Friday, November 12, 2010

Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education

Check out this video from (one of my very favorite websites). Sugata Mitra, education researcher shows how children are capable of learning in groups - without a teacher - but with computers.

Why you should listen to him:

In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and left it there (with a hidden camera filming the area). What they saw was kids from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process learning how to use it and how to go online, and then teaching each other.

In the following years they replicated the experiment in other parts of India, urban and rural, with similar results, challenging some of the key assumptions of formal education. The "Hole in the Wall" project demonstrates that, even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge. Mitra, who's now a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University (UK), calls it "minimally invasive education."

"Education-as-usual assumes that kids are empty vessels who need to be sat down in a room and filled with curricular content. Dr. Mitra's experiments prove that wrong."

Linux Journal

TED hosts events around the world. This is a link to some in our area.

TEDx Peachtree

TEDx Atlanta

BTW, the Next Event: January 25, 2011


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent and thought-provoking video!

Anonymous said...

This is why we should not be isolating students into groups and teaching all children towards higher level thinking. The kids can do it, if we only gave them a chance. Think of how many lost soles, we could gain back if we simply made educating interesting.

DCSS Teacher said...

@ Anon 10:10
I think that the "many lost soles" comment shows just how much students do, in fact, need teachers.

Anonymous said...

Pretty cool!

Let's put about 100 public pools without lifeguards around Dekalb County to see how quickly the kids learn how to swim on their own!

After about 20 years of these computers in the walls and random chance, students would learn how to write a persuasive essay and balance a chemical equation on their own....

This a very efficient way of learning which proves once and for all why we don't need teachers (or parents)to educate.

Anonymous said...

DCSS tried this but someone stole the computers.

Cerebration said...

I'm not so certain that his point is to do without teachers or parents (although, this is certainly an issue in the slums of Mumbai). I think the beauty of his research is that children are, by nature, curious. They will learn in groups (not the same story if left alone). And technology opens up the world of learning to everyone. The internet certainly levels the playing field by offering access to unlimited information.

FWIW - there are other places this kind of learning happens - zoos, museums, parks, history centers, etc. (How about DCSS's own planetarium? Best deal in town!)

I recently received this offer from Great Schools and post it below for all of you to take advantage of -

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We hope you'll take advantage of this program to get out with your kids and turn the world into your child's classroom.

It's a lot like Groupon or Half Off Depot if you're familiar with those -


Anonymous said...

Who is going to stop the kids from beating each other up? In my former school in Dekalb that's pretty much all the teacher's were able to do anyway, crowd control.

Anonymous said...

Loved this video! And it was not a slam on teachers.

I've worked with thousands of students using technology, and the sights in this video were quite common. Students love technology, feel comfortable with it, and are innately 21st Century learners - no matter what their circumstances. Technology is the great leveler of our time just like books were the great leveler in times past.

Children are going to use technology anyway - even students who do not have Internet access will find a way to access their email account. Not supporting the way students learn does a disservice to students.

This was not a video that negates "teachers" of students even though the researcher would use that as a provocative premise. This researcher is an excellent teacher (even if he doesn't have a teaching certificate). He set the stage for these children to be successful, and he became better at setting the stage over time. He gained feedback from his learners and adjusted accordingly.

Notice that the experiments started out with no directions and the directions to the students (i.e. presentation of a problem) became more and more specific for each experiment. For example, presenting the students with a specific problem while at the same time providing them with the optimal number of computers was critical to increasing the learning curve. He was/is constantly refining his teaching techniques - you don't necessarily have to stand up and lecture to have a teaching technique (as if talking louder or slower, etc. is the only techniques good teachers use!)

Notice there were 4 in a group. 4 "bodies" can physically group around a computer (those active children can stand - they actually like being able to move). 4 is more communication than 2. 2 tends to have one dominant and one follower. Even though the follower may have much to contribute, his/her voice may get drowned out by the dominant child (just like politics). 3 in a group means 2 can "gang" up on 1. So 4 would be an optimal group (the researcher probably learned this through random experimentation - I know I did). The ability to walk to other groups, the underlying sense of competition among the groups, etc. all created an excellent sense of group dynamics. Someone set the stage for this - the researcher/teacher.

DCSS is woefully behind in supplying abundant and working technology to students. We don't have to have a 1 computer to 1 student ratio - actually a 4 to 1 is fine. We don't even need the latest and greatest computers. Currently, we have 2 computers in every content or grade level classroom of 28 to 30+ students which equates to a 1 to 14 ratio in the elementary schools and a 1 to 16 ratio in the high schools. They need to bring this down to a level that will work for students and teachers. I wish everyone at the Central Office could watch this video and understand 21st Century learners are naturals with 21st Century tools.

Cerebration said...

Good advice! I also wonder if it isn't possible to give every child a Kindle type gizmo. People say this is too expensive, however, I just think it can be done. We have an enormous MIS budget and over $30 million in Title 1 funds every year. Kindles only cost a little over $100 each - and buying in bulk should be a much better deal.

Here's the thing about Kindles - you can check out a book from the library (not in DeKalb - we're woefully behind) and read it and then it magically disappears from your Kindle on the due date (unless you renew it). Couldn't this be done with textbooks? Couldn't students load up their relevant textbooks on the first day of school and then have them available on their own personal Kindle for the rest of the semester? These Kindles would belong to the student - they can put stickers - whatever on them. If they lose them, then they have to find a way to pay for a replacement. But the books would still be available for downloading during the time frame.

No need for back packs - no need for storage facilities for books - no need for 80 pound students carrying 40 pounds of books around - no problems forgetting to bring home a book - you always have them all...

Plus - Kindles offer the option to have the book read aloud. This reinforces learning for many - to hear it as well as read along.

Possible? I really think it could be. Why don't we just pull out all the stops and start being the first school system to try some truly radical ideas?

Anonymous said...

We talk about technology and making more of it available in DCSS classrooms. So I ask, who has been in charge of DCSS technology for many years? Who was suppose to keep an eye on the upgraded systems, hardware and software available to DCSS?

Ms. Tyson your MIS Dept. is an EPIC failure. Between the examples of Jamal "Where's Waldo? Edwards and CTSS' being laid off, DCSS has proved once again we are years behind in technology. Yet we have this massive network that Tony Hunter sold to Tyson, but we don't have the computers or the technology to latch on to it.

It's time we move into the future with the rest of the world and I feel the only way to do that is find leadership that is not interested in saving their friends and families jobs, but leadership that is concerned with the task of educating our children.

Give the teachers and the classrooms the tools and watch our kids learn!

Anonymous said...

The stolen computer post made me spit coffee all over my keyboard. NICE!

Cerebration said...

Plus - Kindles would open up choices for Lit teachers to choose books for class reading assignments. I can't tell you how limited teachers choices are in assigning class novels to read because they don't have enough copies of the actual book.

Kindles can just download them from the library - and voila! They disappear when the due date comes along. Could our media centers handle such a system? Do we have technologically savvy enough people to make this work? If not, can't we hire some?

Anonymous said...

Love the Kindle idea! However, DeKalb probably won't let the kids take anything home - loss, breakage, etc. And if you can't take them home it loses about 75% of its educational value. 24/7 anytime/anywhere learning using portable devices - palms, alphasmarts, smartphones, netbooks, kindles....where the assignments are done away from the desk, the class time could be used more for assessment and re-evaluation, less for doing assignments that can be done independently. Awesome ideas.

Now here's the reality - kids have to learn independence, responsibility, self-motivation. A lot of that comes from the parents and their peers. So, give the average middle/high school boy a device that can go on the internet 24/7 and you end up with 80% of the assignments not up to standard, or not done at all. But they really do learn how to use the device....tons of funny emails to each other, viruses, video games, MP3 downloads, and porn. know what, not much different than the average adult.

The hard part is developing the motivation to get the assignment done, to get learning tie it into their lives. You can't do that with one size fits all assignments.

Anonymous said...

Cere--the lit textbooks for high school are available online. My students never have to carry them!

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 11:27
"The hard part is developing the motivation to get the assignment done, to get learning tie it into their lives. You can't do that with one size fits all assignments. "

That's exactly my point. The teacher does set the stage. The researcher in this video definitely set the stage for learning, and he became much more focused as he went through the process.

Cerebration said...

Awesome, 11:29!

BTW - I don't think Kindles can browse the internet... they're not like a smart phone. They just store books - and can read the books aloud. Unless you buy the 3G service...

Anonymous said...

Notice how the researcher in this video spread the computers out in the classrooms so students could comfortably "group" around the computers. Take a peek into your children's classrooms. Notice how DCSS places the few computers they have in a row along a wall with little space in between computers. This is not conducive to group work. At the same time, Dr. Beasley and his group are telling teachers to use cooperative groups. Getting on the same page with the technology group would be advisable. If DCSS had enough technology (a critical mass so to speak) access and it worked reliably, the computers would not be gathering dust in the back of the classrooms like they currently do. Take a peek into your child's middle of high school classrooms as you walk down the halls. How many of those 2 computers in the classroom for 30+ students do you see in use?

I'm with Cerebration. Why are we spending $800 per computer? Why not spend much less and get the most basic software (Open Office for example) and Internet access, but get abundant access - Enough for teachers to let their whole class participate in using technology whenever they want and need it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. This type of learning is based on constructivist learning theory. The teacher builds a learning environment and the students learn by interacting with that environment. In this case the learning environment is the computer/Internet. Notice that when this experiment was conducted in formal classrooms the students were given a problem to solve or a question to answer and they were not told how or where to get their answers. Learning was focussed on a specific objective or set of objectives.

Teachers using this type of instruction function as facilitators. It takes a good teacher to make this happen. It also means that students take the responsibility for what they learn in that environment.

DeKalb teachers would be unable to teach this way in their classrooms. Our instructional coaches and strict requirements that dictate not only what is taught but how teachers convey that information to students gets in the way of this kind of instruction. We hire good teachers and then don't trust them to get the job done. Even worse, we interfere with how teachers teach even when they are getting good results often lowering a teacher's effectiveness in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

Cere re: textbooks,

My point was that you lauded the Kindle as enabling kids to do away with heavy books/backpacks. They can do that already for about half of their books. They have access to them at home online. Granted, they can't take the book with them in the car or on the bus, so the Kindle would have an advantage there.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind; I realize now that you were responding to the poster who mentioned emails and playing games online.

Anonymous said...


I agree that we don't need the latest and greatest computers, but where would we put a bunch of cheaper pared down ones? You would have to use laptops, wouldn't you?

I would hesitate to put a batch of laptops in a classroom. We used to have wireless connected carts with 30 laptops. The teacher would take the cart to his/her classroom and give each kid (or group) a laptop to use for the period.

In the course of two years, there were but a handful of the laptops left. This was with teachers checking them in and out! Theft is a huge problem; how would we handle that?

Not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom--just reality/devil's advocate.

Cerebration said...

You may be surprised to learn that in third world countries, there is a strong push to get internet-connected laptops out to every child.

Check out these links to the "One Laptop Per Child" effort. I just love these little green computers!

We think we're so "advanced" but we are fast losing ground. Very soon there will be countries in South America where technology and education will far surpass what we offer in the U.S. (especially in the south).

Cerebration said...

And to drive this conversation full circle, an overview of OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) was presented by Miguel Brechner at TEDx Buenos Aires, 2010

(Pay attention to the world around you - our 6 degrees of separation are getting even closer!)

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous 3:39
"Not trying to be the voice of gloom and doom--just reality/devil's advocate."

You're not the voice of doom and gloom. Rolling a cart of laptops around was never a good solution.

DCSS should have done what other metro school systems have done which is to place high speed wireless in every hallway and room (including wireless access points outside in trailers). They never could get those carts to work correctly - many didn't connect to the Internet, others took 10 minutes to connect (creating a nightmare of classroom management for teachers). With ubiquitous high speed wireless access points, that problem would be solved.

DCSS should have/should look at the Linux thin clients as a deterrent to theft. Thin clients (laptop and/or desktop) don't have any software programs except they operating system and the software that enables them to connect to a main server. When they boot up, they run off the server software. Not only are they cheap, they also are pretty useless when stolen. This is also a very easy system to maintain. Software only needs to go on the one server that serves numerous terminals. Little repair to the terminals - just the server.

Another option is to ensure that the desktop computers are plentiful (at least 1 to 4 ratio) and spread all around the classroom so that students can gather around the computers. Forsyth employs this arrangement with 5 to 6 (or more desktops) spread around the rooms (next to the walls) and the teacher supplements with as many or few laptops as he/she needs to accommodate larger classes.

The point is that there are options to fit every school. Some schools have no problems with theft while others do. Other schools have many trailers while others have empty classrooms. Some schools are brand new with up to date wiring while other schools are an electrical nightmare. Some schools have students who are behind in academics while the few students racing ahead are not being challenged. Other schools have the opposite problem - most students racing ahead with a few lagging behind.

The point is that a really good Technology Plan involves teachers, students, parents and administrators at the the schoolhouse level. One size does not fit all. One size fits all is a lazy, inefficient and ineffective model.

This is a good example of the need for Title 1 funds to be more at the discretion of the school that earns those dollars. Many teachers and students would use technology if it was convenient, reliable and abundant. Technology should not be just for the more affluent students.

There are many school systems that effectively use technology with their students - DeKalb just doesn't happen to be one of them. It's not the teachers' fault. The reality is that 2 computers next to each other at the back of a classroom of 30+ students ensures that technology integration will not be the norm. This is a shame because parents (especially in low income areas) really want this for their children, and students who have little access to technology are often the ones most fascinated with it.

Cerebration said...

Great input, 4:57 - really great. Maybe DCSS needs a Blue Ribbon Tech Task Force. We have so many citizens and parents who are highly tech savvy and would bring very progressive ideas to the table.

Passionate... said...

DCSS is way behind with technology in the hands of students. Repeatedly poor decisions in the county have resulted in great misuse of monies. Both students and teachers have suffered from the misuse of funds. A Metro Atlanta area high school has piloted a program of providing tenth graders with Kindles. Students are using them successfully, no breakage, etc. Perhaps, DCSS MIS grant writers could secure monies for increase use of technology, wireless connections etc. for our high schools.

Anonymous said...

Something else to throw into the mix:

From LA Times online--

"Tired of the blame for failing students, more teachers take charge to turn around schools"

Associated Press
November 13, 2010,0,344192,full.story

Anonymous said...

Many great ideas. But remember that you are dealing with DCSS.

Let's see...

Zephora, SCW and Dr Walker would insist that the students in their districts have the latest models with all of the frills. Thus, when they are stolen the thieves will make more money. That would augment the wealth re-distribution plan already in effect in DCSS administration

Anonymous said...

"Zephora, SCW and Dr Walker would insist that the students in their districts have the latest models with all of the frills. "

Actually, the students in those areas would benefit tremendously from having Title 1 funds going back to the schools to use however they want including technology. There are ways to guard against theft. Providing technology access for students is just not a priority. Providing jobs for the family and friends and that is apparent in MIS.

No Duh said...

Loved the stolen computers comment, too. Would have spit, but wasn't drinking anything.

Just so happens the 30 laptops stolen from HMS recently (from within a locked room with no windows, hmmm...) were the classroom set that rolls around on the carts (carts were broken into, as well). Seems to me, our computing equipment would be safer in the hands of the students than left behind locked windowless doors in our schools with security alarms and security cameras.

Seriously, so a child loses or breaks a Kindle? Don't we already charge students for lost textbooks? Don't we already withhold grades when these things aren't paid for?

Why are all the computers bunched up along one wall? -- simple. That's the only wall with an outlet!! Older DCSS schools were not designed for extensive electrical power use. Why would they have been? But, now, it only makes sense in the older schools (except Chamblee which will be torn down and rebuilt -- they will have multiple outlets per room AND wireless network no doubt)to go with a wireless network (as described by experts on this blog).

But, unless you could magically tear down and rebuild every DCSS school at exactly the same time, one size fits all will NEVER work. Please let the local schools solve their own problems and give them the resources to do it.

Kim Gokce said...

I finally set aside the time to watch this today. And then again with everyone who would sit down long enough to watch it, too!

Thanks for posting, Cere. Those that want to turn this into a technology vs. teacher debate are missing the point. For me, what this piece highlights more than anything is the gasoline that technology can be for the fire of learning.

As a kid who haunted libraries, I can tell you that had the Web been around when I was in school I would have been in Kismet! This isn't about teachers! It's about empowering students who have any curiosity left.

It terms of technology per se, we all have to realize that the "toys" of yesterday quickly become the tools of today. The "Smart phones" we are so eager to ban from classrooms today provide everything being discussed as lacking in DCSS technology.

Today, a student can use a smart phone to download and read ebooks just like a Kindle or Nook (Barnes & Noble). What we lack is vision and creativity, not technology.

The poster above is touching on one key area that blows my mind - why on earth would we spend brazillions of dollars on licensed software from Microsoft to run PCs when robust and feature rich operating systems are available at no cost? I know the answer! Teacher, teacher pick me! It is because of "support" for those licensed products.

In practice, this support doesn't mean too much but it does give management a "warm and fuzzy" feeling that they've done the responsible thing. With a bit more courage and creativity, our students could use what I use - $250 laptop with $0 software costs ... ever.

This has been a hot issue for me this year not because of hardware/software management at DCSS but because of curriculum. With the re-location of the DeKalb Tech North school to CK, I was anticipating enormous opportunities to support their Information Technology program ... guess what? Not a single course offering in IT this year!

I've said this before but it bears repeating ... having all the high tech gear means nothing without qualified teachers and/or programs. Information Technology is a whole lot more than Microsoft Office and I intend to help CK become a leader in showing what is possible in this area.

Stay tuned ...

Anonymous said...

@ No Duh

"Why are all the computers bunched up along one wall? -- simple. That's the only wall with an outlet!! Older DCSS schools were not designed for extensive electrical power use."

That may be true with older schools, but what about the newer schools - e.g. DSA which just underwent a $10,000,000 renovation. The 2 computers per classroom are right next to each other along one wall. Why did MIS let that happen? Because they have absolutely no understanding of what teachers and students need in a classroom to facilitate learning.

And please look at the classroom computers in Chamblee Middle and Tucker Middle Schools. Take a look at MLK HS or Miller Grove HS or Oakview ES or any of the "new construction". They are also bunched together along one wall. Absolutely no excuse for this terrible learning arrangement. These are modern schools - built from the ground up. Taxpayers have spent literally hundreds of millions on student technology in the last decade, and so very little for students to show for it. Very frustrating.

I sure hope Nancy Jester and Donna Edler win in the runoff. These BOE members are so status quo and the status quo just doesn't work anymore.