Monday, February 8, 2016

Embed With Material: Using QR Codes in the Classroom

Today's blogger is Kevin M. Cline. Kevin is the social studies Department Chair and teaches US History, AP World History, US Government, and Dual Credit/AP US Government at Frankton High School. His school made the move to 1:1 this school year and the students use either Google Chromebooks or are allowed to bring their own device. 

When I was an Indiana public school student, the breadth of technology available to me was limited to one lab in the school, and a home computer that still used a floppy drive. Fortunately, as I worked through my post-secondary years, I was able to evolve with technology along with schools, and by the time I graduated, and was ready to helm a classroom of my own, I felt ready to meet the ever-changing needs of the tech-savvy student. I was wrong. Regardless of how prepared I felt, it has become increasingly clear that meeting those needs is a constant effort, and now that my school has made the move to 1:1, that growth has had to accelerate even more. Tech evidence in my classroom is obvious upon entry. Students are met each day with a projector screen of information for the period, work often through a class website, utilize their devices to complete everything from online journaling to shared assignments and projects. We even use Twitter in class, with each class having a hashtag, and use it as a communication, review, and information tool. One of the best transitions I have made, however, has been to the use of QR codes within the classroom.

Students in US History using QR codes.
QR codes are part of our everyday culture, simply code embedded with information that, when scanned, produces that information to the viewer, whether it be a price at the grocery store or a website. I began using the codes as part of bulletin boards within my classroom to link students in an easy way to additional information about the topics listed. Several QR reader apps are available for free on smartphones, and students often use their phones to scan the codes. Recently I have begun to use them for class assignments and research, and have loved the results.

The “work” of using QR codes comes in the research-- finding the resources that you want the student to use. I have used QR codes to take students to websites, images, works of art, songs, video clips, etc. Once you have the link to embed, teachers simply must access a QR code generator, of which several exist. I often use the online generator QR Code Scanner, where I simply have to paste the link, click “generate”, and the code shows up on the screen for download.

For use in bulletin boards, using phones is an easy way for the students to access the information. In a school such as ours, however, with access to 1:1, I wanted students to utilize the codes through their devices. Several scanners exist online, but the two I have found to be the easiest to use were the Google app QR Code Reader and the site QR Code Scanner. I posted the link on my class website, and students then bookmarked it for easy access.

Part of my US History board, with QR codes
to additional information on the women's suffrage movement.
QR codes are a tremendous tool in the social studies classroom. I teach US History, and recently we completed a short unit looking at the “Roaring Twenties.” I am a big believer in the use of pop culture to study history, and in this unit it was an absolute must. I challenged students to produce evidence to prove that the decade earned the nickname “roaring.” The challenge, however, was considering how to best expose students to the cultural explosion of the period, without resorting to old “tried and true” student presentation. Using a method such as this would only truly expose the student to the cultural evidence to which they were assigned; I wanted each student to interact the material. To that end, I set up stations around my classroom, each with a QR code which took students to jazz music, art of the Harlem Renaissance, excerpts from The Great Gatsby, images of flappers, videos of Americans dancing the Charleston, along with many other resources. Students were able to move throughout the room and scan the codes at their own speed, allowing them to spend more time with resources that really interested them. Using this station approach allowed me to expose the students to several different resources in a relatively short amount of time.

In the end, the student truly embraced the alternative approach to presenting the information, which is easily the best part of the ever-growing technology in schools. Teachers have to realize that their students come from a generation which expects to be taught, at least to some degree, through the language of technology. If our primary, perhaps only, mission as teachers is to best serve the students, then we must be prepared to evolve to best fulfill that mission. QR codes are simply one of countless tools teachers can use to speak that language.

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