Students use QR codes to uncover the history around them

I have been blogging a lot recently on how teachers who are making projects real-world and authentic are achieving amazing outcomes (see salmon fishing in Alaska and student entrepreneurs). We see plenty of words tossed around to describe the teaching we aspire toward: “21st century learning,” “collaborative” and “building community,” however I believe it is useful to shine light on practices where these words are being put into classroom practice so that we can learn and be inspired to build on these examples. A starting point for exploring what this might look like in the classroom is through The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization focused on disseminating information that defines “21st century skills." They have a number of well thought-out lesson ideas (scroll-down and then click a few layers deep).Melanie Wiscount in class

Here’s a project that received the “Educator’s Choice” award at the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum. Designed by an amazing educator Melanie Wiscount, a Business & Computer Education Teacher at Palmyra Area High School in Palmyra, PA who was also named a Siemens STEM Institute 2011 Fellow.

Ms. Wiscount asked her students to find a place of significance within a 15 mile radius of their school. This could be a historically important place, a business, an organization or an attraction. The first step was to research the site and create storyboards in Word matching the student-written script with media including still and moving graphics, music and sound files. The next was drafting the media and narration, editing video and audio, and an ultimately creating the podcast in Movie Maker.

Prior to the project the class spends time introducing many elements relevant to how we work, play, study and live in our connected world including copyright law and fair use law, ideas around public domain, attribution and Creative Commons licensing, in addition to conducting effective online research and the use of many tech tools.

But what’s a video podcast if no one comes to see it?

Enter QR codes. They’re those funky little bar code-like designs you’re starting to see in magazines, in stores and other promotional materials. Predominately seen has a mobile marketing tool people download a tag reader app for their phone, beam the app at the QR code and it can take them to a web site, deliver location specific information to the person (modern scavenger hunt?), or deliver specific content directly to them. This is Melanie’s personal QR code for her web page. Microsoft Tag is another example and you can check it out and even create one in a few minutes.image 

Ms. Wiscount then had her students upload their podcasts to the class YouTube channel and each student created a QR code for their podcast which would send people directly to the video podcast about their chosen location. Some students began to develop their marketing skills working with their organizations to set-up “QR easels” at the location so customers scan the code with their phones and learn more about the organization, for example, Palmyra is located right next to Hershey (as in the chocolate), so you can learn a lot of Hershey history.

A handful of students had the opportunity to present their work to the Palmyra Area School Board and in Melanie’s words, “…it was evident their learning, ownership, and pride in this assignment and their creations had depth and connection. It was refreshing for our school board members to see students so excited about what they created and learned through this assignment.”

And the students had their ah-hah moments too:

· “We had to worry about following copyright and fair use laws. I never realized that what was on the Internet is protected.”

· “I now realize how easy it is for the world to see my work.”

This is an excellent example of how offering students freedom of choice and content, an interesting mix of tech tools like Flip cams, cameras, microphones, software, and using their mobile phones in the classroom increases interest and engagement. While introducing something new, and a bit on the edge, like QR codes begins to prepare students with skills and experiences that go beyond the classroom. If I were a high school student struggling to fill-up a one page resume for that summer job or college application I would certainly reference this project.

I look forward to seeing Melanie next month at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in Washington, DC. She will join the other finalists from this summer’s US Forum to present alongside roughly 120 educators from 70 countries. It looks to be great event and I will be sharing observations along the way on @TeachTec and on Facebook.