Solo Taxonomy, iPads, e-hexagon learning & Explain Everything @PETutor

Over the past couple of months I’ve become increasingly interested in the concept of solo taxonomy and wish to express my thanks to Pam Hook @arti_choke for the explanation of how the taxonomy is best utilised in teaching and learning and for the excellent resources available on her fine website. Visit her site here. Thanks also to @PE4Learning for bringing solo taxonomy to my attention initially and all the great sharing of resources that is taking place in the PE community through; it is much appreciated and in my opinion a ‘go to’ resource for all PE teachers and trainee PE teachers.

Of particular interest to me is the way in which teachers make use of hexagons made of card or paper to help their pupils develop a deeper understanding of their learning. Pupils essentially use the hexagons to build up their understanding of a concept or concepts and are better able to move from shallow thinking through to more in depth thinking by physically linking pieces of information together to create a ‘bigger, deeper’ picture. For more information on hexagon learning, see David Didau’s blog, here.

It was obvious to me that a hexagon learning approach would benefit a good number of my year 10 and 11 pupils, especially in the construction of the longer answers required at GCSE level for the 3 and 4 mark questions, and in particular for the two 6 mark extended answers (Edexcel).

Many of my pupils tend to be able to provide a (unistructural) shallow thinking response (for which they would probably obtain 1 mark out of the 3 or 4 on offer, for example) but are not yet fully adept at developing their responses in sufficient depth so as to access the full marks available. Typically, pupils will use all of the space (lines) available on the exam script to answer a particular question and think they have responded to the question fully, when actually they have made just one point, but managed to spread their answer out over three or four lines (often repeating themselves or writing in larger than usual handwriting!). No doubt, many teachers recognise this scenario!

So where does hexagon learning, iPads and Explain Everything come in? And how can they help?

Firstly, a bit of background: At my school, we are very fortunate to have a fully functional, reliable and successful 1:1 mobile learning project, lead by a most able Director of Academic IT, in which every teacher and pupil has their own iPad. Knowing that the school has a robust wi-fi infrastructure, I can trust the system and I believe it is worthwhile investing time in creating e-resources online or on the iPad which I can be confident my pupils can easily access in my lessons with very few concerns over internet reliability issues. (It’s a privilege to work with such a professional, efficient and competent IT support team – without which my use of technology for teaching and learning would be severely restricted. Thank you – IT Support!!) I do appreciate I am fortunately placed in this regard and recognise that not all teachers are in the same position. That said, to my mind, it would be remiss of me not to take advantage of the structure in situ and so I aim to make the best use of the capabilities the technology available has to offer, where appropriate.

One such resource I have focused on recently is the creation of e-hexagons using the Explain Everything app for the iPad which I distribute to my pupils via Showbie.

In this case, although in a digital format, the principle of hexagon learning remains the same, in that pupils develop their thinking starting from a unistructural (shallow) thinking base and progress into a multistructural stage through to a relational (deeper) phase and, all being well, they may be able to access the extended abstract stage of the taxonomy. The major difference is that the hexagons are on each pupil’s iPad and not physically on the desk. See the video example below.

What are the advantages of this approach, if any?

My thoughts are presented below and are in no particular order of priority.

  • Time and resources – the hexagons only need to be created once on Explain Everything and then distributed to as many pupils as necessary through Showbie with the click of just a few buttons. Time (any money) is saved as there is no need to print multiple hexagons, (perhaps on different colour paper), laminate them and cut them out. (Very time consuming, even with a relatively small number of pupils in your class).
  • Reusable – the same set of hexagons can be used for more than one class, group or set and presented to them in pristine condition, everytime!
  • Colour coded – the use of different coloured hexagons provides guidance to those who need it. To emphasise the importance of developing points beyond simple statements, I use one colour for unistructural points, a different colour for multistructural points and a further different colour for relational points. I encourage each pupil to use all three colours in the development of a point(s) where applicable and that their thought process should progress from colour 1 which links to colour 2 which in turn links to colour 3. In this way, my pupils have a clearer appreciation of the way in which a particular question could / should be developed. Not all pupils need this guidance, but it appears to be helpful for those that do.
  • Templates – when pupils are familiar with the use of e-hexagons, it is possible to provide them with templates (of blank hexagons) for them to fill in on their own. Once they have saved a template on Explain Everything they can return to it many times without the teacher having to create multiple numbers of hexagons for each different topic. This again saves time and money on resource development.
  • Differentiation (personalised learning) – the beauty of developing resources in the digital format is that without too much effort they can be tweaked and amended to suit individual learners. For example, to stretch and challenge pupils I might include a larger number of hexagons with more relational and extended abstract thinking for them to work with, whereas I can reduce the number of hexagons presented to pupils who would benefit from working with a smaller amount of information. Different tasks on the same topic can easily be distributed to individuals using Showbie.
  • Pair – share – even though each individual has their own set of hexagons it is still possible to set up tasks so that pupils work collaboratively. As well as having pupils working in pairs or small groups from the outset another method which works well is to encourage pupils to work individually at first and then to share their thinking with a partner. This allows pupils to articulate their thinking and learning with a view to making their understanding all the clearer; especially if their partner challenges them on why they have placed a certain hexagon in a particular location.
  • Record – a brilliant feature of Explain Everything is that it is possible to record all activity on the screen as well as capturing audio. This means that the movements of the hexagons can be recorded and at the same time the pupil can explain why they have moved a hexagon to a certain location and articulate their thinking and reasoning behind making such a move. (See the video below). For me, this is such a powerful tool because not only does it help pupils really focus on their thinking, it also enables me as the teacher to hear and understand the pupils’ understanding. It’s great for picking up misconceptions and also for developing pupils’ thinking.
  • Display using air server – if you have air server or Apple TV in your classroom it is possible for pupils to project their hexagon learning on the whiteboard or TV so that it can be shared with the whole class. This allows exemplars to be shown and again gives the opportunity for pupils to articulate their thinking. I have also found that projecting a poorly or incorrectly developed example (my own) enables the class to work together to make any necessary corrections and to improve upon the original attempt.
  • Save learning – another great advantage of operating in the digital arena is that pupils’ learning can be saved. How often have we as teachers witnessed great, rich learning taking place in lessons only for it to be lost when the moment has passed or when the lesson has finished? With Explain Everything, both the process of learning and the finished outcome of the task can be recorded and saved so that it can be referred back to. A perfect revision resource and a wonderful way to demonstrate that individual progress is being made.
  • Modelling – the use of the Explain Everything app enables me to model hexagon learning to my pupils and as mentioned above, allows the teacher to explain how the system works as well as the reasoning and thinking behind the placement of each hexagon. Pupils can easily see ‘what a good one looks like’ and understand what is required to create a ‘good one’ themselves. See the video below.
  • Homework – e-hexagon learning does not have to be restricted to lesson time. Provided pupils have internet access at home (and Explain Everything on their iPad or iPhone) this could be set as a purposeful homework task and / or in preparation for a written extended answer (the 6 marker) for the next lesson.


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Written by @PE4Learning
Founder of PE4Learning - Sharing Creative PE Ideas and Resources