Hacking positive learner characteristics

Not so much *actual hacking, but a post about how my
learners have developed positive learner characteristics and demonstrated them
this week, utilising the Hackasaurus website.

My AS Sociologists have now finished the first of
three public outcomes projects that they will undertake before the end of the
academic year. The purpose of these projects is to give my learners a taste of
A2 content, and make the work and lesson time after the AS exams as meaningful
as possible. Since I am no longer pushing the class for a January exam, I
decided that they would undertake three projects, all of which have public
outcomes – the point of which was to encourage them to strive for higher levels
of literacy as well as evaluation, as they know there was the potential for an
audience other than me to see their work. The three projects were:

1- Use Hackasaurus to publish their own primary
research on self-report crime studies.

2- Create a blog on primary research on victim surveys,
and then use FiSH feedback to comment on the work of others.

3- Use AppShed to create an information app on crime
statistics in the local area, again based on their own research.

It occurred to me when planning these tasks that I
have the luxury of some time here to really work on two core skill sets with my
students: literacy and ICT skills. Many of my learners have achieved level two
qualifications after GCSE retakes in college, and literacy is an issue across
college which we are working hard to address. ICT skills vary massively amongst
my learners, some are quite frankly better than me, and some cannot use email.
Both of these skill sets will be required after college; never mind the
importance of literacy to actually passing the exam. This helped me to decide
that the A2 crime content was going to be entirely student driven, via primary
research. Held within this, students would have to chose how and what to focus
on, as well as having creative control over the end product. The only area I
insisted on was that they use Hackasaurus, which is a truly brilliant website I
was introduced to at TeachMeet Pompey by @ianaddison- who uses this tool in
primary education. It is really versatile and with careful planning could be
used by most ages or subject areas.

During the first lesson my students devised a
self-report questionnaire. This is basically a survey that asks people what
crime they have committed. These are nearly *impossible to do well, without
leading questions or technical terminology. I let the students write the
questions with no interference. Some of the questions were, let’s say, provocative, and some were contentious in their wording. However,
I wanted the students to see the strengths and weakness of surveys as a
Sociological method and this allowed them to make mistakes in their research
and work these out for themselves. The students also decided on their sample
size and types of question asked, which again led to problems with reliability
and validity. Mistakes are part of the learning process, and it became apparent
when they were writing up the research that they had taken on board the issues
with survey design.

During the next lesson they rushed about all over
college getting their surveys filled in. Again they found problems. They reported


‘A lot of people said they committed no crime and I
know that’s not true.’

Or even better

‘Loads of people I surveyed said they had committed
all the crimes on my list!’

It turns out people lie – do bear this in mind the
next time you see a newspaper article about crime statistics. I have now
created a whole class of critical readers of newspapers, which I love. During
this task my students were able to work on their own, or in pairs, in order to
create the questions. When they had problems they would ask each other, look in
a text book or search for examples on their own devices before asking for my
help. During the course of the year they have become truly independent
learners, and they demonstrated this beautifully this lesson. I was struck by
their resilience in the face of a truly difficult task, and how they continued
to make revisions until they felt they had produced the best work possible.
Obviously this is something I insist on with tasks in class and homework, and a
year of practice has made them a very different class of learners to those they
had been at the beginning of the year.

Following this they then used Piktochart to make
infographics of their results – this was inspired by a post last week by
@ICTEvangelist, and I think demonstrates well how Humanities students can
utilise technology meaningfully to not only engage a wider audience in their
work, but also to become more engaged with the task itself.  These infographics were then later utilised
on the Hackasaurus page. In doing this my learners really enjoyed the chance to
try something new – they were not afraid of a challenge, and I was really proud
of them taking the plunge so readily. People that have read my other posts will
know that I often use quite unconventional tasks, and during the year my
learners have become totally accepting that the activity they are undertaking
will advance their knowledge. I actually have to work quite hard now to
surprise them, and this has led to them being quite adventurous learners. They
are more than willing to take risks and experience learning in new ways. It was
rewarding to see this translate to their project work – they demonstrated not
only a willingness to take risks but a real joy at creating and ‘playing’ to
reach the best possible outcome for their learning.


The final lesson of the week was magic. The learners
used the Hackasaurus website to modify what we decided to call ‘posh official’
type websites. So, they tinkered with the BBC, SKY News, and even the Daily
Mail sites. Whilst Hackasaurus is really easy and accessible to use, some of my
class had not seen HTML before and I left them to work out how to make the
changes on their own. It became apparent that members of the class with a
stronger skill set here were assisting those who needed it, and peer teaching
became the norm across the classroom. Peer teaching, and valuing peer feedback,
is also something they have been trained in during the course of this year. My
learners often use SOLO taxonomy, and the FiSH (Friendly, Specific and Helpful)
feedback that is the norm in the classroom flowed naturally into supportive
comments as well as practical help. Again, the learners demonstrated the
positive learner characteristics that have been developed this year.


Aside from trying and learning something new there was
a deliberate effort made to encourage proof reading as the work would be
public. During the lesson there were actual squeals of delight at how
convincing and professional the modified websites looked, and one young lady
even commented how amazing it was to see her name in print as an author, and
how she would like to really be published one day. Encouraging my learners to
dream big and have high aspirations is key to my role as a teacher, and this
really made me smile.


Some of the published Hackasaurus pages are here:








Please do have a look and if you have any comments for
the classes leave them on my blog and I will pass them on. I’m sure they would
love some feedback from other educators.

I really felt this week was successful, not only in
terms of encouraging the learners to attend meaningful transition lessons, but
also in that alongside subject content knowledge they also acquired/improved
ICT skills and encouraged habits that will have an effect on literacy levels
also. The real win for me was seeing the fruit of a year’s training. My learners are not only independent, but can demonstrate
resilience, high aspirations, motivation, and a willingness to take risks and
make mistakes. They certainly could not have undertaken such a difficult and
complex task with minimal teacher input at the beginning of the year. This is
real progress. Let’s hope next week is as successful!

2 thoughts on “Hacking positive learner characteristics

  1. Dan Williams

    Great post! You have really embraced new tools and have used them to great effect by the sound of things. This post has given me so many ideas that I can take away and use. I particularly cannot wait to use hackasaurus! Sounds brill! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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