Some of you will say, “What in the world is a QR Code?” Let me first say I am no tech expert, but a QR code looks like a square with a funny pattern inside. Once you have a QR reader installed on your smart device, you can scan a QR code (almost like you would a barcode), and then your device will navigate you to a website that the QR Code creator has linked to that specific code. If you’re like me, you may have even sat in tech meetings at school and heard about QR codes. Some of you may have even seen them in action or you made a pin about them for later use. I will admit that I was very skeptical about QR codes at first. I didn’t understand how to include them in instruction, nor had I really seen a good lesson on how to incorporate them easily and practically for my content area. But, I’m here to say that I have tried them and they work as long as you have a planned learning activity with which to use them. There are also ways to use them on a daily basis which I will also share.
So, let’s start with the hard part — the tech part — the part you may have heard before. To use QR codes you will need a QR code generator and your students will need QR code readers. That sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Your QR code generator does simply that — it creates the weird square pictures that are uniquely paired to whatever website you designate. I suggest doing this on an old-fashioned PC (computer), but you can do it on a tablet. There are many QR code generators, and many of them are free. My favorite is Go QR Me at http://goqr.me. If you use that website, it’s just a matter of copying and pasting. Once you know the website URL that you want to make a QR code for, you simply copy the URL from the address box and paste it under the URL tab at Go QR Me. The website will automatically generate a funny square QR code for you. Then, you just copy and paste that QR code to your document or file. I used Microsoft Word and Google Docs, but you can paste it into any program of your choosing that accepts image files. Once you have your document made, it’s just a matter of the kids having a QR code reader to use your QR codes to access the websites you have chosen for them.
Finding and installing a QR code reader is super easy! Your students will need to have access to a tablet or a smart phone (pretty standard things for most middle and high schools nowadays). You can put the students in groups so that they don’t all have to have their own. You need to download a QR code reader to the devices (or have the students do so) before the day of the lesson. This is done simply by accessing the device’s App Store and searching for a free QR Reader. There are many different free readers, and not every device has to have the exact same reader for your activity to work. I have the QR Code Reader made by Scan, Inc. on my android phone, but I have a different QR Code Reader on my iPad. They all work.
Now, I hope I haven’t lost you or simplified things too much or just told you information that you already know. Let’s talk purpose. How can you incorporate QR codes into instruction? One thing you can do for students is to make them a column of QR codes that access websites you or your students should frequently use. For example, as an English teacher my students need frequent access to our school’s website, Merriam Webster’s site, AP Central, the Common Core standards, Study Blue flashcards, etc. Then, distribute the lists for them to put in their clear view binder. Or, make a giant poster and display it in your room. Or, make the cheat sheet and tape it to each desk or put contact paper over it. You can also post a QR code on specific things in your room or school. For example, I have a lot of seniors and juniors who come back to me and ask for a list of websites that can help them prepare for the SAT or ACT; if I were smart, I’d put that list on a poster with QR codes to each website and hang it outside my classroom door. Our yearbook teacher put QR codes on his posters around school so that kids can quickly access the website to purchase a yearbook. A QR code helps everyone save time from typing in those tediously long URLs.
QR codes are also great tools to use on special occasions. I teach AP Language which naturally pairs itself with AP U.S. History. My school is also fortunate to be close to downtown Historic Savannah, so our APUSH teacher and myself decided to plan a field trip to downtown Savannah so that our students could have some true historical research field experience. I was super stoked about the field trip, but when I told my students we were going to downtown Savannah they did not have that same feeling of elation that I had hoped for…instead I heard some whining and grumbling that they had already learned everything there was to learn about Savannah on previous field trips from earlier grade levels. So, I promised “something different” and “something new.” After a lot of research and testing, I came up with an idea for an Amazing Race style trip through Savannah that relied on QR codes. Students were placed in heterogenous groups of four that allowed for some student choice. Each group of four had their own chaperone; we had a total of eight groups. We came up with various activities that students could complete at different places around downtown Savannah. The learning activities all tied back to an AP Lang or APUSH standard. For example, at Franklin Square in Savannah students had to use the QR codes to access websites to read about the history of Franklin Square. Then, they had to use a QR code to read an excerpt from Franklin’s Autobiography. After reading the history of Ben Franklin in Savannah and performing a close read on the selection of his Autobiography, students then had to conduct and film a Socratic discussion about the history and passage excerpt all while visiting the square named for Benjamin Franklin. We designed many activities that used historical Savannah along with QR codes, research, and standards. We planned for our students to learn about the real history of Savannah and the rhetoric that helped create that history.
To make the day more like The Amazing Race (and to make it fun for high school students), I sorted the QR Code learning activities we made into 10, 25, and 50 point activities. We started the race at Forsyth Fountain. Each team chose which places they wanted to visit and learn about knowing how much each place was worth (DIFFERENTIATION). The students chose the places they visited, and completed performance tasks at each place that used critical level thinking and standards and differentiation, but they didn’t even know it because they were having fun. All teams had to meet at River Street by a specific time at the end of the race. Students posted their performance tasks onto our class’s Edmodo page so that they could all view and comment on each other’s work. the following week, we used the video footage and pictures in our digital research projects. All of this was made easier through QR codes!
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “this does not apply to me.” You may not live near Savannah. You may not teach AP Lang or APUSH. You may not get how you can actually use QR codes in your classroom. Whatever you teach, you can create a scavenger hunt type activity that helps students research information. You can do it in your classroom or outside. You could also use QR codes to have students complete the type of performance tasks I described without ever leaving your room. You just have to adapt the strategy to fit your needs for your students! QR codes truly are a really engaging research method that students love to use.