Curriculum Hackers – using student voice to pull apart learning

working on the collaborative OneNote doc
working on the collaborative OneNote doc

Student voice has always been something that interested me. Back in my NQT year this started with simple surveys like SurveyMonkey samples to get an opinion on topics I’d taught and how to improve, or having a small focus group of kids back after school to talk through what I could do better or what they would like to study. I believe we should trust our young people to have more say in their education; they are more aware than some credit and can provide coherent well argued rationales for what they should study, how to learn it, and why this is beneficial. And I don’t mean we only ask ‘the nice kids’! Be brave and have a balance, include some disaffected children as well and figure out what it is that’s going on that is inhibiting them from engagement. Letting go of the reins and empowering your people is hugely inspiring. And at the end of the day, they are the ones that undergo/experience/endure/enjoy* (*please delete as appropriate) education – so surely they should get some say?

PiLI first put serious time and effort into student voice when my school was due to be rebuilt during the BSF phase. This work led to my being awarded a Microsoft Innovative Teacher award and a trip to Moscow with Partners in Learning that was an amazing experience but totally down to the kids! You can see some of their work on the Key Stage 3 blog (it was 2011) here – it was Space Explorers:Space Creators and enabled students to have their say about the future build design and investigate how spaces affect learning. They were incredibly mature and made real progress in their own confidence throughout the project – going as far as presenting their work to ‘real adults’ like architects and external professionals.

My predecessor, David Rogers, first set up the term ‘curriculum hackers’ for our student voice group in Geography a year or so ago when we trialled adapting a scheme of work with the assistance of Alan Parkinson – you can see some of his blog reflections on this here. Last year for BBC report I expanded this (again with the wonderful Mr Parkinson 🙂 facilitating) to get our hackers to share with other students and teachers from across the city focussing on how they could include technology in learning during Kidsmeet.

My school achieved the Unicef Rights Respecting School Award Level 1 in 2012/2013, in large part due to the work of the Geography department in terms of linking the Rights of the Child charter to our schemes of work and adapting these using student voice to make more explicit. We are working towards Level 2 and although the school has a growing student voice presence (youth council and youth parliament) it is still not embedded across every curriculum area. When I took over as Head of Department I was surprised at how little some departments had done in terms of inclusion of students, and so decided to roll out the Curriculum Hackers programme across school. We are in the process now of recruiting more and more students (mostly year 8 and 9 who have experienced some schemes of work already but are not restricted by GCSE pressures) and Geography is leading the way with offering training and practise hacking.

How does this work?

– advertise for students to get involved (I use the school website, desktop background, assemblies and the life channel tv around school).

– hold a recruitment meeting with potential hackers to explain the role.

– train hackers after-school using example lessons: we look at needs vs wants, practicalities, etc,. Students are coached through how to analyse a scheme of work or a lesson outline to see how it meets requirements of skills development and how it ties to curriculum outlines – we are particularly looking at the new curriculum at present).

– hack a scheme of work! I have students off-timetable (during my PPA usually) in a block of about 3 hours (seems most efficient) and we start off with some ice-breaker type activities such as mindmaps on topics such as ‘the purpose of education’ or ‘is their a conflict between what schools provide and what you feel you need in future’ – then we have a bit of a debate. After this we do carousel activities to analyse schemes of work, the new curriculum, essentials needed, how lessons can be improved, how different learning styles can be included, etc,. I have used an ideas funnel before to sift down through suggestions and children are really good at picking up on practicalities. I’ve not really ever had to say ‘no, that’s not appropriate’ or ‘that’s not possible’ – and children are surprisingly draconian sometimes!

Collaborating in analogue and digital
Collaborating in analogue and digital

– allow students some independent time free from my interruptions and influence to work collaboratively on a shared OneNote document. I set this up in advance with a series of questions to consider, and provide them with links and hard copies of Schemes of Work / National Curriculum framework. We use OneNote because of the nature of being able to work simultaneously. I can then add comments and prompts as needed ‘live’ into the document, and they can all see each other’s work and respond to this. You can see part of a document in progress here . It also allows us to have a conversation about public access, e-safety and sharing information online since they know this document represents the department and the school and is visible to external agencies.

– hackers then share these ideas with the department at a department meeting and take feedback from teachers. We also having two hackers going in to department meetings routinely (once a half term) for the first part of the meeting to chat about lessons, give student feedback, and to discuss what they will do next. This is in the toddler stage at present in subjects of History, RE, MFL and English but teachers have been very positive and receptive so far. While it is in this new stage, I am making sure myself or another team member (or one of our older more experienced hackers from Year 10) is present as well in order to guide the conversations and provide support as needed).

– trial the lessons and get evaluations / comments from classes that take the lessons. Then in follow-up hacker sessions analyse these and make adaptations as needed.

Making their voices heard?

Part of the team presenting at TeachMeet Pompey!
Part of the team presenting at TeachMeet Pompey!

TeachMeet Pompey has been evolving from a tiny gathering a couple of years back to a fairly large scale event now. We’ve been lucky to have the support of some great sponsors and the Historic Dockyard who allowed us a free venue. 7th March this year saw over 120 educators / professionals gather for the latest #TMPompey and a few of our Curriculum Hackers / Digital Leaders were amongst those presenting. A really proud moment as their teacher to see a 12, 13 and two 14 year olds stand up and calmly and eloquently tell their story. Nobody forced them, and they sat and enjoyed the whole event as well – possibly lured by the chance to shoot teachers during laser quest afterwards but still! It’s a great feeling to see such independence, and from students who once upon a time were either disengaged or painfully shy but who have come so far and have the motivation to go even further now.

Making their voices heard globally?

Last week was the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum, where recognised Expert Educators from around the world gathered for all sorts of fun and hard work. I was very proud to see my friend and ex-colleague David up there representing Team UK along with some other awesome teachers. The twitter-sphere was pretty busy with #MicrosoftGF and #msftpil during the week and there were some great conversations going around. Although I wasn’t part of the event (not good enough see) I was keen to be part of the conversation and keep track of what’s going on (partly because I’m always concerned with big events like this – I went to the Moscow Forum in 2011 – that they don’t have as much of an influence on the outside world as would be nice, so if people get involved through twitter/yammer/PiL website maybe more sharing can be encouraged). I was really impressed and pleased to see the work of the @OffPerts student voice team there. During the event, there were requests from David and others to get some ‘real’ student voice from back in the UK so @priorygeography students got involved with this and shared their thoughts. The topic requested was ‘Why should students be involved with shaping their own learning?’ and ‘Would you like to collaborate with other countries and if so how?’ which fortuitously coincided with some of the work that my hackers had already done. So you can see their comments on the OneNote document, or in the images below. Some really interesting findings. And the kids were so so proud to see that their comments were going directly into the #microsoftGF feed and that hundreds of other professionals from around the world were considering what they said. That’s the power of student voice – that it brings pride, ownership, purpose, and can raise aspirations. I had some proper ‘spine tingly’ moments that day.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite quotes from students involved:

“We are all global citizens and will be in charge one day, so we should know what other countries do…see with our own eyes.”

“Education is our key to learning about life and how to be part of our world”

“Education to me means freedom in future”

“Technology has helped me with being confident…”

“Technology means you will create something that is one of a kind…we want to be individual”

“We are the consumers, we have to ‘do’ learning so we should have some say in what is learnt and how”

“I know teachers know the curriculum really well and I do trust them, but I also want a bit of freedom to express myself”

“I would never have had the chance to act like a grown up if it wasn’t for Miss and being a curriculum hacker…designing our own lessons means independence and us learning new skills that we might not really get otherwise”

And my favourite maybe:

“I would never have had the option to present in front of 120 adults without doing curriculum hackers. Ms Debens gave us that chance and trusted us. I like it when teachers trust us, and when we work equally…I have pride then in what I do.”

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2 thoughts on “Curriculum Hackers – using student voice to pull apart learning”

  1. Certainly food for thought Jo. Especially timely with changes in the primary and KS3 curriculum.
    How are the curriculum hackers managed and is it time consuming? Is this a process that works well in humanities subjects and not in others or are the humanities subjects trialling it first before rolling it out across the school?

    Thanks for taking the time to write and share this.

    1. Hi, thank you for your comment. The hackers are trained and managed by myself and my team. They have been working primarily in humanities during training as this was easier to establish, however they are now reaching into MFL and Maths. It is as time consuming as you make it to be honest! Takes time to train them in the first place but then they follow that system and are low maintenance.

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