OSLN Regional Hub Manager National Inventors Hall of Fame Center for STEM Learning, Akron, Ohio
Sam is a founding faculty member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School and a disciple of Sugata Mitra’s self-organized learning environment concepts. Since bringing StartSOLE to Akron Akron Public Schools, he’s overseen more than 2,000 SOLE sessions by nearly 700 educators.
A lot of people are very excited to learn about problem-based learning, but it requires a lot of heavy lifting on the front-end. Oftentimes, you’re giving up two to three weeks out of a month to make that unit happen. It’s very robust work, and for a lot of folks, it’s extremely hard to wrap their heads around giving up that much time in their classrooms, but also giving up that locus of control, because that’s what this work asks the teacher to do. It’s learner-led, and the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning as opposed to just a giver of knowledge. For teachers, it becomes very manageable to take those first steps in inquiry learning and let the learners do the work.
There’s an ownership that comes with learning when students discover things for themselves that you don’t see when that knowledge is spoon-fed. That ownership translates to a much deeper understanding of the content, and that makes all the difference when we’re looking at the goal of student achievement. We want them to be invested in their own learning. Strategies like StartSOLE give our kids the opportunity to have some agency that’s returned to the student for their own learning.
We have over 700 teachers on the platform, and we’re closing in on almost 2,000 SOLE sessions having been conducted over the last couple of years. The one thing I really like to connect the teachers to is this notion of how easy it is to manipulate the platform and work through the platform. I can get a lesson plan delivered to my inbox seconds after I completed it, and that process takes maybe 5 minutes. And it’s a nine or ten- page OTES- approved lesson plan that I have the minute I hit submit, and that’s awesome. We make sure that everybody understands there’s a bank of teacher resources that have been accumulated by the SOLE community of over 40,000 users.
I would suggest that people reach out to the StartSOLE team if you’ve got any interest in learning more about it. They’re the most personable team and will always listen and always adjust, and are always willing to come train, and it’s free. That’s one of the commitments, and we’re very grateful for that part of it. Because you can look at all kinds of vendors as a district, and you really never know what you’re paying for. So when you come across a gem like this, that is open-source and still has the credibility, and just the expansive tools from the phone app to the website, it’s all great. But the bottom line is that if I don’t have any tech at all, zero tech, then the principle of StartSOLE is still there. If I have a chalkboard and the big question, I can do a SOLE anywhere, anytime.
Alyssa Briggs, PhD, is a senior educational consultant for TIES and a trained storyteller. She worked as a reporter and editor for newspapers across the country and also served as the director of a college journalism program.