Hexagonal Brainstorming

Back in December, I went to the Google Teacher Academy in Austin, Texas. As part of our experience, we did some design thinking, including some hexagonal thinking. It was one of my favorite ideas from GTA, but honestly, I kind of forgot about it... until last week. 

Last week was Ed Camp San Jose. I love ed camps because they generally draw some really smart people that I love, and they allow me to spend time talking with those smart people. Beforehand, Karl asked me if I had any session ideas, and after listening to a vox of his on Tracy Clark's session on hexagonal thinking at CUE, I suggested it. And so he brought some hexagon cut-outs, and we sat and thought with some awesome people about how we can encourage internal motivation in students. 

As we wrapped up, we began thinking of ways that we could use this method in our own classrooms. I really appreciated this about that day. I feel like a lot of conferences lately have been geared to tech coaches, but to me, there's something invaluable about talking to people currently in the classroom. We thought about using it for test review or thesis brainstorming or project brainstorming. 

So what is hexagonal thinking? Basically, it's using two-inch hexagons to create a web ideas, generally around some problem. So you start with a question, like, "How do we encourage students to be self-motivated," and you write an idea on a hexagon. It might say, "give an authentic audience," or "give students a choice of topic." As you place hexagons on the table, you look for how your ideas connect and place them next to the connecting ideas. So, for example, both of these ideas might connect to "create a connection between learning and a student's personal life." Over time they develop into a web like the one shown to the right.

And so today, after receiving my hexagon puncher in the mail yesterday, I tried it out.

My students are reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and we're analyzing the comments she makes on American society. I gave a 90-second tutorial of how hexagonal thinking works, and set them to work exploring these comments in groups of three or four. As they worked, I jumped in and added hexagons. I wasn't necessarily planning to get involved, but I quickly realized this was invaluable. I got to model to them finding depth in ideas and the ways that ideas are connected. 

After about twenty minutes, I polled the groups on the "main ideas" that they had surrounded by details. Almost every group had three: government, fashion, and entertainment. I had them take that section of their group's web, and move to a topic-based table. Then each student chose one of those tables that they were most interested in to explore. They found which hexagons overlapped and which ones expanded topics, and then they began to add more ideas. 

As we debriefed, we realized that we went into a lot more depth than we expected and decided that it would be really easy to create a thesis statement with all of these details fleshed out before us. Further, we realized that each of the three topics then expanded into sub topics that we could easily use as body paragraphs in an essay.

I think the biggest conclusion we came to is the power of many brains working together. As one student put it, "We found a lot more than if we were just brainstorming by ourselves or with a partner." Woot. This is totally the culture of teamwork I work to reinforce in my classroom.