. The children were really excited at the prospect of not just having a SOLE session, but of being able to see and talk with children from a different lab – that too in ‘England’!
Amy and I decided that we would try with the question “Is there life on other planets?” And to have the children across the two labs share what they found with each other. Following a quick chat we posed the question to the children and off they went to see what they could find.
The children at George Stephenson and Phaltan engaged in a joint SOLE session. View from the Phaltan end [Photo: Suneeta]
The ‘real world’ is always present just around the corner by way of constraints in terms of class time-tables and schedules among other things. So there was only a limited amount of time we could give the children for the search. 20 minutes later, the children gathered in front of their respective webcams and began to share what they had found. The children at Phaltan had really struggled to make sense of the material they found in this foreign language (English)! But had managed to understand quite a bit. Despite the eagerness to share, the children at both ends took turns to share their discoveries. And appreciative too as they commented – “that’s a good point”!
Sharing their findings with each other [Photo: Suneeta]
But all too soon, time ran out and the children at George Stephenson had to go off for another class. Goodbyes were said and GSHS went offline. But for the children at Phaltan it was a rare chance for a SOLE session, and they still had lots to say. Everyone wanted to add their two bits worth. And they knew that the school management and I could be persuaded to extend their time in the lab for this ‘once in a while’ SOLE session.
So we carried on. Additional relevant information was shared. It brought in several perspectives. From how this was interesting to scientists all the world over, to the kind of research efforts that were going into it, even to the kind of technology being used by the scientist to glean this information.
As we finally brought the session to a close, I left the lab impressed. Impressed not just by the many pieces of relevant information they had gathered, but of how they had perceived and considered each bit. Not discretely, but as a whole. Even more importantly, they were asking questions as they processed the information. As they became aware of the many valid viewpoints that seemed, sometimes, to be at odds with each other; they were willing to raise awkward and hard philosophical questions about the issue as well. They figured it out from what they read and did not shy away from mentioning these. “Can a poor country like India afford the trillions being spent on this Space Research?”, they asked.
There is a valid counter argument to this question as most of us are likely aware of, but that is not the point. What was important was that the children were okay with this tentativeness. They had realised that there were several perspectives and that there were good reasons for any of these to be accepted. They recognised and accepted the uncertainty of the varied answers. Something the Social Sciences do a little more readily?!
And they were willing to raise more questions….