teaching with the tools of a digital world


What is that? QR Codes in the Library…

I have been working on this project for a few months now. There have been a few technical and logistical challenges to overcome but it is finally ready for the Grand Opening. Working with my school librarian we have been able to add student-written reviews to in house library books and make them accessible to students on the web and (probably more importantly) on their cellphones. We have done this using QR codes.

A couple of months back our library adopted a new cataloging system from Follett Software Company; Destiny Library Management. The most exciting thing I heard about the new cataloging system was the ability for students to write their own reviews of books in the library. I instantly saw this as a great opportunity to make the library a more collaborative and connected space.

After one quick discussion my librarian was completely on board and excited for this new challenge and opportunity. It took a little experimentation and prodding to get the first students to write reviews but we are off and running with a handful of reviews written which are linked to QR codes that have been pasted to the inside covers of the books.

This goes “live” to the rest of the district this week but I have been talking with other staff members to brainstorm some ideas to promote this among the students.

  • Chocolate – The librarian will be offering a small treat to students who write a review for a book. Can’t go wrong there…

  • Advertisement – We’ve already hung a poster about QR codes in the library but we’ll be making additional efforts to let students know what is happening and get them involved.
  • Integration – I’ve got multiple english and reading teachers who are making plans to integrate book reviews into their curriculum and more specifically integrate their classes with the library on new and different ways.
  • Education – All of my students know what QR codes are and how they work, but that is about it in the school population. Part of this process will be sharing this tool with other students and teachers.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a new implementation of new technology in the larger school community. If you have more ideas of how we could expand or improve this please leave a comment!


Using Poll Everywhere in the Classroom

Every wondered what everyone in your class or meeting was thinking about a topic, but never felt you could get a good feel for what they were thinking because only a few attendees would answer your questions? You might think to use a classroom response system or “clicker,” but what if you don’t have the money for a system? I’ve actually been using two methods. I have a classroom response system and regularly use my classroom response system, ActiveInspire from Promethean but I also use a free-ish service known as Poll Everywhere. I say free-ish because it is free for up to 30 responses per question, so for most school classrooms this is perfect. If you are looking to poll larger audiences there is a fee attached.

I like both systems, Poll Everywhere and my hardware based Promethean system. However, there is something about Poll Everywhere that makes it more accessible to more students and more teachers. Students typically respond using a text message, however there are options to respond via the Poll Everywhere website via a question specific URL or through services such as Twitter or various smartphones. Poll Everywhere also allows for questions to be integrated into a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation with responses pulled live from PollEverywhere’s website (or they can be viewed live on the website.)

The questions are easy to set up and manage and the instructions for replying to questions are relatively easy to understand (you wouldn’t think you would have to explain texting to teenagers but they have messed it up a few times!) Each question has a unique keyword so responses end up where they are supposed to go. There are multiple types of questions MC, text, etc. There are also several different formats for showing student responses (the one shown here is the standard setting.)

Here are a few ways I have been using them in my classes (and one video example.)

–          I use daily journals in each of my classes and I typically only call on a few students to share their responses (using the Class Cards iPhone App to randomly select students and track their participation points for journals), but on days that I want to see what everyone has answered I use Poll Everywhere. It is quicker than getting out and setting up the classroom clickers if we aren’t using them that day.

–          I used Poll Everywhere before I got text response clickers. If I had a question somewhere in the lesson I would let students respond using Poll Everywhere.

–          One use I really like is having students give responses to questions or ask their own questions about reading assignments or the like OUTSIDE of class. Every teacher has been there when you’ve given an assignment and on the following day ask, “Do you have any questions?” and you only get blank stares or one word responses. This way students respond while they are reading, it has helped to get more thoughtful responses and more meaningful questions.

I am looking for a few more ways to use this service in my classes. Again, one of my major goals is to use technology like this to connect with students outside of the classroom and at the point where learning or questions happen, even though I am not physically present.

Any suggestions about how else to use this tool?

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Share your ideas!

Look! I even got a certificate... 🙂

Yesterday evening I attended an Intel Education: Teachers Engage Community sponsored webinar; Using Cellphones and Scan Codes in the Classroom. After I figured out what time zone I was in (I showed up to the meeting an hour early), we got started with the meeting. We discussed the proliferation of web-enabled cellphones in our individual schools (there were about 20 teachers from across the globe) and how this would influence our implementation of these technologies. We then discussed QR codes, which I have already posted about how I have begun to use those in my classroom.

I didn’t get a bunch of earth-shattering ideas from the webinar, but I got a small taste of what it is like to share the techniques and practices I use in my class with other teachers. This has been a pretty exciting thing! I think I am starting to catch a bug! It was exciting to be able to share my experiences with other teachers and feel myself get excited about talking about how I am using technology in my classroom.  I was thrilled with helping others try out the ropes and plan unique ways to use the technology in their classrooms. I am going to be making a few deliberate steps to share my technology use with others. Here are my plans:

  • Keep using this blog, but find ways to share it with more teachers.
  • Look at how other edtech leaders are sharing their expertise.
  • Work in my own district and state to share and help implement these skills.
  • Work to build a solid Professional Learning Network (PLN) that will help me achieve this.

I haven’t formalized my PLN, but it is in the works. I am going to start this with reading Jeff Utecht’s book, Reach. I am planning a post or two as I start to get this figured out. I feel like I have started a few things that have been the basics of a PLN and it has been really successful in helping reach outside of myself and stretch beyond what I am comfortable with. Hopefully, a real PLN will be even better! Until then..

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Are you engaged?

Everyone who has ever stepped into a classroom (teacher, student, or otherwise) knows there is a difference between the amount of time that instruction is happening and learning is happening. This is very generally wrapped up into terms like “student engagement time.” In an earlier post I discussed my general goals to “increase student engagement through the use of technology.” I would like to add to that “both in and out of the classroom.”

Today, I am most interested in increasing student engagement in the classroom. I am currently reading Middle and Secondary Classroom Management: Lessons from Research and Practice by Carol Simon Weinstein and Ingrid Novodvorsky. Chapter 7, Making the Most of Classroom Time , discusses this topic and gives one suggestions I want to focus on, minimize transition time. There are a few ideas from this section that I would like to try and adapt for use with technology. Here they are…

The text discusses the four options students have when they are transitioning between activities 1) maintain interests and attentiveness, 2) become bored, 3) become distracted and 4) actively misbehave. Looks like some slim chances, huh?

How can technology help to keep students engaged as we switch between topics and/or activities? I am mostly looking for things that give me a little extra time to get done what I need to during the transition time and/or allow for students to complete activities at different times but still be engaged.

Here are my current ideas…

  • A lead-in or follow-up question on clickers or using Poll Everywhere.
  • Ask students to summarize the previous reading/assignment via Poll Everywhere or Twitter
  • Asking students watch a short video that highlights the next topic
  • Maybe part of this is just a time management issue and it could be helped with students being aware of the time schedule (maybe just a digital timer displayed to the whole class would be a big help?)

Maybe there are a lot of things here that can be completed without technology (I definitely think so..) but can technology make this easier in any places? Where and how? I am going to try out a few of these ideas and any that you might suggest and then reflect back here after a couple of weeks and see if there are any changes.

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No Cellphones in School!

My school currently has a policy of “no cellphones in class unless your teacher says you can use it for a learning activity.” I think that has basically meant no cellphones in class, period. I’ve been looking for a way for student to use their cellphones in my class in a meaningful way and I stumbled upon QR codes.
QR codes are two dimensional bar codes, similar to those on cans at the grocery store, yet they can hold more information. The biggest difference is they are starting to show up all over the place from business cards, to store fronts, to advertisements and even billboards. You can have a QR code made which says whatever you want it to and have it printed on just about anything you want. If you aren’t sure what one looks like do a quick Google search and I’ll give you a chance to decode your first a little later on in this post.
I decided to try and use QR codes as an instructional tool, but I was hung on not all of my students having smartphones that could allow them to download a free QR code reading app. That was when I miraculously stumbled upon stapmyinfo. This service was design to provide business men and women with a way to obtain QR codes for business cards and other materials and as a way for “non-smartphone” customers and colleagues to obtain their contact and business information. In short if you can send picture text messages you can decode the QR codes.

We have started using them pretty regularly in class. We’ve used them to check answer for our minerals and igneous rock lessons and at different stations for different minerals and rock characteristics where students describe and identify in their own words and then evaluate them based on what is in the decoded QR. The last two days students were asked to create their own QR codes based on a researched definition and observed characteristics of different igneous rocks.
One of the biggest challenges has been that students are automatically skipping to the part of the lesson of activity that has a QR code and skipping the instructions or other activities. I’ve had to do some careful monitoring and some creative QR codes and lesson planning. But I think it has been worth it to get the students more engaged and interested in the learning.
The students have really enjoyed the experience of using their phones in the classroom. The first day, however, was pretty comical. I had asked the students to all bring their cellphones to class. When I asked them to take them out of their pockets and use them they were quite cautious! I think they thought it was a big trick and I was secretly planning to single-handedly confiscate the phones of the entire freshmen class in one day! No one wanted to be the first to pull the phone out of their pocket out of fear that I would take it away! They have gotten used to the idea and a number of them have expressed an excitement for using their phones in class.Here is your chance to scan your first QR code if you haven’t before. Just take a picture of the QR code above and send it in a text message or email to (or you can download one of the many free QR code readers for your smartphone – this is a much more streamlined process).