iPhone plus QR codes = powerful learning

I got an iPhone two and a half weeks ago, and it’s my first smart phone.  It’s very cool.  Being able to check email on the go is quite useful, and having the ability to ask questions of Siri — the built-in personal assistant who responds to voice commands — is quite fun.

For instance, when my son and I wondered yesterday “when is the summer solstice?” we just asked Siri, and she gave us an answer with a fun twist:

But by far the most powerful thing for me has been the QR code reader.  It’s amazing to me that I can see a QR code on a sign somewhere, scan it with my phone, and get taken to a video or website that explains more about whatever I’m pointing my phone at.

The first project I want students to do at the middle school I’m opening in 2013, Triangle Learning Community, is to make a multi-media history of their own family’s journey to Durham, NC, as well as a general history of Durham.  How cool would it be for them to make QR codes for various places around Durham, NC (where the school will be located) that link to multimedia presentations the students make?

For instance, imagine walking by this sign in downtown Durham:

Right now, people might see that sign and think “hmmm, that’s interesting,” and leave it at that.  But imagine a QR code sitting at the bottom of the sign, so that when people scan the code, they get taken to a series of ten oral histories that students have done with folks who have connections to Black Wall Street — perhaps an interview with the mayor of Durham, or with the grand-daughter of Dr. Aaron Moore.

That would be pretty cool.

I just started reading Tony Wagner’s new book, Creating Innovators, and it’s filled with Microsoft Tags, which I’d never heard of before yesterday — here are two pages from the book (which I highly highly recommend).

This first one explains how to use the book — it assumes that some readers will have smart phones, and it’s chock full of videos made by Bob Compton, who has produced eight feature-length documentary films on global education and innovation.  The videos enhance the book a great deal and bring it to life.  Here’s the part of the book where you download the Tag reader:

And here’s a sample “tag” link to a resource from later in the book.  And this is not just any resource — if you have not seen Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture, it’s well worth an hour of your time.  It’s inspirational:

By the way, I just checked and my phone can read this tag on the screen — try scanning it if you have a smart phone (download the tag reader for free using the previous picture).

Here’s a link to a resource from the book that does not yet have a URL link; the only way to get to it (that I know of) is by following the tag reproduced below.  It’s a one-minute video by Tom Friedman where he begins by positing that “life is 90 percent about ownership — that is, when your children feel they own something, there is no amount of work that you can ask them to do that they won’t ask themselves to do first, if they feel a sense of ownership of it.”

With all of this learning potential in just the QR reader, it’s amazing to me how many school ban smart phones during school.  What a missed opportunity!

And are we teaching students to do what Tony Wagner did in his book (and what Nick Kristof does regularly in his multi-media reporting for the New York Times) — write multi-media texts that have video and audio enhancements to more powerfully communicate their ideas?

At Triangle Learning Community middle school, we will work on those sorts of advanced communication skills from day one.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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