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.
So far in this series we have explored how SOLO Hexagons, as an effective systems thinking strategy, can develop student thinking at the SOLO multi-structural (surface) and relational (deep) levels on the complex subject of climate change. Here we explore how SOLO Hexagons can shift students’ understanding about climate change to a conceptual or SOLO extended abstract level, in which they extend their ideas and think in new ways.
Shift understanding and extending ideas with SOLO hexagons
In this final phase of our extended example, the tessellations and clusters that students developed at multi-structural and relational phases of the activity prompt them to make far-extend generalisations, evaluations and predictions, and to reach new creative insights. Students are charged with stepping back and looking at the big picture represented in the tessellation of hexagons so that they can make an overarching claim:
Overall this makes me wonder [insert claim], because [insert reason], because [insert justification or evidence].
As students share their reasons for connection, they engage in “What if” or “What does this make you wonder?” thinking. It leads to new ways of thinking about the ideas, the start of creative thinking. Students broaden their hexagonal thinking by identifying the underlying problems causing climate change and developing a solution to combat or mitigate the impact of climate change. That is, they are challenged to take action.
This step involves critical and creative thinking about the extent and nature of the impact (positive, neutral and negative) of climate change and imagining the best way of resolving negative impacts. It leads to a call for action where students are motivated to ask what they can do to address the impact of climate change. What acts of citizenship can they undertake to best combat or mitigate the negative impacts of climate change? Coming up with possible solutions also requires systems thinking.
Working at this task level is too often overwhelming – we grasp at solutions without considering the flow-on effects of our proposals. Without the support of SOLO Hexagons, it becomes a reimagining task that is akin to arriving at a job interview and having 10 minutes to mock up one of Joseph Herscher’s Rube Goldberg complex chain reaction machines when you were expecting to be asked about the steps needed to make a cup of instant noodles.
In contrast, SOLO Hexagons reduces the cognitive load, making it easier for students to extend their thinking, to come up with new ways of looking at the challenges and to back up or defend their proposals. The clusters of hexagons act as a memory and language support resource that students can refer to and use to track the way their solution might affect the different systems involved.
Through studying the tessellations of hexagons that model the causes and consequences of climate change, students are in a good position to think systematically about the interactions and issues. They are better placed to make informed decisions about where should they intervene in the interacting systems for best effect. They are informed citizens.
Similarly, it is at this extended abstract stage of their thinking that New Zealand researchers have looked at developing burp-reducing diets of plantain pastures and training cows to use urine-collecting toilets (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Extending hexagonal thinking to imagine solutions to underlying systemic problems.
SOLO hexagonal thinking – an effective way of strengthening thinking skills
In this series I have described how SOLO Hexagons develops and extends student thinking at the SOLO multi-structural (surface), relational (deep) and extended abstract (deep and conceptual) levels. With its easy six-sided connections, this systems thinking strategy – which combines SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking –offers an easy and effective way of helping students strengthen their literacy about a complex subject such as climate change. Using the strategy makes students’ thinking visible, protects students from cognitive overload and enables them to monitor their learning progress from surface to deep outcomes as their understanding develops and extends across the different curriculum levels.
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.