Monday, February 13, 2012

3 Ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom

You see them everywhere you go.  They appear in magazines, on department store products, and even on your food.  QR codes are a type of two-dimensional code similar to a bar code but with far greater storage capacity.  QR codes were originally created by Toyota to help track vehicles as they were being manufactured, but have since caught on in many other industries. 

QR codes are also a great method for adding digital media to projects for students.  I wanted to throw out three easy ways to use QR codes in the classroom, but before we go too far, how do you make a QR code?  Simple.  There are a plethora of QR code generators on the web.  I personally like It is a simple generator that allows you to make codes for text and urls among other media types.  Simply input the media of your choice into the box and watch as GoQR makes your code for you. 

You will also need a means of reading the QR codes. Almost all smartphones have apps that read QRs.  iPhones, iPods, and iPads have quite a few free apps for scanning QRs. I really like QRReader. It's a simple QR scanner that will promptly open any QR encoded media for you upon scanning a code.

Using QR codes in the classroom really is easy.  With web apps like GoQR, you can churn out quite a few QRs with relatively little effort and you are ready to go.

Here are three easy ways to incorporate QRs into the classroom.

1) Have a digital scavenger hunt.  In a Social Studies lesson at the beginning of the year, I used QR codes as clues for a scavenger hunt that required students to use the information and websites they contained to research information about map skills.  The students in turn worked to collect the data and use it to complete a map skills activity.  The students used iPod touches to scan the codes required and worked in teams.  The inclusion of cool technology and the scavenger hunt mentality really mesh well to create an engaging experience.

2) You can also use QR codes to mesh print products and digital media. A great method for incorporating QR codes into an open house presentation would be for students to create a poster based on a topic of their choice and then record themselves, find a website, or provide a digital picture that could be encoded to a QR and put on their poster so that parents and other students looking at their work could be given information both in print and digitally. 

3) QR codes are a great way to provide easy access to web-based application, notes, and other media that a teacher might want to share with their students.  Instead of students not writing down urls correctly or leaving information at school that should have gone home, a teacher can simply encode the information in a QR and give it to the student or even put it on an easy-to-find teacher homepage for students to scan and use when they get home. 

These are just scratching the surface of what we can do with QR codes.  The sky is virtually the limit when it comes to using QR codes in the classroom.  If you are a teacher who uses QR codes in your classroom, post a comment and let me know how you use it.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

ShowMe: Giving Students the Power to Express Themselves

I was introduced to a wonderful iPad app through a program I am taking part in.  It is called ShowMe.  ShowMe like many other iPad apps has two interfaces, the iPad interface and the online account.  The two sides connect to allow the owner to publish their ShowMe's to the web and then embed them or tweet among other publicizing methods. 

So, what is ShowMe?  It is an interactive whiteboard and voice recorder all in one.  The app essentially allows you to "draw" on your iPad while simultaneously recording sound.  Once you are done, you can upload it to your free user account online where you can share your ShowMe with the world.  The implication for the classroom with this app are huge!  There are so many uses for ShowMe. 

Right now, the term formative assessment is a huge buzzword in the education world.  Teacher are wanting to monitor their students' learning to catch discrepancies earlier and provide better instruction.  ShowMe is an excellent method for allowing students to display their understanding of a concept.  I teach math and if I could get students to create ShowMe's everyday as notes that I could also review, I would do it in a heartbeat.  The connection between understanding a concept and being able to verbally communicate that understanding is huge. If a student can explain it, they know it.  ShowMe provides a great indicator for this. 

Another great way to use ShowMe is to allow students to be a part of the creative problem solving process by allowing them to come up with questions.  I recently started a project on fractions with my students that I hope to complete in the near future.  Students propose hypothetical pizza orders for a fictitious pizza company and have other students listen to the order and create the pizza (by drawing it for display).  You can check out my example ShowMe to get a better idea of what I'm talking about. The students have been fully engaged and I am amazed at how a variety of learning styles and levels have taken on this project and been successful. 

ShowMe is a free iPad app in the iTunes Store.  Check it out today.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Lino It: Collaborative Brainstorming in a Simple Package

Today, I wanted to point out a great website and its app that serves as a great organization method for brainstorming.  Lino It is both a website and an app that you can use in conjunction with your mobile device that serves as a digital sticky board.

When you start a free account, you have the ability to create a new canvas. Each canvas is essentially a sticky board where you can edit settings to allow a group or anyone to post a sticky note to the canvas, leaving text, pictures, or content. 

Lino It has a lot of great applications.  One that I found for my classroom came in the form as a collaboration lesson in Language Arts.  The students used a Lino canvas to post stickies on a topic in order to gather ideas and write a paragraph on a topic.  The students were encouraged to post as many sentences about the topic as they could generate.  From there the group would arrange the stickies using iPads and collect ideas that the group thought would yield the most coherent paragraph with the best information.  This process took students from posting dozens of stickies to critically evaluating which stickies were the best options.  They then deleted and trimmed the selection until they had only a few sentences left.  In the end, the students had some fairly decent information  Here is a link to a canvas that students worked on citing the skill of working independently as a means to more efficiently complete assignments.  Check it out and see some of the ideas the group ended up with.

The uses for Lino It don't stop there though.  This is a great organizer for ideas, a visual reminder board, and a means of collecting related media for student use later.  I have even seen teachers create a canvas of all notes and tutorials they have on a specific topic, such as the order of operations in math. 

If you have used Lino It before and have any additional ideas, please feel free to list them here. 

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Drill and Thrill- Factor Samurai

I touched on this in a previous article about the pros and cons of drilling math skills. Basically, we all know that studies show that drilling doesn't have a ton of impact on students.  As an educator and a video game player, I wonder why this conclusion is true.  We play video games like Angry Birds, etc. that involve a ton of repetition.  There are slight variations, but ultimately it's the same old song and dance.  So, why do games impact individuals more than something like a math worksheet that drills the same thing over and over.  Interest, loss and reward, a direct sense of relevance brought on by the immediacy of the situation. Games bring relevance because if you don't master the concept in the moment, you die or lose. What's worse than losing, right?  The desire to win makes mastering the skill important.  These things are generally absent from academic based drills.  So, what do we do to fix the situation?  We play games.

Factor Samurai is a free app available for ipad, ipod touch, and iphone that closely mirrors the famous Fruit Ninja app.  The main difference is that we have pulled the wool over the eyes of our audience.  Instead of slashing fruit with swipes of your finger as it is tossed in the air, you are slashing composite numbers into their prime factors.  All the while you are trying to avoid hitting any prime numbers.  This doesn't sound too bad unless you consider the fact that there are roughly 5-8 numbers in the air at any time.  So, does this app yield the qualities that make something stick in your brain.  Is there an immediate need that requires a skill to be used?  Yep.  What happens if you don't have the skill?  You lose. Quickly. What happens if you do well?  You get different colored swords, the numbers get more challenging, and there are more numbers on the screen.  Finally, everytime you lose the game, it records your score.  When the top 10 places are taken, you have to work to beat those scores.  Talk about goal setting.  Who doesn't want to beat their personal best score, or better yet, the best score of their buddy? 

Factor Samurai includes all of the elements of interest, loss and reward, and a sense of relevancy that brings students (and teachers) back to it time and again.  There are three different levels of difficulty which amp up the challenge in some pretty big ways.  This is a game that "drills" a math skill.  The difference is that it builds in an intentional approach to drilling that bring all of the above mentioned qualities and in the end achieves the result of build fluency, developing mastery, and maintaining interest. 

My biggest criticism of Factor Samurai is that it is harder to play on the smaller screen devices.  It definitely shines on the ipad.  This free app is a must for any parent or teacher wanting to give their students something productive to do mathematically while still having some fun.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Weather Trends and the App

One of the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) for fourth and fifth grade science in Texas is that students are able to track weather patterns over a period of time.  This is an activity that simply begs for technology to be used.  Luckily, has an app for ipods, iphones, and ipads.  The app allows the user to track the immediate temperature and weather conditions, long range forecasts, and even patterns via weather maps.  This is an excellent way for students to track and revise weather patterns over a period of time. 

A great activity to help make the connection between a forecast and the actual weather is to have students use the 10-day forecast tab to write down weather for an period of time in the future and then compare the predictions to the actual weather on the day of.  This is done simply by switching between the immediate weather tab and the 10-day forecast tab. 

Finally, the app is very useful in classroom settings where there is not a 1:1 ratio of devices to students.  The app allows multiple locations to be saved to a favorites menu so that students can easily switch between locations to find their specific place.  This also allows students to find and track weather in a variety of locations around the world. 


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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drill and Thrill- Rocket Math Free

These days, educational practice is taking a swing away from what is considered traditional education. Proponents of education are speaking about engagement, authentic activities, real-world experience, and other wonderful terms.  It is actually a pretty cool time to be a teacher and/or a student. 

That said, I am a fairly traditional guy.  Now, you may be thinking, This guy blogs on the web about using cutting edge technology in the classroom. How is that traditional? 

Well, being a math teacher, I firmly base my instruction on the premise that students not only need to know how to use the skills taught, but they also need to be fluent in using those skills.  To clarify, I will use an analogy using foreign language.  If you only taught a student the mechanics of correct sentence structure in Spanish, they would know how to structure sentences and create language in Spanish, but if they don't actually practice speaking, they will never become fluent at speaking and understanding Spanish.  They need to practice. 

I am of the mindset that this applies to most subject areas, especially Mathematics. That said, I don't think that we should only use "drill and kill" activities.  Those don't capture the minds of our students.  They don't teach the value of the skills being taught.  However, there comes a time when a student is well versed in a concept and they need to become fluent in their computation.  For instance, as a 4th grade Math teacher, I come across students who simply can't multiply basic facts without using fingers, singing a song, or drawing a picture.  While all of these methods will get you an answer, and in many cases a correct answer, they won't do it in any kind of efficient manner.  Thus, drill and practice activities are of key importance in growing strong practical knowledge of a concept.

To this end, I am going to put together a series of articles called Drill and Thrill.  The idea is to provide activities that are fun for students to do and have built-in elements of engagement, but that drill concepts that students need to build fluency in. 

In this first article, I want to talk about Rocket Math Free.  This is yet another iPod app that allows students to explore various math concepts in a timed manner using a custom designed rocket ship!  The student creates their account and builds their rocket ship.  Once completed, the ship is taken to various missions where it is launched into space.  When it launches the student is given a task to complete before the rocket stalls out and falls back to earth.  For instance, one task I was given when touring the app was to select all of the clocks that showed a time of 4:15.  So, in the time that my rocket made it to outerspace and began to fall, I had to select as many clocks that showed 4;15 as I could.  I was positively going crazy trying to select my way around a cloud of clocks, try to pick the correct clocks while avoiding others that might get in the way. 

Once the student is done, the rocket falls back to earth and, based on it position while falling, does some excellent flips! 

This particular app tests a variety of math related topics from telling time to basic multiplication.  Students are able to go back and try select missions multiple times if they need additional practice in a specific concept. As the student gains more points, he or she can also further modify their rocket. 

I recommend this particular app for students in grades 3 and 4.  The variety of concepts can be a bit tough for younger students while the simplicity of each task can be a bit easy for older students.  All-in-all I would give this app a solid B+.  All for the bargain price of FREE!  Check Rocket Math Free by downloading it from your App Store. 


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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Using Geocaching to Build Map Skills and Student Engagement

I have recently become very intrigued by the idea of Geocaching.  For those of you who don't know what this interesting hobby is, take a look at  Simply put, Geocaching is the hobby of using GPS to discover hidden caches of interesting good that people have hidden in manner of places.  I live in the Dallas area and there are about 100 geocaches within 15-20 minutes of my house.  Caches are hidden to varying degrees of camoflauge and take varying degrees of expertise and fitness to find.  They also can have a variety of loot in them, sometimes even money!  The catch is that you have to put something in when you take something out. 

What's better is that I have found an app for locating and identifying the difficulty and rewards of various caches in your areas.  Even better still is that it's free!  The app is call OpenCaching and it links to .  You can easily find caches in your local area or range far and wide in search of caches in destinations that you might be going to in the future.  The site is free to use and once you create an account (also free) you can search for, log, and register your own hidden caches! 

I may just be a nerdy teacher type, but this sounds like a ton of fun.  It's kind of like being a pirate looking for buried treasure.  For those of you with children, this could be a great activity to get you out of the house and spend some quality time with the boys and girls. 

It doesn't take a world-class teacher to see that this hobby has a ton of implications for the classroom. Here are a few ideas for some lesson ideas that you can utilize with Geocaching.

1) In order to develop map skills like cardinal direction knowledge, map reading, and direction/instruction writing, hide a cache on campus and register it with Allow students to use the Opencaching app on an iPod Touch to search out the cache.  When they are done, they need to be able to write a detailed instruction sheet using cardinal directions and approximate distances so that another student can find the cache.  Here's an example of an activity that I put together that utilizes map skills.  Feel free to use it.  Geocaching Activity.

2) Use the cache itself as an engagement tool.  As in #1, hide a cache on your school campus and register it.  Allow students to use the Opencaching app to find it.  Inside should be some sort of academic activity, such as a puzzle using recently taugh mathematics concepts.  Upon finishing the activity correctly, students are allowed to take a treasure out of the cache.

3) Have a class create their own cache and fill it with objects that symbolize and tell about what they are learning in class.  Have them decide on a location (from a predetermined list of locations that you set) to hide the cache off-campus and ask them to devise a means of camoflaging the cache.  Then go and hide it!

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  If you have used, are using, or want to use Geocaching in your classroom, leave a comment and share your ideas and experiences here.  I would love to hear how this is being used to enrich students' educational experience. 


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