The point of SOLE questions is to challenge the children and
stimulate them into figuring and finding out the answers: for
themselves, but not by themselves - once assigned to teams, they
spontaneously work together. It's the self-organization or
socialization that they do, the "society" and collegiate
environment that they create, the fact of them doing all this
organization on their own, that makes a SOLE workshop work.
Guidance from grownups is necessary at times; you don't want to
take a dogmatic hands-off stance. I gave the children a question
in Latin and they just stared at me. These particular American
kids did not know the concept of "translation." So I taught them
the vocabulary word, saying "When you take a sentence from one
language and turn it into another language, that is called
'translating.'" And I wrote the word "translate" on the board.
That was all they needed to then find Google Translate, and they
were off and running.
Running a SOLE workshop is a bit of an art, but if you as leader
neither over-involve yourself (suggestion - try always to see if
there is a way to enable the children to succeed in finding out
answers for themselves), nor absent yourself when you are needed
(for example in case of a behavior prosblem), you will do just
fine; the kids will do the rest. In a short while you'll hit your
Here's a quote regarding questions from Dr. Mitra:
It is important not to 'aim low' and ask questions with
easy answers. "How many countries are there?" can be typed word
for word into a search engine and answered almost immediately.
A different group of kids might come up with slightly, or even very,
different answers. If they're missing a very important point, you
might help direct their attention or inquiry. Otherwise you may just
leave whatever they're missing out on, for a later time, another
SOLE workshop, or even a different form of presentation or
exploration of that topic (such as telling them a story or reading
I once asked a group of 10 year olds in the little town of Villa
Mercedes in Argentina: Why do we have five fingers and toes on
each limb? What's so special about five? ... The children arrived
at their answer by investigating both theology and evolution,
discovering the five bones holding the web on the first
amphibians' fins, and studying geometry. Their investigation
resulted in this final answer: The strongest web that can be
stretched the widest must have five supports.
Here are some more SOLE questions you may ask. Many come from
documents written by Dr. Mitra - others, I've added, found, and/or
- Where did language come from?
- Did dinosaurs really exist and if so, when?
- Who was Pythagorus and what did he do?
- Or, in Latin: Qui fuit Pythagorus et quid fecit?
- I like to write this up on the board and not tell the kids
what language it is. In the U.S. Midwest, a lot of them figure
it's Spanish, which I don't generally bother to correct.
- Sometimes I need to teach them the word "translate." That's
enough for them to find their way to Google Translate and
proceed from there. Kids get a bang out of this.
- Where is Calcutta?
- How does the physical and climactic environment we have in
Australia affect the way we live?
- You can ask this question as is - the kids understand about
answering as if they live in Australia.
- Or you can modify the question, substituting where kids
- What is the purpose of theater?
- Who made space?
- What did the Vikings believe about God?
- What was ancient Egypt really like?
- What kinds of animal are endangered and why?
- What is the function of the human skeleton?
- How does a solid turn to a liquid, then to a gas?
- What is the Greenhouse Effect?
- Why do we slip on wet pavement but not on dry?
- Why do we dream?
- Can you kill a goat by staring at it?
- Was the color "orange" named after the fruit or vice versa?
- How do my eyes know to cry when I'm sad?
- Why aren't there any mammals bigger than a blue whale?
- Do boys think differently from girls?
- Can anything be less than zero?
- Will robots be conscious one day?
- Is it more dangerous to fly in an airplane or to drive?
- Are there more stars in the universe or grains of sand on all
the world's beaches?
- What is irony?
- What are ions?
- Why do things fall down and not up or sideways?
- What is altruism?
- Do fish feel pain?
- Is it disgusting to eat insects?
- Why haven't we seen evidence of intelligent alien life?
(Fermi's question: where are they?)
- What are the five best tips for better searching on Google?
- The Colosseum:
- Say "I was playing with Google Maps today and I want to show
- Zoom in on Italy on Google Maps, and then on Rome, and
finally end up at the Colosseum.
- Ask: "What's that big round building and why is it broken?"
- Potential result: The kids learn about the Roman Empire and
- Electronic location:
- Say: "Are you awake and full of energy today? I have a
really hard but important question for you.
- Ask: How does a smart phone know where it is? Tablets can do
it, too. You can ask for your location, or mine, and it tells
you. How does it do that?"
- Potential result: The kids learn about GPS, satellites, cell
phone towers, and trigonometry.
- Say: "You know what, I don't really feel like standing here
and talking all afternoon. But I have a puzzle for you to
solve, if you can."
- Ask: "Can you guess what rubies, sapphires, and airplanes
all have in common?"
- You may want to write the three words on the board.
- Potential result: Kids figure out the answer: aluminum.
- Ask: "How do we use aluminum?"
- Ask: "How cheap is aluminum?" "Did it always cost the same?"
- What's a proton, anyway?
- What is culture?
- What is society?
- How did the world begin? How will it end?