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Hexagonal Thinking

Hexagonal thinking is not a new concept. I learned about it six or seven years ago. I spent most of "covid" digitizing my lessons to be completed as interactive slides and pictures and more or less pushed my hexagonal thinking tasks to the side. Now, that we are back to full in-person learning I find my students are more engaged with hands-on non-digital tasks. Whether this is a "covid-effect" of remote learning I am not entirely sure. What I do know is I have brought back some of my old activities and engagement has been high. One of these activities is hexagonal thinking tasks in my units. I am just finishing work on my Dendroclimatology unit and I reintroduced hexagonal thinking into the unit as a review. This is the first time I have done hexagonal thinking with these students so it was a bit of a bumpy road to start.

I most often see hexagonal thinking activities in ELA and History/Social Studies classrooms, it hasn't quite made its way into the mainstream science classroom. However, I find it a powerful tool to have students make strong connections to the materials, and the depth of the conversations students have been engaging.

What is hexagonal thinking?

When you place an idea on a hexagon, it has six sides where connections could be made to other ideas. When you place many ideas on many hexagons, the discussion about where to connect will be different every time. Every group will come up with a different web, every time. throughout the activity, they will question other groups on their connections, arguing about which idea connects more to that other concept.

  1. Begin by choosing ideas or concepts from a reading, a book, or a unit to create your hexagons. Pam Hook from HookEd has a hexagonal generator where you can create your own set of large or small hexagons. You can also just grab one of my hexagonal sets that are already made for you. (Shameless Plug 😄 )

  2. Cut or have students cut out all the hexagons. Get yourself a hexagonal punch from the craft store for those hexagonal thinking activities where students are creating all the concepts and themes for the hexagons.

Student Guidelines

  1. Categorize: After the hexagons are cut out, students should start to make links between the concepts and themes. As students make links with all of their hexagons, they should categorize them by using colored pencils and underlining each term (think about what big buckets or umbrellas the ideas fall into). On their big paper, students should have their categories listed, with very brief descriptions in a Key/Legend.

  2. Synthesize: Students take each of the hexagons and see how they combine to create the entire understanding of dendrochronology. Each hexagon should touch at least one side of another, to create one structure (NO ISLANDS).

Students can add hexagons if that helps them connect concepts and ideas, so it is a good idea to always include several blanks.

3. Have students conduct a Gallery Walk to explore other groups. Ask "What are 5 similarities and 5 differences you observe between the groupings and connections. "

4. Then, ask students "Would you change any of your connections based on what you saw with other groups?"

5. Make it official and glue your hexagons onto your poster/notebook page.

6. Wherever they can, identify the connections that are made by writing off to the side (annotating) how/why they connect.

7. Summarize: Students should develop a succinct and complete summary statement using their categories. Each of their categories should be referenced in this summary statement. [This is a task that I ask them to submit individually]

8. Question: Looking over their creation and those of other classmates, hopefully, new ideas will emerge. Students can use this time to come up with some great higher-level questions about the main concept from what you see before them. You will want to steer them away from “What if this didn’t happen …” and dig into specific or general aspects of the concept. [This again is an individual task I give them].

9. Evaluate: Ask your DOK3-4 questions on your main concept. Those questions that show a student's level of understanding and hit your competency transfer statements.

How to implement Hexagonal thinking in the classroom:

There are several ways you can add hexagonal thinking activities in your classroom.

  1. Whole-Class instruction

I created a set of manipulatives for my whiteboard. I printed out hexagons on different colored paper and then cut and laminated them. I added a magnet to the back as my whiteboard is magnetic. I can then, use them for whole group instruction as we are building our concept web. This is a great activity to do when you are just introducing hexagonal thinking into your classroom at the beginning of the year. One of my first days' lessons is to have students create a hexagonal web about themselves. I start introducing the web concept by creating a web about my dog Tucker.

I start by listing things about my Tucker. Tucker loves whip-its, walks, swimming but not baths, is a black lab......etc. Using my dog, allows me to share something about myself, make connections with my students, laugh with them about our pet's antics, and sneakily teach them a new skill. Once I have my list, as a class, we create 3 categories that all my ideas fall into. When I am first introducing hexagons, I limit the categories to 3, but I do not limit the number of categories in future lessons. Now, I add my ideas to my hexagons and I start building connections and annotating as I go about the connections between all the hexagons.

Then, students create their own web using the same procedure on anything of their choosing. So we can all learn about each other. This is perfect for those beginning of the year Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons to help build relationships with your students.

2. Small-Group

Students work in small groups to discuss the connections between the hexagons. I find this to be the most powerful and engaging way for students to complete hexagonal thinking activities. This also helps to reinforce scientific vocabulary as they talk to each other and ask questions of each other and me. What is sequestration again? What is transpiration? While they can be frustrating as a teacher, [because we've been over this how many times 🙄] at least they are asking questions and having conversations.

3. Independent

At times, I will have students work on hexagonal thinking tasks on their own before pairing up and exchanging ideas. Sometimes our group dynamics are challenging and we need a break from group work and students want to work independently. As long as students have shown they can collaborate in other ways, and on other assignments, I allow them the flexibility to work independently when I can.

Check out my hexagonal thinking activity for my dendrochronology unit here.


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