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Review by Common Sense Editor, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2013

Hackasaurus

Puts the hacking power in your hands as you unlock, remix, recode

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Arts

Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
4–12
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: It's highly interactive and useful for a broad variety of Web- and content-authoring goals in and out of class.

Cons: Without discussion, it's easy to forget about fair use and the real effort required to produce critical, satirical, or transformative works.

Bottom Line: The interactive and empowering remix tools help teachers and students learn the language and structure of websites.

The Hacktivity Kit (on the resources page) includes a rationale for teaching Web authoring, as well as a hack jam lesson plan, cheat sheets for using the Remixer and writing HTML, and badges to award hack jam participants. The lesson plan begins with remixing the popular Robot Dance so participants can understand hacking as a process that makes something more expressive, fun, and useful for them, and that it's not exclusively a criminal or destructive activity.

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Editor's Note: Mozilla's Hackasaurus no longer exists in its original form. Now known as Webmaker, the site offers a variety of tools including both Thimble and Popcorn Maker.

Hackasaurus teaches kids (and their teachers) how to read, code, and remix the Web. As a precursor to Webmaker, Mozilla's broader open-web project, Hackasaurus focuses on three major resources: the Web X-Ray Goggles; the Remixer; and the Hacktivity Kit, a how-to guide for hosting a "hack jam," a kind of workshop that teaches kids how to read the Web by writing it.

The Web X-Ray Goggles need to be installed for students to use the Remixer. You'll have to go to the Hackasaurus website to find instructions, but once they're installed in a browser's bookmark bar, they can be activated with a mouse click. (Users should make sure their browser preferences allow Java to run.) Kids then bring up the Remixer by pressing r, and let the hacking begin! (The "hacking" affects only a local copy of a webpage and doesn't in any way affect the original webpage.) Kids roll the mouse pointer over different parts of a webpage to reveal the underlying code. For example, if students activate X-Ray Goggles while browsing a photo set, when the mouse goes over an image it will highlight the picture and bring up the tag (the web's code for images) in the corner of that picture. On the right in the Remixer, kids see how the element looks on the page. Kids then edit, or hack, in the left pane. They can edit pictures, text, or any other allowable element. Students then press p to "publish" the new, remixed page on a Mozilla server for sharing, and click x to close the Remixer.

"Gameplay" can get complicated, but with direction and practice this can be a useful tool for teaching computer hacking, which is essentially coding, or re-coding. In addition to teaching coding, Hackasarus encourages deep discussion of fair use and the exploration of revision for bias, mood and tone, and satire as modes of online composition. The Remixer shows students how they can be Web authors in their own right.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The Web-authoring possibilities offered by Web X-Ray Goggles and the Remixer are fun and interactive, but kids who don't immediately get how to use them will need help.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

If teachers go into a hack-jam-type lesson prepared to help kids learn about and remix webpages, they'll find fertile ground for discussion of fair use. Other lessons can address the power of revision to change meaning in writing.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The hack jam lesson plan is sound, but teachers need to know how to code or bring in mentors who do.


Teacher Reviews


Featured review by
Susan R. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Lebanon High School
Lebanon, United States
Young learners could become overwhelmed without significant guidance

Initially difficult to figure out because of the way the website is set up to focus on the tool known as "X-Ray Goggles" which allows for remixing a webpage.

The tool is a (primarily) HTML hands on learning tool for younger audiences.

Although I think adults might enjoy it too.

The objective is to load an "X-Ray Goggles"

"Bookmarklet" to you browser's Bookmark Bar, and when you want to "hack" a website you simply access the website you want to hack and click on the "X-Ray Goggles" (which is now located in the Bookmarks Bar and you are now in hacking mode.

The hacked websites are saved in a special location and although they are made public they do not overwrite or supersede the original website you hacked.

One of the coolest things I found on this site didn't really have to do with the tool itself but with modeling user design.

When you go to the instructions for loading the "X-Ray Goggles" to your browsers Bookmark Bar, the video instructions adjust to provide instructions for that particular browser, and why wouldn't it?- this site after-all is created to help develop young web designers and that is an example of fantastic user design.

The lessons and exercises provided with the site applied the concepts of HTML elements but not necessarily the structural elements that may add coherence and relationships within the design elements.

The lesson portion requires quite a bit of time to effectively deliver the curriculum and I fear young learners might be overwhelmed, or simply play with it to see what it does and then get bored never making connections to understanding the purpose and power of HTML web design.

For learners that have experienced some HTML, they might be able to catch on more quickly.

(I have a Web Design Certification and a Master's in Information Technology and I had a hard time making sense of some of it.

But maybe not having been trained might make the pedagogy work better).

If you've got time to allow your class to go through the lessons and practice, it may be an effective resource.

But its best use seems to be in social way for after school groups or to just get kids playing with it to see what they can come up with.

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