An update from our exciting project in Madaba with 40 Syrian and Palestinian students in an UNRWA school.
This weekend marked the last set of sessions with a group of Syrian and Palestinian students at the UNRWA school in Madaba. This was our third weekend working with them, and we have witnessed great improvement among the students. Here's a quick recap of our activities:
Weekend #1 (Nov 27-28):
This was our first time getting to know the girls. On the first day, we began by gauging their English level. The girls are, for the most part, currently attending the UNRWA school, and demonstrated a solid command of English grammar. We got them speaking, and covered the English that we deem most important: the English of the internet. We went over basic terms that they will need during the SOLE sessions (web browser, search result, chat room, blog, references and citations ...), and introduced them to Google Translate, and other translation and dictionary services.
Next, we got the girls engaged with each other with several team-building activities, and even simulated the research process by making them "research" their peers and collect information about them.
On the second day, we conducted our first SOLEs. We began with simple, level-one, fact-seeking questions. This introduced the girls to the research process - in English. We ended the day with a discussion about the difficulties they faced, and how they might overcome them.
Weekend # 2 (Dec 11-12):
After a 2 week break, we began by pushing the girls from a level-one mindset, to the more ambiguous and challenging level-two and three questions, which ask for a synthesis of diverse, and oftentimes conflicting, perspectives. This is the work of college students, so we graduated to this level gradually. We began by asking them to research and present, in 60 min, their "3 favorite grammar rules." It's a corny and boring prompt, but they took to it diligently, and made their Powerpoint presentations, and presented them in English. They got "extra points" for asking each other questions, in English.
Once these presentations were over, we explained the difference in questions (between levels one, two, and three), and told them that most of the work they had done so far fell neatly in the first category. The second and third categories were realms of complex answers with multiple perspectives, converging and diverging arguments, and no "right" answers.
So, we spent the rest of the weekend working on SOLE sessions with questions increasing in complexity and difficulty. We ended with a SOLE and discussion on "the most important ideas in the last 100 years," which prompted them to assess different perspectives, and compare the contributions of different innovations.
Weekend #3 (Dec 18-19):
Friday afternoon, we picked up right away with the complex research questions. Before beginning, however, we spent some time discussing the credibility of websites. We went over the difference between blogs, Wikipedia articles, news sources, and research papers (for the more advanced). We explained how to check an article's credibility, and assess the weight of the argument. Then, we spent the rest of the day tackling a question we borrowed from The School in the Cloud: "What is the importance of storytelling?"
We went through brainstorming techniques, breaking down the question into sizeable bits. We also explained, extensively, that Google does not know all the answers. In the end, we reached a consensus that the question is complex, that is comprises of different fields of knowledge (from neuroscience, to psychology, to marketing), and that a surface understanding is never enough.
It was a good day.
Finally, on Saturday, our last day before a 3-week winter break, we began by asking them: "How will students learn in 2026?" This time, the girls were on their own for the most part, only seeking our help on translating, or poking them with questions to guide them on their way.
For the second half of the day, we introduced the girls to programming through Hour of Code. We (literally) spent an hour on the activity, even though it had taken longer with previous groups. The girls were excited by the prospect of engaging in some of the technologies they had just researched in the "how will students learn in 2026?" prompt, and reacted positively.
All in all, the project has been successful so far, and the SOLEs that we host are improving. We are helping students gradually graduate from level one questions to level two and three, as they deal with problems increasing in complexity.
The challenge that remains ahead of us is providing laptops to the UNRWA school in order to create a center where students can continue to learn. This can only be achieved with your support.
We hope to make this happen, and allow the girls to continue teaching themselves, and their friends, how to learn, and be successful in the 21st century.