Welcome to my Professional Learning blog.
My name is Matt Nicoll and I am a high school teacher in New Zealand, interested in improving the classroom experience for my students. I am open to trialing new approaches and hope to use this blog to reflect on my ideas and practices.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Exploring Organic Chemistry with SOLO

At the #edchatNZ Conference, I was part of an "unconference" session where we talked about giving the students the power to direct and plan their own learning. I shared a (failed) experiment at doing this last year with some of my classes. I have blogged about the initial idea and some positive reflections. However, assessment results did not mirror the levels of engagement I observed in class, which did make me despondent about the idea.

I was challenged about the reasons for its "failure" (in terms of student results), and asked if I would try it again. I was offered some great ideas for using SOLO hexagons to help make the links between concepts more transparent to the students. The acceptance that I cannot compare the exam results of one group of students to another as a valid measure has reinvigorated me about the idea. The positivity about my initial plan and the constructive criticism I was offered in the "unconference" session has "sealed the deal" for me - time to try it again...

This blogpost will be a "living document" until the end of our Organic Chemistry unit in my Year 12 Chemistry class. I have asked my students to share their learning with me via written and/or videoed feedback, and asked their permission to record their journey. We have school exams next week, so I will be able to gauge their level of understanding and thinking quite shortly.

DESCRIBE the Compounds

I prepared some SOLO Taxonomy hexagons containing the names of the seven types of compounds we have studied (or need to study this week). There is a great hexagon generator on Pam Hook's website.


The students spent today cutting them out and writing "study notes" on the back on them. They have been given absolute freedom to choose:
  • the order to fill them out in
  • how much detail to include on each card
  • whether to work individually or to collaborate

EXPLORE the Compounds

Our trolley of chemicals for the remainder of the unit.
I have given the students some page references from our textbook, Beginning Chemistry (Wignall and Wales) and some experiments they may choose to carry out. I have directed them to past examination papers and provided PowerPoints on Moodle, our Learning Management System. I have asked the technician to prepare a trolley with all of the possible chemicals (that I can think of) required to explore these compounds. The students have access to NetBooks, if they want them. I have made videos and blogposts to direct the learning.

My students have been challenged with the following "ultimate" outcomes:
  1. Can you find (and explain) all the possible links between these compounds? CONNECT the hexagons in such a way that this is represented visually. I will challenge you to justify why certain hexagons are touching!
  2. Can you EXPAND on every bullet-point/note on the back of each card? I will challenge you to do this over the next few lessons!
  3. I am going to choose any two hexagons at random. Can you FIND a link between them, even if it is via another hexagon? Can you explain how I would tell those two compounds apart? Can you tell me how to turn one of them into the other?
One student's idea of the links between each type of compound.

REFLECTIONS of the Idea

I will write this next week, once I have talked to students about their learning and seen their assessment results... Watch this space.

1 comment:

  1. Great reflection Matt - love the way you are structuring the student learning experiences so that you can be a skilled and active evaluator of the effect you have on student learning outcomes. Not everything we are enthusiastic about in education prompts for deeper learning outcomes. I think SOLO hexagons will be an effective strategy when students are exploring molecular structure and function in organic chemistry and suspect it may be helpful to replace some of the text - or offer as an addition - line and angle molecular diagrams or even photos of ball and stick structures. Will be interested to see how students' learning outcomes change - and what you will use (measure) to determine any shift.

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