Thursday, November 6, 2014


SOLO is a thinking taxonomy that is used widely here in New Zealand. It is a great way to scaffold students towards increased complexity. Although I am very much a newbie to using SOLO taxonomy, I have very much fallen in love with one of its tools, the SOLO hexagons.

Although most teachers are familiar with matching card activities, SOLO hexagons take the tried and true kinaesthetic task to a new level. Rather than just matching definitions, or building a table of ideas, etc. SOLO hexagons allows students to visualise where key ideas might link. When two hexagons touch, students must be able to justify the link between the two hexagons. This is a great activity to quickly visualise just how well students are making sense of the ideas in a topic, especially in a content heavy subject like science.

Yesterday, I tried a new way of using SOLO hexagons. Although the class had that mild state of unease and chaos when you ask students to do something new and challenging, students got settled fairly quickly to a task that really saw all students in the class challenged at an appropriate level. Being able to challenge students at their appropriate level means that every student can feel successful in their learning, hence, my great love for differentiation. The really visual nature of the links also meant that  I could very quickly identify the students that needed additional support. Hence, these students could then go through and identify the words they were unfamiliar with so that we could generate a glossary for them together.

However, this week, I took my hexagon use to the next level with some additional differentiation. Of course, with e-learning and universal design for learning always lurking somewhere in my mind, I made sure that there was a range of references available including videos, articles and cartoons. Some students were given a full set of hexagons with which to find links. Those who managed it quickly were asked to rearrange the ideas to find additional links in the concepts. After that, students were given blank hexagons on which to add additional key concepts or observations from practicals in class. Other groups were given blank hexagons from the beginning with only two or three to get them started. Finally, yet another group were only given blank hexagons. Again, the students who generated their own hexagons had to find and justify their links, and then rearrange to find and justify additional links.

Now am I wondering, how will I refine my SOLO hexagon use next... I'm sure there will be something on Pam Hook's fabulous site. Or on Matt or Andrea's...

Saturday, November 1, 2014

When algebra and art meet...

One of the aspects of our curriculum design at Hobsonville Point Secondary is the way that our learning is presented in contexts. Forces and  scientific investigations are represented this term as rocket designing, megastructures or even paired with the physical education curriculum and biomechanics. I am however particularly excited about my maths module this term. Algebra of art. These two learning areas are not usually seen to cross over, hence when students can use equations to make sense of what they are seeing, they have a pretty radical new understanding of how we might make sense of the world with equations.

Thanks to the google art project with its gigapixel images of artworks from all around the world, my students were able to try their hand at generating equations to represent some of Sol LeWitt's artworks. The range of artworks mean that I was able to differentiate for the students with simpler and harder works. They were able to zoom in and examine the structure in intense detail, looking for patterns within the work. Where this wasn't enough, they also used a Minecraft video of the artwork to help. I have a few who are keen to build the next artworks we will be using and I am excited to see what they generate with their own equations too.

Through my work as an e-learning facilitator, I often hear teachers say that maths has been the hardest learning area within which to introduce e-learning. Within my own practice, I found that it was not until I shifted to teaching students maths in a context that e-learning really became relevant. The example above illustrates this beautifully. We could have looked at a pyramid that I had drawn on the board in in a textbook. Instead, by presenting students with a high resolution, manipulatable source of information and applying their learning in a way that helped them make sense of the world, students were incredibly engaged.

There is of course also the major shift that occurred in my practice after reading Jo Boaler's, The Elephant in the Classroom.  Increasingly, I have presented students with a problem rather than a method. And in the case of the art works above, as students were working, I could move around the room, prompting and teaching skills as they became necessary. The students are incredibly receptive to learning new methods when they are working on the problems as they can genuinely appreciate the "why are we learning this."