teaching with the tools of a digital world

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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).