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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