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QR Codes, Prezi and Angry Birds (Oh My!)

Last week, while so many of my pals were in Minnesota taking in the sights and sounds of AASL, (I'm not bitter, really), I was home, holding down the fort and ever so quietly fanning the flames of a QR Code revolution. As I mentioned in a previous post, QR Codes have taken a new and exciting turn at my school, as students use what they're learning in their Social Studies classes to transform some of our out of date print resources into up to date, interactive texts.

The latest examples connect my library's print books on South Africa to student made Prezis which contain all sorts of photos, audio and videos providing up to date geographic, social and political information, along with some really cool connections to the novel No Turning Back by Beverly Naidoo, which is set on the streets of Johannesburg on the eve of South Africa's first democratic elections AND which these students just finished reading.  Seriously, it's crazy cool.

The first time I ever saw Prezi in action might have been in 2008 during a session by David Warlick at my state's annual technology conference.  No matter what year it was, though, I remember a) thinking it was incredibly cool and b) excitedly sharing it with the teachers I work with the moment I returned.  And, while I don't use Prezi for every presentation, I love the way it helps both the presenter and the audience see the connection between concepts - something that a linear PowerPoint simply can't do.  

These days, Prezi is a regularly used tool at my school - particularly with the Social Studies teacher who is currently helping me take over the world, one QR Code at a time.  I love the way he describes student Prezis as "an updated KWL chart" - an opportunity for students to share what they know, explore what they'd like to know more about and make connections between the facts they've absorbed and their analysis of those ideas.  Again, it's cool.  Seriously.

Which brings me back to the QR Codes.  As students are finishing up their South African Prezis, we're affixing them to outdated books in the library.  It's a super fun process because, while I pull the books that are in need of a time machine makeover, I'm letting students decide which Prezi should be linked with which book, as well as what page in the book the QR Code should call home.  Having them locate out of date information, as well as decide which resources best fill the current gaps in these books, is an amazing thing.  And, frankly, I just can't get enough of it.

Meanwhile, just as all this crazy cool super learning is taking place, I've  been receiving a bushel full of questions about how QR Codes look at my school.  Which I am going to answer now.  But before I do...

It's important to note that I wouldn't know anything about QR Codes if it weren't for a math teacher pal of mine who came running into the library one afternoon, commandeered my computer, and breathlessly began singing the praises of Steve Anderson: a fellow Tarheel who not only blogs and tweets about all things techie ed, but who also co created the #edchat series of tweet-chats that thousands of people follow each week.  In short, he's phenomenal.  Anyway, just about everything I've done, in terms of implementation, he did first, so if what I describe doesn't make sense, check-out his work which may very well be much clearer than mine.

QR Code F.A.Q.

Q:  Don't students need a hand held device (like an iPod or iPad) to scan a QR Code?

A:  No!  In fact, my school has no hand held devices.  None!  We do, however, have computers and webcams.  That's all you need.  Here's what you do:

  1. Attach Webcam***

  2. Install Adobe Air

  3. Download and install QR Reader.

  4. That's it. You're done.  Really.

One thing I did end up doing, eventually, was having many of the superfluous programs taken off the computers that I use as QR Code stations.  Typically, the codes we create link to an online resource, a video, podcast or some other student made product which is housed online, I decided to free up a little memory/space by removing any programs that don't relate to that function.

Now you're ready to scan!

Q:  How do you make a QR Code?

A:  There are a bajillion QR code generators out there, but I use QRStuff. 

Honestly, there are likely better, fancier choices available, but I just haven't done much searching.  QR Stuff was the first one I happened upon when I started creating them, and I've been happy, so I've stuck with it.  That said, all you have to do is type in the URL to the website that you’d like your QR code to link to, follow the steps to either save your code or print it or both. Then, once it’s printed, affix it to the book (or whatever) and test it with your webcam.  Note:  be sure to use the built in URL shortener – this will result in a cleaner, easier to read, QR Code. If you choose a different code generator, just be sure to use a URL shortener before creating your codes.  Also, Gwyneth Jones created an uber cool comic tutorial outlining how she creates codes which provides an easy step by step tutorial.   And...although it's not nearly as cool as Gwyneth's, here's a link to the QR Code flyer that I created and have posted at my stations.  

Q:  Do you ever sleep?

A:  Not really. 

But that has nothing to do with this project.  In fact, this project has taken up little to no "extra time."  Instead of prioritizing the project based on the resources I felt were in the most need of updating, I created goals based on the already established learning targets for students. In short, if they're studying South Africa, then that's the area we'll focus on.  When they move onto Africa, I'll move there too.   Rather than creating new lessons to accommodate this technology, the technology exists solely to enhance student learning.  To me, this is how it should be all of the time.  Kids first - then technology.  Kids first - then books.  Kids first. Otherwise, what's the point?

*** One last note about the webcam.  In my typical MacGyver, ductape and a prayer, style, I attached my webcam to a spare circulation scanner stand.  Essentially, this was to keep kids from playing catch with the camera which, let's face it - I teach middle school - was a legitimate concern.  However, I realized almost immediately that scanning the code wasn't as easy as just placing the book under the camera.  You'll see once you set yours up that there can be a split second delay between the image on the screen and your movements below the lens.  Plus, for some reason, my kids seem to think that in order to make it scan, the code has to be touching the camera (which actually has the opposite effect).  Honestly, this was a source of great frustration for both me and my students until I created an X marks the spot label right below the camera that shows would-be scanners precisely where to place the bar code.  If you follow none of the other advice I fling your way, follow this.  Really.

And finally, even though this post may actually be the longest post known to man, I just had to share a new display that only exists because a) I shamelessly copy Tamara Cox whenever I get the chance.  (Seriously, my library is going to start looking a lot more like hers very, very soon).  And b) because Gwyneth Jones is crazy generous.  

Quick like, here's the scoop:  Series books are so popular with middle school kids that, for awhile now, I've been toying with the notion of shelving (at least some of them) separately.  Then Tamara did it and yes, if Tamara jumped off a bridge....  Fast forward to my mailbox and a package containing 4 uber cool Angry Birds, (courtesy of one incredibly daring, red headed librarian who shall remain nameless), and voila, a display is born!  

Once the shelving was done, I downloaded an appropriate font, created some signage and away they flew.  The kids love it AND while this picture doesn't show it, I've also created some themed shelf talkers that help kids figure out which books comes 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.  (Here's an example, that you are welcome use, change, share, ignore, etc).

It's been good fun and, best of all, it's a testament to the power of community.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can't help but believe that not even the very best of us is as good as we all are together.  So I continue to borrow and steal and create and share.  After all, my kids (and yours) are worth it.


(Thanks, girls!)


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