Post: SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking in the classroom



SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking in the classroom

Pam Hook presents the first of a four-part series on SOLO Hexagons – a fusion of SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking as a powerful strategy for teaching systems thinking.
SOLO Hexagons

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.

Grow informed and active citizens through systems thinking

Never has it been more important to teach students strategies for systems thinking. As our planet faces serious interconnected systemic challenges, our students need effective strategies. Strategies to help them think critically, creatively and collaboratively. With effective systems thinking strategies, students are better equipped to find out how the constituent parts in a system interrelate. And how any individual system works within other interrelated systems, including how these systems and relationships change over time.

Well-grounded systems thinking has real-world implications. It supports students to become citizens who take an informed and active role in shaping the future of their planet. The critical nature of this role is clear in the context of the highly significant challenges we face in addressing climate change. Climate change is not easily resolved because it involves thinking about many interconnected systems with many interconnected causes and impacts.

How SOLO Hexagons can help

SOLO Hexagons is a powerful strategy for teaching systems thinking that combines the strengths of:

  • hexagonal thinking, which was originally developed for systems thinking in business (Hodgson 1992), and
  • Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO) Taxonomy (Biggs and Collis 1982), a dynamic, levelled but non-linear, recursive model for growth in understanding.

Fusing the two for use in schools has resulted in the SOLO Hexagons strategy (Hook 2015, 2021). SOLO Hexagons meets all the criteria for effective systems thinking strategies: it is flexible and adaptive, used collaboratively and individually by all ages (five years to adult), with content at varying levels of cognitive complexity and developmental difficulty. Students of all ages work through a process structured to develop different levels of thinking that are aligned with SOLO Taxonomy (Figure 1):

  • Students share their individual knowledge by placing data on hexagon tiles, in collaboration with other students. This surfacing ideas stage is aligned with the SOLO multistructural level of understanding (surface understanding).
  • Students reduce the responses through forming clusters (tessellations) of tiles. The connecting ideas stage is aligned with the SOLO relational level of understanding (deep understanding).
  • Finally, students zoom out to identify a shared problem, solution, insight or abstraction by group synthesis of the linked responses. This far-extend stage is aligned with the SOLO extended abstract level of understanding (deep and/or conceptual understanding).

SOLO Taxonomy also opens the way for meaningful formative assessment: the observed learning outcomes visually align with different levels of cognitive complexity, making it easy for students to self-assess the level of their learning outcome and to understand their next steps.

Figure 1: How hexagonal thinking aligns with SOLO Taxonomy

Step 1. Surfacing relevant ideas on hexagon tiles

Step 2. Finding meaning by connecting ideas on tiles

[connect using because, but, so]

Step 3. Drawing conclusions from the connected ideas

[make a claim … because … because …]

Acquiring and consolidating ideas

Interpreting ideas

Making meaning – critical thinking 

Defending ideas

Evaluating ideas – critical thinking;
Extending ideas, thinking in a new way – creative thinking

Surface understanding
Deep understanding
Deep or conceptual understanding
SOLO unistructural and multistructural levelsSOLO relational levelSOLO extended abstract level

Using SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking to explore climate change

Coming to grips with the literacy of climate change – how and why it occurs and its impact on individuals and society – requires students to have surface and deep understanding of climate science and the complex interactions among Earth’s spheres. Further, each sphere (atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere) has its own systems with component parts, interacting pools (sinks or sumps), flows and processes. Keeping in mind all of these different interdependencies of climate change at the same time imposes a great cognitive load.

Using SOLO Hexagons as a systems thinking strategy reduces the cognitive load so that students can advance in their thinking about such a complex subject that requires solutions urgently. The remaining three articles in this series demonstrate how SOLO Hexagons can develop systems thinking in relation to climate change. Each article focuses on developing one level of SOLO Taxonomy: multistructural (surface), relational (deep) or extended abstract (deep or conceptual) thinking.

In the next part of this series: Determining prior knowledge and bringing in ideas about Earth’s systems at a SOLO multi-structural 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.

About the author

Pam Hook is an educational consultant who advises schools and institutions in New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and the Pacific Islands on developing curricula and pedagogies for learning to learn based on SOLO Taxonomy. She is a popular keynote speaker at conferences. Pam is author of more than 25 books on SOLO Taxonomy, including titles translated into Danish, and has developed a series of SOLO web-based apps, Apple iPad apps and YouTube videos.


2 thoughts on “SOLO Taxonomy and hexagonal thinking in the classroom”

    1. Might I suggest you consider purchasing Hook, P. (2022). SOLO Taxonomy and Hexagonal Thinking. Using hexagons to think critically, creatively, and collaboratively. Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited. New Zealand.

      This book makes clear the theory and practice of solo taxonomy and hexagonal thinking. It provides many useful examples of its application in the classroom to increase understanding of this powerful strategy for thinking critically, creatively and collaboratively.

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