Tip: Hexagonal Thinking
A technique of movement and negotiation that prompts students to consider connections not previously seen in their own reading of course materials.
This strategy was shared with me a few weeks ago, and because I love learning about new teaching strategies, I was excited to do some research. Hexagonal thinking asks students to make connections between concepts within a unit or assignment, and to extend these connections to other course assignments - and even to other courses. The strategy uses a visual and hands-on (or, "mouse-on" for our remote learners) method of creating a series of hexagon tiles labeled with significant course concepts, and then engaging students in a process of fitting the tiles into a grid that expresses the connections (points where the hexagons touch), as in the image below.
Create the hexagons. The first step is to populate the tiles with core course concepts. You can offer a list of ideas, or ask students to generate their own list. The focus is on connections, so you’ll want to think about both specific ideas (a particular metaphor used in a work the class read; one mathematical theorem) and more overarching ideas (a theme seen across several works of literature; a problem-solving strategy that might span different math courses).
Arrange the hexagons. Students can do this work on their own, but the strategy is really designed to get students engaged in discussion and negotiation of tile placement with a small group. Students can be encouraged to move the tiles around to change how the connections they identify are expressed visually in the overall diagram. This process of movement and negotiation is what prompts students to consider connections that they hadn’t previously seen in their own reading of course materials.
Label key connections. The next step is to ask students to step back and identify key connections with arrows (as in the image below). The goal is to have students reflect on which connections are more powerful or more significant, again negotiating this with their group members.
Explain the connections. The final piece asks student to articulate these key connections in a brief written (or oral) response. Finishing with this summary activity solidifies the new understandings, but also provides a piece of work that can be evaluated and on which an instructor can provide feedback.
I think this strategy could be a really interesting one to experiment with in any class, but particularly in courses where students are being asked to think - and perhaps work - cross-disciplinarily.
If you’re interested in trying this out with your remote students, here is the Google Drawing template for a hexagon board I used in the examples above. The link will prompt you to make a copy of the drawing for yourself, after which you can edit and insert into any Google document (slideshow, etc.), or use the drawing itself live with students to work in collaboratively.
I would love to hear about your experiences with this strategy, if you’ve tried it, or other connections-focused techniques!
For more reading…
Using ‘Hexagonal Thinking’ to Deepen Classroom Conversations
Cult of Pedagogy published a recent interview with a K12 instructional designer about the technique
Slightly longer discussion of hexagonal thinking in a math classroom