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Using SOLO Taxonomy to determine prior knowledge and bring in ideas about Earth’s systems 

Feb 16, 2022 | Solo Taxonomy

SOLO Hexagons Article 2

This four-part series from Pam Hook presents SOLO Hexagons. A fusion of SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking as a powerful strategy for teaching systems thinking. Systems thinking is important for developing informed and active citizens working for the future of their planet. These articles will demonstrate the effective approach of SOLO Hexagons in the classroom by working through an extended example focused on climate change. 

For an introduction to SOLO Hexagons, see Pam’s first article here.

The first article in this series made the general case for SOLO Hexagons as an effective systems thinking strategy to support and advance student thinking about a complex subject such as climate change. Here we look more closely at SOLO Hexagons at work in developing thinking at the SOLO multi-structural (surface) level of understanding.

Working with SOLO Hexagons

Working with SOLO Hexagons, students start by creating a resource of hexagons containing loose ideas associated with climate change (Figure 1). This develops a SOLO multistructural level of understanding of climate change by building familiarity with its component systems, parts and processes. 

For example, when working at an ecosystem level, students can use SOLO Hexagons to explore the component parts and processes of the water cycle, energy flow, Earth’s interacting spheres and/or the carbon cycle (Figure 2). At a cellular level, they can use SOLO Hexagons to explore stomata in the epidermis of plants and how they connect the water cycle and the carbon cycle through gas exchange (carbon dioxide, water vapour and oxygen). 

Figure 1: Creating loose hexagons with ideas about climate change.

Loose hexagons with ideas about climate change

Figure 2: Exploring connections between hexagons showing the pools and flows in the water cycle at an ecosystem level. 

Solo Hexagons - Connected watercycle

Students use the hexagons to help them learn the meaning of scientific vocabulary – defining scientific terms and then using this language to explain how and why energy flows and carbon and water cycles between the spheres in climate systems on planet Earth. Finally, they use the language to determine how these interactions have changed over time. 

Identifying prior knowledge 

To identify students’ prior knowledge and develop their fluency with the scientific language and technical terms related to climate change (overlearning), the teacher pre-labels hexagons with key terms (eg, atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere) and asks students to write definitions in their own words (or convey them with their own images) on the back of the pre-labelled hexagons, which have a by this I mean … or this means … prompt. Students and/or the teacher can add hexagons with other climate change vocabulary at any time.

Because what is relevant constantly changes scale, mapping climate change with hexagon tiles can be like “The song that never ends” by Shari Lewis: if necessary, the hexagons can expand to fill a classroom wall and then some. Alternatively, the task can focus on connections with just a few hexagons. Using tessellating hexagons builds a visual map of the interactions and complex interdependencies involved and their impact on climate, landforms and living things. Students can reorganise the tessellation and add new hexagons as their learning changes.

All of these activities move students closer to the next level of understanding, the SOLO relational level, where students connect and compare the ideas they have generated and develop a deep understanding of climate change.

In the next part of this series: Connecting and comparing ideas about Earth’s systems at a SOLO relational level. 

You can read more about using the powerful strategy of using SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking in Pam Hook’s latest resource SOLO Taxonomy and Hexagonal thinking.

Biggs, JB and Collis, KF (1982) Evaluating the Quality of Learning: The SOLO Taxonomy. New York: Academic Press.
Hodgson, AM (1992) Hexagons for systems thinking. European Journal of Systems Dynamics 59(1).
Hook, P (2015) First Steps with SOLO Taxonomy: Applying the model in your classroom. Invercargill: Essential Resources.
Hook, P (2022, in press) SOLO Taxonomy and Hexagonal Thinking: Using hexagons to think critically, creatively and collaboratively. Invercargill: Essential Resources.



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