Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Online Stopwatch

I love the variety of cute timers and stopwatches at Since I use them during nearly every lesson, I thought I'd write a post about them.

When you first arrive at the website, you see this:

Click to enlarge

From here, you can use this tool to either count up or count down.

Stopwatch {Counting Up}

If you need a stopwatch, click the green arrow at the top of the screen. The display changes to this:

I always change the stopwatch to a full-screen display and put it on the Promethean board so that students can clearly see it.

To start, click the green button. It will turn to a blue "pause" button that you can click at any time. When paused, you can either continue timing to reset the stopwatch.

I use this when the class's investigation requires a stopwatch; we all just watch this screen together. We can also time how long it takes us to clean up and turn that into a competition to beat our record time. :)

Count Down

The other neat option about this site is the count down timer. If you go back to the home screen and click "count down," you see this display:

Click the numbers to set the time, click set," and then click "start." When the timer goes off, it rings, a bit like a telephone.

If you want to get a little cuter with your count downs, check out the table underneath the timer. It looks like this:

Click to enlarge
If you click on "Classroom Timers," you can see all of your options on one page. Here's what they look like:

You set them just like you set the "standard" timer on the front page, but these all do something different. For instance, the rocket ship on the candle has a long cord that is "lit" when you start the timer. The fire slowly inches its way toward the rocket as time counts down. When it reaches zero, the rocket launches into outer space and plays some fire works.

I'll put a timer on during an investigation {if I don't already have something I need to display on the Promethean} so that students are aware of how much time they have left to work. I find that when I use these timers, the students are extra aware of their time constraints because they love looking up at the picture to see the action.

If you wanted to be sure you could access these tools even without an Internet connection, online-stopwatch gives you the ability to download the timers directly to your computer. Learn more about that by clicking here. 

Random Team Selector

When I posted about Instant Classroom, I mentioned that it can generate random teams or groups for you. But if you're looking for a more mobile version, this iOS app might be just what you're looking for... It's called Random Team Selector.

It's made by the same company that made Random Name Selector, so the look and feel of this app is very similar to the name app.

Be aware that there are plenty of ads in this app, and they're a little annoying.

Two themes are free: the jungle theme that you see above, and a metal theme. You can unlock the other themes by upgrading, which also gets rid of the ads. I'm not interested in upgrading, so I didn't even check the price... sorry!

Here's the jungle theme in action:

Click the blue button to start the generation and the orange button to generate a new name

Here's the metal theme in action:

Divide students into 2, 4, or 8 groups

Key Features
  • You can create as many groups as you want, and each group can have as many members as you want. You do have to type all the names in manually, though; there is no import feature.
  • Names are displayed in random order and divided evening between the groups. For instance, Student A would go to Group 1, Student B would go to Group 2, Student C to Group 3, etc. 
  • There's an alert that tells you when your students will not divide evenly into the groups, but you do have the option to press forward, anyway.  
  • You have the ability to switch a name "off," which means that it will not be selected for any group.
Verdict: I like that this is a free app and that it does what it says it will do. If I didn't already have a random name selector that I liked, I would probably use this app in class. 

Random Name Selector app

I've talked before about tools to help you pick random students' names. {The first was Instant Classroom, and the second was Stick Pick.} Today's post will be about a free iOS app called Random Name Selector.

I haven't played with it for very long, so I don't know everything about it yet, but I wanted to be sure I offered a free iOS name-picking app {since Stick Pick costs a couple dollars}.

Be aware that there are plenty of ads in this app, and they're mildly annoying.

Two themes are free: the top hat and spotlight that you see above, and a jungle theme. You can unlock the other themes by upgrading, which also gets rid of the ads. I'm not interested in upgrading, so I didn't even check the price... sorry!

Here's the top hat and spotlight theme in action:

Click the blue question mark button to generate your first name

Click the orange arrow button to generate a new name

Here's the jungle theme in action:

Click the blue question mark button to generate your first name

Click the orange arrow button to generate a new name

 Key Features

  • You can create as many groups as you want, and each group can have as many members as you want. You do have to type all the names in manually, though; there is no import feature.
  • You can choose whether names can be repeated up to 3 times, or if they can only be picked once per rotation.
  • You can switch names "off," which means they won't be picked. This would come in handy for absent students. 
Verdict: I like that this is a free app and that it does what it says it will do. If I didn't already have a random name selector that I liked, I would use this app in class. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Stick Pick

One of my favorite ways to generate random student names is through Instant Classroom.

However, if you'd like to take a more mobile approach, there are apps that can do the job, too. A great options is Stick Pick.

The app costs $2.99. I rarely ever buy apps, but I got an iTunes gift card this summer when I upgraded my MacBook, so I thought I'd give Stick Pick a try.

The graphics mimic that of the traditional Popsicle-stick-in-a-can, but there are more options on this app than your old school sticks had. Watch this video by Stick Pick to see what I mean:

The app also has a blog that's run by the creator (and a teacher himself), Buzz Garwood. Click here to visit his blog.

If you're interested in downloading Stick Pick for yourself, click the button below:

Instant Classroom

If you've ever been to Super Teacher Tools, you might have noticed a section called "Instant Classroom."

I love it and wanted to share it with you today!

Instant Classroom has 3 cool options:
  1. Make a seating chart
  2. Generate a name randomly
  3. Generate random groups
I've never used the seating chart generator, so I don't know how well it works or if it's worth your time. I have, however, used the name and group generators, and I can't get enough of them.

You create an account for FREE and type in your students' names once. {I recommend bookmarking the login page you get after you sign up. It makes it much faster and easier to quickly see your class lists.}The program saves the class list so you never have to type in the kids' names again. I see over 20 classes a week, and I was able to create separate classes for all of them without problem. As far as I know, there is no limit to the number of classes you can create.

Here's a look at some of my classes:

The blacked out portions are the homeroom teachers' names
{I also like how it tells me how many students are in each class. That's such a simple but useful bit of info!}

Under the "tools" section, you can click the desk icon to generate a seating chart, the question mark to generate a student's name randomly, and people silhouette to generate groups. You can also edit or delete the class list at any time, and you can add pictures to each of the students' names.

Here's some more information about the tools I use:

Generate a name randomly

Remember in the "olden" days when teachers used to create a Popsicle stick with each kid's name on it, and she would randomly draw out a stick when she needed to pick a kid? This name generator reminds me of a virtual version of that. I like it because it's with you all the time, as long as you have an internet connection.

Anyway, to use it, just click on the question mark icon on your home screen. You see this:

The first time I used this, I explained to the kids that I typed their names into the computer, and the computer was going to be responsible for picking people. The kids totally went with it, no questions asked. They knew they were unable to get mad at me for not picking them because this is all the computer's doing. That was a beautiful thing. :)

From there, click the arrow on the right to scroll to a new name. It appears pretty simply and is large enough for the students to read:

Continue clicking the right arrow to get more names, one at a time. Clicking the left arrow lets you scroll to the previous slide. Once you reach the end of the class list, you can start over and re-randomize their names by clicking the "return to groups" button at the bottom of the display and then clicking the question mark icon again.

Generate random groups 

A lot of teachers at my school group their students by ability, but in the Science Lab, that's not usually necessary. Sometimes I just want to group students quickly and evenly.

If I click on the silhouette icon, I see a screen like this:

You can choose how many people you want in each group -- from two people each to ten people each.

And don't worry if you have an uneven number of students. Instant Classroom will recognize that and ask if you want to put them in a group by themselves or distribute them to another group.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


With the thousands of apps in Apple's App Store, it can sometimes be difficult to even know where to begin.

Luckily, one website has already done most of the work for you. It's called APPitic.

The APPitic website is sorted into multiple categories,

Click to enlarge

and each category includes resources and apps.

You can even search for apps by subject area:

Click the picture to see this webpage live

This website provides a healthy mix of paid and free applications. While there is a lot of information here, it's organized well and easy to find exactly what you need.

Explore the APPitic website for yourself by clicking HERE.

Using QR Codes in the Classroom

*If you need to know the QR code "basics," visit this blog post. 

Think QR codes are cool, but you're still unsure how to use them in your classroom?

Test your QR code scanning skillz here
Below is a list of ways I've thought of and/or read about in various places around the web. Some ideas are best for secondary students, and some are best for elementary kiddos. If I found the idea elsewhere, I linked up to it, so just click the idea to go to the original source. 
  1. Manage library materials. The Technology Tips blog connected QR codes to a Google doc, printed the codes on stickers, and attached them to library materials. Students could then check out/in materials by scanning the code.
  2. Excite students about upcoming material. Scott Sibberson blogged about connecting a QR code to the "picture of the week" and using it as sort-of an anticipatory set to get students thinking about upcoming information.
  3. Writing prompts: connect a QR code to a writing prompt (text or picture...I've heard of people using National Geographic's picture of the day as a daily bellringer writing prompt!) and ask students to scan it upon entering the room. They could then use the text/picture they receive as "writing fuel."
  4. Assess. Scott Sibberson also blogged about connecting QR codes to quiz websites (like QuizStar) and asking students to take the quizzes either inside or outside of class.
  5. Allow absent students to catch up. Mr. Sibberson also suggested linking QR codes to the assessment/assignment of the day and posting each individual QR code on a large class calendar. Absent students could scan the QR code to have immediate access to information they missed. Since you can link a QR code to pretty much anything, you could show kids the Prezi presentation you made, a YouTube clip that enhanced learning, a PDF-version of the assignment, a picture slideshow of their classmates completing physical/social activity...whatever!
  6. Report bullying. I really love this idea, captured on livinglocurto's Instagram: use a QR code to connect to a Bully-reporting website or hotline! I'm not sure how practical it is -- I know a lot of kids wouldn't want to be caught scanning that code, but maybe the QR code would make it so "cool" that everyone would be scanning it, just to have something to scan. (Remember, part of the fun of QR codes is the novelty of it at this point!)
  7. Link to counseling/medical websites/assessments. Counselors (or teachers) could generate QR codes to suicide hotlines, informational websites about ADD or ADHD, etc. and post them around the school or in their office. School counselors could generate a QR code to a questionnaire about certain issues. For instance, if a student wanted to get a quick-read about whether or not she was depressed (to know if it was something she needs talk to an adult about), this student could scan a QR code to a quick checklist of attributes that a depressed person usually has. If she checked positive for x number of the attributes, she would know to talk to an adult about what could potentially be clinical depression. This might be great for junior high and high school students, where a quick scan of a QR code is all you need to get the information. A lot of times, those students are too embarrassed to stand and study information on a poster like that, so the ability to scan and read on the go would be invaluable.
  8. Get directions. Attach a QR code to a Mapquest or Google Maps link and put it on fliers for Open Houses or seminars, particularly if you have a large school district. People could scan the code and be given directions as to how to get to an event.
  9. Give more info about school events. Attach addresses/contact information to QR codes and put them on things like basketball schedules or StuCo meeting sign.
  10. Present. When giving a presentation in class, instead of handing out paper copies of your presentation to everyone, maybe you just hand them a QR code to scan and view while you explain. (Or eliminate paper completely by posting the QR code on your IWB.)
  11. Flip your classroom. Create a QR code to a video or presentation you've made for each topic. Hand out the code before class ends and let the students watch the presentations at home.
  12. Make text interactive. For textbooks or novels, create a QR code that links to a Wallwisher or specific Twitter hashtag. Give copies of the code to all students and ask them to participate in a discussion on that text. 
  13. Find something interesting to read. Ask students to review books in the classroom library on some type of website (Shelfari?). Afterwards, generate a QR code, print it onto a sticker, and stick it to the back of the library book. I love that students can get instant access to classmates' reviews -- those reviews are so powerful!
  14. Go on a treasure hunt. Primary Bits and Bytes says teachers could create a treasure hunt for students using QR codes. Each QR code would have to take students to a clue -- text, graphic, video, podcast of you speaking a riddle...whatever! -- that they would use to find the next clue in the hunt.
  15. Go on a textbook/novel hunt. My instructor during a Great Expectations course for secondary students detailed how to do a textbook hunt (basically asking students to get "the big picture" by way of a competitive worksheet activity), but I know there's got to be a way to incorporate QR codes! I'm still working on developing this one... when I figure it out, I'll let ya know. :)
  16. Student-made explanation videos. Primary Bits and Bytes suggests asking students to make YouTube videos to explain how they reached the end of math problems. Instead of just writing the answer, students make the videos and attach them to the book or answer sheet for you to watch/grade.
  17. Homework help: generate a QR code to a homework help website, a helpful YouTube explanation video, etc. on the top of homework. If students struggle at home with the assignment, they could review extra explanations instantly. You could also link to a special Twitter hashtag that would act as a forum for students to discuss the homework.
  18. Feedback: Primary Bits and Bytes sticks a code on the front of a student's binder/folder/journal and uses it as a way to add feedback. You could also do this for homework. I LOVE this idea!
  19. Student-parent-teacher message system: what if we made a private blog page/Wallwisher wall for each student in the class? We could generate QR codes and give them to each student and parent. Throughout the year, that could be used as on-going feedback to evaluate not only assignments, but behavior and social growth, as well. I suppose it could also be used as sort of an instant messager system to relay information like absences or transportation changes. I'm not sure on the logistics of this one, since it would take some time to scan 20+ codes every day... Hmm. I'll brainstorm some more about this one and get back to you. 
  20. E-portfolios: students could link up to their Dropbox, LiveBinders, or Symbaloo accounts, and teachers could use the codes to quickly access progress or give final grades.
  21. Link to "virtual 'fridge." When I taught English, I had a "virtual 'fridge" on my class website, and I used it to display wonderful class work on the web. What if we continued with that idea, but we generated a QR code to that "'fridge" and sent it home with students at the beginning of the year? Everyone -- not just visitors to my website -- could see the outstanding work done by the students. Parents could scan it weekly while they're waiting on dinner to cook; it could be a great, positive dinner conversation topic. 
  22. Hallway decor: use QR codes in hallway decor for Open House or conference nights. You could display students' pictures (or self-portraits) on the bulletin board, and attach a QR code to their latest and greatest achievement right next to each student. Parents could get a "quick response" on what positive things have been happening for that kid lately! This would be easy to update as the year went on, since you'd just change the content of the webpage (not the actual QR code).
  23. Spice up test reviews. {This Pinterest picture was my inspiration for this suggestion.} Create QR codes to questions or material you'd like students to review prior to the test. 
  24. Teacher contact info: as mentioned in my original post about QR codes, you could always put your contact information in the form of a QR code on a class syllabus or even at the bottom of your class newsletter! Parents/students could scan the code and automatically have their phones call or text you for help/information. An even cooler idea for this one: use VistaPrint to create a bunch of cheap, business-card-sized magnets with your QR code contact information, and hand them out at "Meet the Teacher."
  25. Take attendance/lunch count. Using Google docs or Survey Monkey, create a warm-up question for the day. Generate a code for it, and post the code by the door or the front of the room. Take attendance by seeing who responded to the warm-up. The warm-up could be a multiple-choice review...or you could "quiz" elementary students over what kind of lunch they'd like for the day -- attendance and lunch count, all in one!
  26. Keep kids safe on a field trip. Prior to a field trip with younger students, you could link contact information for the school to a QR code, and print the codes onto square stickers. Each student could be required to wear the sticker all day long. It's more subtle than student name tags (which can be dangerous) and less expensive than matching t-shirts! ...If you planned on doing this often, you could always print your QR code onto something more heavy-duty, like a bracelet or necklace, and hand those out to the kids prior to the trip. Their ticket off the bus and to their home is to give you back the QR coded accessory. :)
  27. Let students self-check homework. As per Classroom in the Cloud: for daily homework or a study guide, link a QR code to the answers, and place the code at the bottom or on the backside of the handout. Allow students to check their own answers.
  28. Meet the Open House. Also from  Classroom in the Cloud: Have each teacher create a picture slideshow or video that tells about themselves and post the QR codes to those shows on the classroom door. Parents/students can scan the codes to "meet" teachers.
  29. Meet the teacher...early. Attach "Meet the Teacher" QR codes (discussed in number twenty-eight) to every kid's schedule or "welcome back" newsletter when it is mailed/given out prior to the beginning of the school year?
  30. Meet the teacher...even when he/she is absent. Also spinning off of number twenty-eight, if you had to leave during conference night or Open House  night, perhaps you could post an introductory/explanatory video (in the form of a QR code) on your door so that everyone could still "talk" to you, even though you couldn't be there! Make sure to state your contact information or post another QR code that links to it so that parents could have another opportunity to speak with you.
  31. Host a chat. Link a QR code to a Twitter hashtag or special chatroom so that parents and students could chat with you.
  32. Give a bus tour on a field trip. Also via Classroom in the Cloud: create a series of graphic/video QR codes prior to a field trip. Pass out the codes and tell kids when to scan them. It's like a personal tour without you having to yell it over the roar of the bus! 
  33. Assess a field trip. Along the same lines as number thirty-one: on the way home from a field trip, you could pass out a QR code that's linked to a quiz or writing prompt and allow students to work on the assessment on the way back to school.
  34. Give ELL students extra help. Twitter user @duckinwales suggested attaching audio files to QR codes and giving them to ELL students so they could listen to the correct pronunciation.
  35. Give instructions. Attach an audio file of yourself giving instructions (say, at centers). Students could scan the code when/if they need help or an extra reminder.
  36. Model reading. Teachers of early readers could attach audio files of themselves reading a book. Imagine having a whole library of books with QR codes inside the covers that attach to podcasts of modeled reading!
  37. Link to needed textbooks. Michael Bromby suggests linking an Amazon search for your class's needed reading material for the semester/year onto a QR code. Students will have instant access to the title/author/ISBN of each book needed and can order directly from their smartphone.
  38. Link to a school supply list or wishlist. Post the code(s) on the classroom website or "back to school" newsletter.
  39. Link to your own website. Twitter user @LRDow suggested generating QR codes for each page of your class website and placing those codes directly on the page it links to. To share information with classmates, students only have to pass on the QR codes -- not the entire link.
  40. Give credit to artwork: For art teachers who display students' artwork in your galleries: post a QR code with the child's name and mugshot right next to it so that students are credited with the work without defacing their art with unnecessary writing. 
  41. Let visitors listen to a musical performance. Music teachers could link to a video/audio recording of the choir singing or a grade level performance. 
  42. Link to lesson plans. Upload your lesson plans to your class website and then post a QR code outside your classroom with a link to the lesson plans. Admin only has to scan your code to figure out what your students are learning at that very moment.
  43. Spice up a yearbook. Place QR codes in yearbooks that link to audio and video of students. Assuming the webhost never changed, imagine how amazing it would be to hear yourself and your classmates 20 years later!
  44. Connect with classmates. I used a homework buddy system with my older students: at the beginning of the semester, I ask them to find 4 classmates they think they can trust and to exchange contact information with them. When someone was absent, students didn't come to me to find out what they missed; instead, they asked a homework buddy (or checked our class website). Twitter user @raganmd suggests asking students to fill out contact information (phone numbers, email addresses, personal website URLS) on a website called Jump Scan, and then generating the QR code for each Jump Scan profile. I could easily see this working with my homework buddies program; the information automatically ends up in your phone!
  45. Explain a model. Twitter user @mrrobbo suggests attaching QR codes to physical models. For instance, on a classroom skeleton, attach QR codes with informational videos/links about each part of the body.
  46. "Choose your own adventure" stories: Twitter user @mrrobbo also suggests creating an exciting sentence for a story, and then ask readers to make a decision. If they choose option 1, scan code #1. If they choose option #2, scan code #2. 
  47. Create an on-going class story. Start the class with an exciting sentence or paragraph, generate a QR code to it, and post it on the wall. Students can then write the next portion of the story, generate a QR code to their portion, and add it to the wall. 
  48. Link to audio files. Twitter user @NigelKirkham said he put an audio file in his public Dropbox folder and created a QR code for the public folder's link. Scanning the code enabled users to listen to the file. {You could also link to podcasts.} If you're the lecturing type, this is a great way for students to get information when they miss a class. 
  49. Show definitions on your word wall. Link a QR code to the dictionary definition and put the QR code next to the word so that students can scan it for a quick refresher, if needed. 
  50. Narrate a caption. Perhaps your little students just drew a picture to answer a question, or maybe you're the art teacher, so they're creating lots of wonderful and creative art pieces. Let students record themselves telling others a little bit more about their illustration. Attach that recording to a QR code and paste the code next to the drawing.
  51. Narrate the answer to a problem. One of my best friends is a secondary math teacher, and she has a problem with students who write down the answer without showing their work. So why not have students speak their way through the answer? This could probably work with any subject: give students a higher-level thinking question and ask them to narrate their answer into a recording device. Link the recording to the QR code, and all you have to do is scan the code to listen to their answer. This might be a particularly great idea if you see a lot of cheating in your class -- you'd know instantly if someone wasn't speaking their own homework, and you'd definitely recognize plagiarism if you came across it. 
*Ideas #35, 39, 40, 41, and 42 were found on @TomBarrett's Google docs presentation on ways to use QR codes in the classroom.

Articles About How to Use QR Codes:
Happy QR-ing!

P.S. There's a great website I just found out about that is centered around using QR codes in the classroom! Here's the link in case you'd like to check it out!

QR Codes: The Basics

You may have seen these funny-looking square bar codes on advertisements, fliers, and websites, but you may not have known what they were or what to do with them:
This code should take you to the blog you're reading right now.
The image above is a QR code. QR stands for "Quick Response," and it's basically a square bar code. A QR code can link to a number of things: a website, a phone number to call or text, an e-mail address, a map view with directions...the possibilities are only limited by the user's imagination! Furthermore, a QR code can be generated by anyone! Here's a cute little comic that I found at The Daring Librarian's Flickr account. It might explain QR codes better than I can:

Click the image to make it large enough for you to read comfortably

The public is starting to see these QR codes on business-related things, but I think teachers can use them in the classroom. If you'd like to read about all the ways you can use these codes in the classroom, please visit my blog post: Using QR Codes in the Classroom. First, though, let's go over the basics.

How do I scan a QR code?

Users can download a number of QR code-scanning applications onto their smart phones and use them to "read" QR codes. I know there are QR code-scanning apps available for Apple products and Android smartphones. {There might be options for Blackberry and other "smart" device users, but I'm not aware of them since I primarily deal with Apple products.}

Since I have an iPhone, I'll be using that device as my frame of reference for how-to's and screenshots in this post. I'm sure Android and other "smart" devices that have QR code-reading apps have very similar processes.

When you go into the Apple app store and search for "QR code reader," you find a fairly lengthy list of available apps. Most are free, but I've seen some apps that cost anywhere from $1 to $3. Since I'm cheap, I download the free ones. ;) My favorite QR code-reading app for my iPhone so far is QR Reader for iPhone by TapMedia Ltd.


It really doesn't matter which QR code-reading app you pick, although I will be using the above-mentioned app for my how-to. Gigaom has a list of their top 5 picks for QR code readers for iPhone. Mashable lists 7 QR code readers for Android. ...Take your pick!

Once I download QR Reader for iPhone and open the application, I see a screen that looks as though I'm supposed to take a picture. This is the "scanning" screen. You'll see a square template that will fit a QR code perfectly and a red line that moves vertically on the screen {as though it's "scanning" the code}.

That's my needs-to-be-vacuumed carpet inside the square template... :)
Place the QR code you'd like to scan inside the square template on the screen. In case you're trying to do this as I explain, I'll provide the same QR code to this blog right here for you to practice scanning:

Once your QR code has been correctly aligned with the template box, you'll hear a slight clicking noise, which means the code has been read. From there, you'll be taken to whatever information is contained within the code.

As you can see, reading QR codes with a smart device is pretty easy. Next time you're in public and see a QR code, you can whip out your smart phone, open the scanning app, and unveil whatever information the creator wants you to see.

Don't have access to a smart device at school? Kristin at iTeach 1:1 wrote a great article titled, "How To Scan QR Codes if You Don't Have an iThing." Richard Byrne explains another way in his article titled, "Decode QR Codes without a Camera."

Why should I scan codes?

Sometimes businesses offer coupons or incentives to visitors who view their QR code information.

It's much easier to scan a QR code with your phone than it is to try to type a URL into your phone's browser with those tiny smart phone keys! QR codes are particularly convenient when a URL is super-long and complicated. In addition, since QR codes can convey things other than website links; they are a quick and easy way to get lots of information.

Sounds interesting. How can I use them in my classroom?

For some of my former students, a smart phone is the only internet access they have. So what happens when they try to visit one of my websites via their phone? Sometimes they can't remember the website address and are unable to do any of the research they needed to do. Other times, the small buttons on their smart phones prevent them from typing in the URL correctly; thus, they are unable to find the website and do the assignment. You get the idea.

While I think technology is great, it sometimes is an excuse for students. I've had many students tell me they "couldn't get the website to work at home." If you provide QR codes for all links you need your students to visit, that's just one more way they can get their homework done {and a good chance that user-errors will be eliminated}.

So what if we, as teachers, start posting our QR codes in our classroom? You could start out very simple and just generate codes for your classroom website, blog, Twitter page, Facebook page, and/or school phone number. You could place these codes on the syllabus {for older students} or the classroom newsletter {for younger students}. You could place QR codes on your business cards to hand out to students and parents at the beginning of the year or to your audience when you teach a workshop. When you pass out instructions for a web-project in your class, place the QR code at the top of your information sheet. One school I used to visit regularly had a display that read, "Meet the Teachers." Each teacher is featured on a page that contains his/her name, grade/subject, and a QR code. I scanned the codes while I was waiting one day, and found out that all the codes link back to the teachers' Alma maters! That would be interesting to place outside your door on "Meet the Teacher" night. 

These codes can provide another way to get in touch with you and/or to review the classroom information. The more methods you provide for accessing that information, the higher the probability it will be accessed!

The point is, you can create another (and possibly simpler) way for students and parents to contact you. The more venues we, as teachers, have for communicating with our students and their parents, the more questions that can be answered. No one can argue that that's not a lofty goal!

I don't necessarily think this is a better communication method than the tried-and-true "write it down" method, but it just might be eye-catching, different, and "cool" enough to get folks to access your info.

I'm on board. How do I create codes of my own?

You can generate QR codes by using an application on your smart device or a website. Let's start by generating a code from your smart phone's application, since that's what we've been working with so far. Open your QR Reader for iPhone app, and click the square QR code button in the bottom left corner. That will take you to a screen that has links to all the QR codes you've scanned with that application so far. On the bottom toolbar, hit "creator," and you'll see a screen like the one below:

From there, it's just a matter of picking which kind of code you'd like to generate. Once you click on your desired code, you're taken to another screen that prompts you to type in your information. For instance, when I click Create "Web URL" code, I'm taken to a screen that asks for a web URL. All I have to do is type in the URL, click "create" in the top right corner, and I see my new code. To share it with others, click "save" in the top right corner. I always click "share QR image" and e-mail the image to myself before I do anything else. That way, I have the image on my computer to put on websites {or use for blog posts}. You can also share it on Facebook,  Twitter, or Tumblr; save it to your photo album; or copy it to your clipboard. Once you share it, users must scan the information using their QR reader-app of choice, and they're taken to whatever information you'd like them to see.

Easy as that.

You could also generate your QR code online from a computer. There are so many QR code-generating website out there, but the ones I use most frequently are, Kaywa, and Kerem Erkan. I think the first two are the most simple to use, but they lack some features that Kerem Erkan's generator has.

No matter what code-generating website you choose to use, all you have to do is find the correct form to fill out (are you linking to a website? a Google map? a specific tweet? just a block of text?), type in the requested information, and watch as the website does all the hard work. Once you generate the code, you can save it to your desktop or share it on your social media websites for others to start reading your code. 

More articles about QR codes in the classroom:

Interested in using QR codes, but you're just unsure how to incorporate them? Click HERE to go to my blog post with 40+ ways to use them.

Instagram: Ideas for Use

I think having a class Instagram is a neat idea. It's a great way to document what's happening in your class, share with families, and show students' smiles and success. You can assign a student to be the class photographer if you don't have time to incorporate Instagram yourself.

Here are some other ideas about how to use Instagram in your classroom:
  • Send a link to your class Instagram in your welcome-back-to-school welcome letter {or insert a QR code}. Before school starts, allow students to log in and see a photo-tour of your classroom and/or the school. It could help students get excited about coming back to school. 
  • Students who have an Instagram account of their own {or could use Mom's for a while} could take pictures of real-life examples of things you're studying in class and tag you in them. Teaching alliteration? Ask students to find an example of alliteration in the real world and tag you in their Instagram picture of it. Teaching the /oi/ sound? Ask students to find pictures of objects whose name contains the /oi/ sound.
  • Document steps in an investigation or experiment. Use the pictures to help write in the science notebook. {You could even print the pictures and/or print the QR code link to them and let students glue that into their notebook entry.}
  • If you have a class set of iOS devices {or cameras}, ask students to complete a photo scavenger hunt around the school and tag the class Instagram account in their uploaded pictures. The first team to upload all the answers wins.
  • Put Instagram pictures of the class in your class store {if you use a classroom economy management system, I bet these would "sell" quickly}. 
  • Host a small fundraiser with prints from your class Instagram. Create a brochure of the different printing options and send it home to parents. By increasing the price just a little bit, you could provide tangible and physical memories for parents to keep and make a little money for your class or school. You could contact each company individually to see if you could purchase items in a bulk price. 
  • Print pics to create a photo book for "writing inspiration"? Students could keep the book in their desk and refer to it if they run out of ideas during a writer's workshop. 
  • Assign a photo essay: students have to capture pictures to depict a story. 
  • If every student had an Instagram account of his/her own, they could use it as a photo portfolio for work throughout the year.
  • Print pictures to use as goodbye gifts for your students at the end of the year. I particularly love the idea of creating a book or collage with memories from the school year for each student.
  • Instagram pictures make great additions to class bulletin boards and/or classroom decorations. 
  • If you teach an older grade, you could use your class Instagram to post pictures of homework help/tips or content-related jokes. If you need to upload text, just go into your Notebook app and write whatever needs to be said. Take a screenshot of your words and upload the screenshot to Instagram. {You could also use the free app, Notestagram, for more customization options.}
  • Because Instagram saves all of your photos infinitely, you can use it to take pictures of great examples of lessons that you repeat on a yearly basis. Next year you teach that same lesson, pull up the example picture on your class Instagram instead of having to dig a hard copy out from the depths of your files. {This could be a great supplement to your teaching portfolio and/or substitute lesson plans!}
  • Use your Instagram pictures to help you make a slideshow at the end of the year. Play it on repeat during your end-of-the-year party.
Here are some cool ideas on ways to print your Instagram pictures (if you're willing to pay a little):
  1. Sticky Gram lets you turn your Instagram pics into magnets -- it's $15 for a pack of 9 with free shipping. 
  2. Printstagram lets you create a variety of things with your photos. The first option is a photo college (great for displaying all the students in your class or all of their work on one piece of paper) --  it's 20" x 40" and $25. Mini-prints are cards with your photos on them -- get a set of 48 for $12. Stickers -- get a pack of 252 stickers for $10. Make two mini-books (with 50 photos each) for $12. Or make 3 tiny-books (with 24 photos each) for $10.
  3. Postagram lets you order mail-able postcards with your Instagram photos on them. Mail a postcard for as little as $1.
  4. PostalPix is a free app that lets you order regular prints of your Instagram images.
  5. Instagoodies lets you order 90 1" stickers for $14.
  6. ArtFlakes lets you print stickers of different sizes with your Instagram images. Get anywhere from 10 stickers (for $20) to 50 stickers (for $62). These stickers are about 4"x4" and are removable from any surface!
  7. ImageSnap lets you create put your images on actual ceramic tiles that can go on walls! This company offers tiles in a range of sizes and prices.
Ways to use the above-printing-services in your classroom:
  • Anything could be a reward for a student! I'm sure they would love getting any gift that had a picture of them or work they had done on it!
  • Anything could be a gift for parents, as well. Again, you could use pictures of the student's face or that student's work -- either would be a cool gift for a parent. I'm specifically thinking of "thank you" gifts for those parents who volunteer to help in your room or on field trips, or "welcome" gifts for all parents on Open House or Parent/Teacher Conference nights. You don't have to give anything expensive, but I think giving parents a little somethin'-somethin' emphasizes how appreciative you are that they came and might encourage them to come again in the future!
  • If The Powers That Be will let you, you could apply a coat of magnetic paint to one wall of your classroom. On the first day of school, you could take pictures of students' faces (or decorated drawings of their own name) and turn those into magnets. Then you could display student work with the magnets, holding up each document with the appropriate, personalized magnet. 
  • One management method for student bathroom/water fountain breaks I saw once involved a T chart on the white board. It looked something like this:

There were also magnets with places the students could go -- girl's bathroom, boy's bathroom, water fountain, nurse, and counselor. If a student needed to leave the room, he got up, slid his name to the "out" column, moved the location magnet of where he was going right next to it, and calmly left the room. I thought the system worked beautifully. Using student-magnets with pictures on them would be great for very young students who can't read, or it would just be a fun and personal addition to make students smile.

Instagram: Getting Started

Imagine Scenario A: as a parent, you drop your student off to school every morning, hoping that she has a good time and learns something along the way. At night, you sit around the dinner table and ask little Susie, "What did you do in school today?" Her response: "I dunno" or "Nothin'." This occurs night after night after night...

Now imagine Scenario B: as a parent, you drop your student off to school every morning. At night, you sit around the dinner table and ask little Susie, "What did you do in school today?" Before she can even respond, "Nothin'," you whip out your cell phone and show her a picture of a fun-looking activity her teacher posted on the class Instagram. Susie's eyes light up as she excitedly remembers and tells you about what happened at school today.

Doesn't Scenario B sound much more pleasant? I thought so, too. 

YOU could provide that opportunity for the parents of students in your room. You could open up lines of communication about school. YOU could remind students about the exciting things they did today. YOU could give parents an inside look as to what is happening in your room on a daily basis. ...All with a free app and a couple clicks.

I've been using Instagram in my classroom since August 2012, and I tell you what: I love it {and so do the parents I've spoken to about it}!

Instagram used to be a mobile-device-only program, but it has now expanded to a full website. You still cannot post anything via the website {you have to do it from a mobile device}, but you can at least view everything from a regular computer. So any of your parents -- regardless of what devices they own {or don't own} can participate in this class activity.

What it is:
Instagram is a social media site based solely on pictures. Instead of status updates, you post pictures or short videos.

How to get started:
  1. On your phone or tablet, surf the App Store for Instagram and download it for free. 
  2. Register with an e-mail address, provide a username and password, and your account is up and ready for use. 
  3. Upload pictures to your account by taking a picture directly within the app, or by uploading a picture from your camera roll. Instagram only accepts square pictures, so you'll be directed to a screen that allows you to crop it accordingly. Apply a variety of simple filters to improve your photo or make it look more "artsy" and creative. Add an optional caption and post. 
  4. Link your Instagram account to your Twitter or Facebook page so that every picture you post on Instagram will automatically show up on those social networking sites, as well {do this in the settings portion of the app}. This expands your sharing capabilities with one easy click. 
  5. Find friends and "follow" them to see their photos automatically in your feed. From there, you can "like" or comment on any public picture. 
Privacy concerns:
You can adjust your privacy settings to make your photos private; doing this means that users will have to request to follow you, and you will have to approve their friendship before they can see anything you post. {However, keep in mind that if you link your Instagram to post automatically to your Facebook or Twitter and neither of THOSE are private, your pictures will still be viewable to the public on those social networking sites.}

How to use it in the classroom:
I use it to document our work and activities, plain and simple! Since I teach Science Lab, I use it to take photos of documents, artifacts, experiments, and investigations that my students are using/creating/conducting during class. Parents and admin of the school can "follow" my account and are able to see what we do in class on a daily basis.

I try to take at least 1-2 pictures per activity, rotating who I capture on film so that, hopefully, every student can be featured before the year is over.

Time commitment:
Our school encourages staff to keep cell phones handy anyway, in case of emergency, so I almost always have my phone close by. It literally takes me 2 seconds to open my camera app and take a picture with my cell. {I find it harder to snap a picture during younger grade levels' classes -- such as kindergarten -- because I tend to need to help them with investigations during every second. With older students, however, there are plenty of days where I give them instructions and just let them explore, so it's the perfect time for me to take snap some pictures.} I upload during class {under the document camera so students can see}, during plan time, during lunch, or at the end of the day when I'm waiting for my computer to turn off. Contrary to what you might think, this does not require you to invest a lot of time or effort!

I spend anywhere from the first 5-20 minutes of class helping students set up their science notebook and teaching/prepping for the investigation of the day. After that part is over, I usually let 'em fly on their own. This is when I walk around with my phone and capture really great teamwork, detailed science notebook entries, and/or the "meat" of the investigation.

If your class isn't set up that way or you don't think you have the time to be the class photographer, make it a classroom job! Pick a kid to be the photographer for a day, week, month, or semester. Give the kid your cell phone during class and allow him/her to freely snap pictures of the activities.

Don't trust your student to keep themselves from going through the personal information on your cell phone? If you have an iPhone, no need to be worried. Set a pass code for your iPhone, lock it, and hand it off. Apple has a handy quick-and-private photo feature for locked phones: press the home button to make your phone light up, and swipe your thumb up over the camera icon that appears in the bottom, right corner. You'll be taken directly to the camera app. The best part is that you can only view the pictures you took during that photography session -- nothing else. If you press the lock button to make your screen dark, and then try this process all over again, you won't have access to the pictures you took earlier unless you enter your pass code and unlock the phone fully. The class photographer will never be able to access your phone or other private information unless you give him/her your pass code. At the end of the day, pick the best photos and upload them to the class Instagram.

-Just like on Twitter, Instagram allows you to hashtag words or phrases so that they are easily searchable by others. Since I see every single student in the school, I created a hashtag that's specific to our school and each grade level. I "tag" each photo with the appropriate grade so that parents can quickly search and find the pictures they want to see.

  • If you want to be really fair about it, print an extra class list, and check off the names of students who have been featured on the class Instagram. That way, you can ensure everyone gets a chance to be featured. 
  • Generate a QR code linked to your username and put it on strips of paper on a bulletin board outside your door. Students/Parents can grab a QR code on their way out the door, go home and scan it, and immediately be connected to the class account. 
  • If Instagram is going to be your primary social media for your class, you may consider downloading the free app #notestagram -- it allows you to post text to Instagram, in the event that you need to post a message for everyone instead of a regular picture. 

Click HERE to view additional ideas for using Instagram in your classroom.