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Stumped by children’s questions? Explore them in SOLE sessions!

Note: This was originally posted on the old School in the Cloud website by Suneeta Kulkarni on October 17th, 2015 in response to a discussion with Grannies about Big Questions in Granny sessions. Suneeta is Director of The Granny Cloud and has led it since the  beginning. She was also Research Director on the TED Prize – School in the Cloud Project.
While the challenges of having a SOLE session over Skype or similar other platforms are quite different from having a SOLE session face to face with the children [and we will write about that on another post], the issue remains relevant. We hope to see many more Grannies have SOLE sessions specially with the children who have gained some degree of familiarity with English and computers in the future.

search in process

Engrossed in a search

Ever left stumped by questions posed by children? Left wondering what might be the ‘appropriate’ response to one of their queries? Not sure of the answer? Well, that’s how some of the most interesting SOLE sessions emerge. Pose the children’s questions in a SOLE session and sit back and watch them reach out for ideas and concepts you hadn’t imagined they would get at.

Not too long ago, [in Sept 2015 as a matter of fact], I was having one of my occasional chats with a couple of grannies and they both shared that the children in their regular groups [at SinC lab – A4 Phaltan also known as KNB Phaltan] in a town in Maharashtra, India] had asked about questions that had stumped them.

One group following through on the recent Independence Day Celebrations in India in August, asked the Granny [who happens to be from the UK], how they celebrated Independence Day over there! And the other, even younger group [9 -10 year olds] posed the question [again quite appropriately to one of our grannies who lives in Germany ‘Are you proud of Hitler?’ Both were a bit flummoxed because these were, or at any rate could potentially be, very sensitive topics and they weren’t sure how to respond.

Well, a great way to respond is to lob the question back at them in a SOLE! And that’s precisely what I did the week after this granny chat. So, on one of my usual field trips to the lab in Sept 2015, 30 children from Grade 7 [ages 12 to 13] trooped in happy to have an entire session [40 minutes] devoted to a search activity. They typically accost me as I enter the school gates and plaintively ask ‘When will we have a SOLE?’ This group has now had the Granny Cloud experience for about nine months. They are not native English speakers, nor do they study in the English medium, and their exposure to computers is limited to about twice a week [1 ½ hours per week], one of these times being with a Granny.

Anyway, back to our SOLE on Independence Day! The lead up to the question was the conversation they had had with the Granny, and they decided they should find out why India had an Independence Day, but the UK didn’t! They now know the drill and are happy to share five computers among the 30 [and sometimes more] of them, so after a quick refresher re. SOLE rules, off they went.

As I wandered around the room, usually because someone wanted to show me what they had found [and to take pictures… we are trying to do some research, you know!], I got a sense of the process yet again. They still use the translator to make sense of the information and still tend to feed in entire questions. They use the big Skype screen to share something critical they think that’s been found in some group. But they are getting better at understanding what they read. Let’s face it: they’ve only had about three SOLE sessions thus far…


A view of what the children find

A view of what their search throws up

British National Day

What they found in the process of their search: British National day



Engrossed in their search

Half an hour later, they were presenting. Some from their seats, some standing up, some in Marathi, some in their broken English. It’s a tightrope walk between having them present their ideas more fluently in their native language and their eagerness to try speaking in English.

Among the ideas that came up in the presentation were:

  • They were ruling India, so we needed independence
  • They didn’t have anyone ruling over them so they don’t need an independence day
  • People need celebrations, so they celebrate the Queen’s Birthday
  • There is a proposal to institute a ‘National Day’ so they can celebrate their ‘Britishness’
  • They even got as far as England, Scotland and Wales, though they weren’t quite sure what the issue of independence was over there!
  • One group brought up the fact that they had been attacked by the Romans 2000 years ago, and the Normans [she apologized for not having been able to find the name of the king], but indicated that they had merged with the people in Britain so again there was no question of independence.
  • One girl even brought up King Henry and shared about the ‘religious independence’ he had declared from Rome…
  • And they came across the fact that the USA and Canada and Australia had also become independent of Britain. Next stop… the Commonwealth? Who knows…

a view of what they found

And they don’t limit their search!

Many of them tried to share what they had found in English. A valiant effort. Not bad… I think! Next installment, Grade 4 & Hitler….