Post: Connecting and comparing ideas about Earth’s systems with SOLO Taxonomy 



Connecting and comparing ideas about Earth’s systems with SOLO Taxonomy 

In the third part of the series, Pam Hook explores how SOLO Hexagons can support students to move to a deeper level of understanding – the SOLO relational level - in relation to climate change.
SOLO Hexagons and SOLO Taxonomy

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 previous article applied SOLO Hexagons, as an effective systems thinking strategy, to the task of developing student thinking at the SOLO multi-structural (surface) level on the complex subject of climate change. Here we explore how SOLO Hexagons can support students to move to a deeper level of understanding – the SOLO relational level. We can see the development of this understanding at work in relation to climate change as they connect ideas about Earth’s systems and compare past and present human activity in terms of its impact on those systems. 

Connecting ideas about Earth’s systems with SOLO Hexagons

At the SOLO relational level of understanding, students move past identifying and labelling individual hexagons and start to make connections between them. They identify the flows and processes that connect the different spheres or component parts of the planet, such as the processes that connect the oceans and surface water with the soil and vegetation and with the sedimentary rocks, calcium carbonate and deep-sea sediments. Extra hexagons for the stages and processes in the carbon and water cycles are introduced. Students then identify and explain how biological physiological processes in the cycles – respiration, photosynthesis and/or decomposition – are involved in each connection. 

During this part of the activity, students interpret or make meaning of the ideas they have collected. Understanding the “how and why” of climate change is more challenging than simply labelling the water cycle or drawing a diagram showing the path of energy flow though Earth’s spheres. As students start to connect hexagons, they add annotations explaining how and why the tiles are connected (Figure 1). Teachers use hexagon connectives because, but, so to prompt relational thinking. These prompts connect the different elements of students’ understanding, shifting it to a deeper or SOLO relational level.  

Figure 1: Tessellating hexagons prompt connections between spheres 

SOLO Taxonomy Connections Spheres

Note: The SOLO relational symbol indicates each place where an annotation explains the connection. 

Comparing the impact of past and present human activity on Earth’s systems  

At this next step, students use the hexagon models to make deeper connections. They start to focus on the influence of human activities on the spheres, cycles, pools and flows. They use the hexagons to describe how and explain why human activities influence the different component parts of the cycles and the consequences or flow-on effects of these changes on Earth’s systems – and in giving causal explanations, they use connectives like because, but and so 

In completing this activity, students come to understand how burning fossil fuels impacts the various cycles, pools and processes connecting Earth’s spheres. They explore how burning fossil fuels today differs from burning fossil fuels in the past and how the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere differs as a result. Students think about the systems involved and how any human-induced changes in temperature and weather patterns are affecting people, places and the planet today and how they might do so in the future (Figure 2). 

Figure 2: Hexagon tessellations showing the influence of human activities on climate change.

SOLO Taxonomy human activities land use

SOLO Taxonomy example

Note: The SOLO relational symbol indicates each place where an annotation explains the connection. 

As they develop their understanding at the relational level, students move beyond slogans to begin to understand the systems-level impact of the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Students who can think systematically understand the critical difference between the interconnecting cycles and Earth’s spheres in pre-industrial times and the present. They understand the cries for urgent action in climate change. This deep understanding prepares them to move to the SOLO extended abstract level of thinking – the deep and conceptual understanding that is the focus of the next and final article in this series. 

In the next part of this series: Taking action to resolve climate change at an extended abstract SOLO 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.


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