Thursday, 28 November 2013

Adventures in real-science-land

As a follow up to my previous post here I gave a talk last term at an EduIgnite evening and here is the video link: Adventures in real-science-land

The nature of science often portrayed in schools... clean, easy, straightforward


Real science - messy, challenging, convoluted.

SOLO journeying

A long time between posts! Better late than never, however.

My big inquiry project this year has been to instigate elements of the SOLO taxonomy into my teaching, and below is some of my analysis of how successful it was. (Apologies for the slightly hard to follow data, I gave up trying to make it pretty!)

SOLO inquiry:

I trialled introducing SOLO taxonomy into Y12 biology as a way of improving student’s ability to answer questions to the correct depth for each component.

For example, a question on photosynthesis might have the process of photosynthesis under the ‘describe’ part of the question, with the bulk of the answer expected to be about the structure and function of the chloroplast organelles that carry out the process, however students were spending the bulk of their time writing about the process in depth, even though this could only provide an ‘A’ grade for that question.

I saw SOLO taxonomy as a way of breaking down the meaning of ‘describe’, ‘explain’ and ‘discuss’ for them, so they could not only write their answers more appropriately to how the question was worded, but also so that they could self-assess and see what level their understanding was at for each part of the various topics.

This also easily allowed for differentiation, as students could see which activities were more appropriate for their own personal level of understanding, and what they could do to improve themselves up to the next level. It also was intended to give them a clearer idea of exactly what was expected from them.

I used two published sources for ideas about how SOLO could be implemented, as well as extensive use of the website:

Solo taxonomy: A guide for schools: A common language of learning, book 1 / Hook, Pam

Using SOLO as a framework for teaching : a case study in maximising achievement in science / Martin, Steve  

Analysis of SOLO introduction in Year 12:

Student feedback was sought at the end of the year, and the results are below.
Generally, students has positive feedback towards the use of SOLO, and have said in informal conversations that it has helped them see how to answer questions and self-assess their level of understanding.

Students were first asked whether SOLO had been useful or not, and then this initial response was broken down as to how and why, and what could be done to improve it.

The above as a word cloud:

For the one student that didn't find SOLO useful, this is their response... (it is interesting to note that this student is very high-achieving who never attains grades below E).

Photos from my use of SOLO throughout the year...
(apologies for shiny whiteboard pics!)

Differentiation of activities for revision:

Differentiation and help for self-analysis:

Use of SOLO hexagons to help the process of writing a clear, concise essay answer:

Differentiation based on self-analysis of understanding:

Placement of SOLO posters within classroom to help students understand SOLO in a visual way:

SOLO in Year 8:

A colleague and I also trialled a more basic idea behind SOLO with our year 8 science classes. We didn’t use the ‘multistructural/relational/extended abstract’ words, but used the hexagons to show how ideas could be linked together, and more importantly that you couldn’t form a discussion without pieces of factual information.

Although the data collected was informal, we both noticed an improvement in the way that our students had constructed their discussion questions in a term test, as compared to in the previous terms. Because it was a one-time activity, it was not possible to follow it up, but the fact that the students found it easy to understand suggests that future incorporation of SOLO techniques into levels as low as Y8 are a possibility.

SOLO and HOT maps:

SOLO is tightly linked to the use of HOT maps, although I have tried to get away from that kind of use. My aim has been to focus more on the basic principles behind SOLO, especially focusing on student self-analysis of their own level of understanding; however there is an avenue to be explored at linking HOT maps more closely to SOLO.


I intend to use SOLO in all of my classes next year to one degree or another – I feel it is more useful for NCEA years, however an introduction at year 10 would allow students to get used to using it, as opposed to having yet another thing to cope with in Y11 and above. Overall, I found the feedback positive.

Very interestingly, the only negative feedback was from a student that achieves very highly, and she said that it didn’t help her writing style, as she already innately understands what level to answer questions at.