One of the greatest challenges I face as a teacher is helping students visualize the forest instead of just the trees. A lot of times I get excited when students make connections because connecting ideas is actually a really difficult task! Often times, schooling and assessment reward students for mastering procedural work (ex: how to long divide) rather than applying a skill to a more complex system (ex: how a ratio might apply to cooking or engineering). It's not unordinary for me to teach an A+ student who scores super well on the quizzes, but can't really explain to me how Biochemistry actually relates to his/her everyday life. I strive to help my students make connections and help them focus on the big picture (so they can actually enjoy what they're learning!) but unfortunately a lot of students see school as a procedural series of obstacles rather than a creative endeavor. I want my kids to be creative problem solvers, not academic robots. And to do that, they need to be able to see systems, connections, and complexity.
Enter Hexagonal Thinking. I stumbled across Hexagonal Thinking while listening to the Cult of Pedagogy podcast (highly recommend for my fellow educators!). The purpose of Hexagonal Thinking is to 1) serve as a catalyst for group discussion and 2) help students visualize complexity and connections. Students work together (I tried groups of 2-4) to match related terms with each other.
Some examples of student work from this past week!
So why try Hexagonal Thinking?
1. There are dozens of correct ways that students can map a system from a given list of terms. And the endless possibilities is what sparks conversation among critical thinkers. Should they put "Life" in the middle of the map? Or "Biochemistry"? Either way will yield a different end product.
2. Once students realize there's no one right answer, suddenly there's more possibilities for creativity and debate. It was cool to watch students debate over which terms should connect with what.
3. Hexagonal thinking can be used in almost every subject area and works under both in person and remote learning conditions
4. It's a low stakes, group worthy activity that encourages students to make connections and think critically. A lot of kids told me it was harder than they expected!
One of my goals this year is to get my kids to become systems thinkers. One advantage of remote learning conditions is that kids are literally learning in their real worlds (rather than the bubble of school). What better time than now to get kids to think broadly and creatively rather than get stuck in the weeds of trying to cover as much content as possible. If you try hexagonal thinking, let me know how it goes!