Tuesday, February 26, 2013

QR Codes In and Out of the Classroom

Kelly Scholl (@SchollHouseRock) is currently a high school science teacher at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana. She currently teaches Earth Science, AP Physics C: Mechanics, and AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism. She is also creating a new online Astronomy course to debut with Center Grove Global Campus this summer.

I received a class set of iPads two years ago. I was excited to infuse this new technology into my classroom, but I also realized I had a huge learning curve ahead of me before I would be able to use them effectively on a daily basis. The more technology I have around me, I find the more aware I am of technology throughout my life. I started seeing QR codes (right) in stores, on advertisements, on the tables at restaurants, and even on ketchup bottles in my local grocery store. Being a science teacher, I’m naturally curious. I began scanning these random QR codes just to see what was there. This sparked the idea to start using them in my class to also encourage students to be curious. Inquiry is at the heart of science, and can also make for some compelling learning experiences!  Beyond the mystery, QR codes provide a quick and easy way to reach specific resources without having to type in a long web address.  Over the past two years, I’ve been able to reach different levels of student engagement through the use of QR codes, and I’d like to share my experiences with you today.
First, the basics of getting started with QR codes:
  • Consider what information you’d like to share. This could be a message, a web address, a YouTube video, a Twitter or Facebook page, a Google maps location, an App store download, or even a Dropbox file. 
  • Determine your intent of the QR codes.  Think of how and where you’ll use QR codes in your classroom to encourage active participation. You could even encourage students to use them in their projects. 
  • In order for QR codes to work, your students must have a camera and scan app on their smart phone or tablet. Doing a simple search for QR readers in the app store will provide several options.  There are several scan apps out there, with a large variety of them being free.
  • Input your information into a QR Code Generator site and ask it to generate a code for you. I personally like http://www.qrstuff.com/, but there are many out there if you just search for QR code generator. You will then copy and paste, or download to save, your code onto your document, advertisement, post, etc.


I have used QR codes in my classroom for several different things, but below are examples of things I’ve done with different levels of interaction for the students:

Minimal Student Interaction – My basic use of QR Codes
I have a sign posted on my door for students to scan with their smart phones. It has a simple message on it that I change from time to time. Some students are interested and want to know what I have to say. This is a fun interaction that is not required by them.

Required Student Interaction - Using QR Codes for differentiation in the classroom
At the start of a unit, I usually have students do some current events reading about a topic to get them thinking about the topic and asking questions that can drive our learning for the unit. In my last unit on earthquakes, I had made 3 categories of readings (introductory/basic, video/diagram, scientific/technical) and provided several options in each category. Students went around the room scanning and reading articles that were interesting to them and completing a reading guide I had them working with. All were engaged, loved the fact they had some choice, and asked great questions with the new background information that will drive our unit on earthquakes.

Optional Student Interaction – QR Codes help extend lab analysis to outside the classroom
One problem I always face in my AP Physics classes is time…there’s just not enough of it. Our lab software has actually created a function to generate a QR code of the data that students can then scan with their iPads or smartphones and take that home to analyze. If all we have time for in class is lab design and data collection that is now acceptable. Groups can now work together virtually via Google Docs to create their lab and have all their data right with them.

Student Generated Interaction – QR Codes outside my classroom
As part of a culminating semester project for my AP Physics students, I asked them to create a video that would teach a basic part of physics they have learned about over the semester. The trick was, they had to make the video be less than 5 minutes and the target audience was our school community (other non-physics students, parents, guests). Students had to make the video they created educational, but also entertaining enough for the target audience want to want to watch to completion. Of course, the second challenge was to get hits on their videos. To accomplish this, students were to create QR codes and a mini-advertisement that would pique the interest of the target audience. We posted the video about force needed for a rock to break your car windshield on the doors of the main student entrance. We posted the video about best technique for weightlifting and best technique for pull-ups on the doors of the school weight room. We posted the video about the height at which your milk carton will break if dropped by the cafeteria tray return.
Some videos got twitter love and have hundreds of hits, others were just watched because students saw each other scanning codes so they scanned too. Some students in my earth science classes were asking about the videos and asked if they signed up to take AP Physics if they’d learn “cool stuff like that.” Although minimal, the buzz and excitement that I personally saw about physics content in a group of non-physics students made me happy.
For the Future – Student Generated Interaction with the Community
Last summer, I was lucky enough to be accepted as a new online teacher for the launch of the new Center Grove Global Campus coming out this summer and have Joanna Ray as a mentor. While developing our brand new courses, one constant I’ve kept at the forefront of my mind is how we should create online learning environments that promote collaboration, inquiry, and engagement. Students shouldn’t have to learn in isolated environments. Being new to online, I continually am thinking of ways to build in interaction and relationships through my course. The content I will be teaching to these students is Astronomy. In this course, students will be completing an assignment similar to the AP Physics project described above, however I will be asking my online students to think of places in the Greenwood community that would benefit from the information. After acquiring prior approval to hang their QR code in the community, we will monitor video hits, comments, and hopefully my students will be sharing their newfound knowledge with our local community. Lifelong learners, here we come!

The Challenge:
Kelly has shared some great information with us about QR codes. Utilize some of Kelly's suggestions and try QR codes in your classroom.


  1. Kelly, you are such a creative and truly innovative educator! You have truly found a way to use technology for "redefinition" of learning, and I couldn't be more impressed!

  2. This is great!! I am already thinking of ways to use this next year when students have access to iPads! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I love your video project ideas! Engaging? Yes! Relevant? Yes! Learning? Yes! I have used QR codes in my classroom, but you have taken it to the next level. Thanks for the ideas!

  4. Kelly, What a neat idea. Where (program) do you write the messages that you hang on your door? Google Docs? I am inspired!!