muse: n. a source of inspiration

QR codes in DC!

qrcode.13436999Every year my seventh graders create movies about the monuments and memorials that they’re going to visit while touring Washington, DC. I, ahem, like to call them the “Monumentaries” (insert groan here). The students do their research and then create a Keynote presentation teaching others about the inspiration for the monument and process of creating and building it. They then turn the slide show into a self-running presentation by adding a voiceover with timing and background music. Then we export it as a movie. It’s a pretty seamless and glitch-proof way to make a movie (they do a lot with iMovie in 8th grade so we focus on presentation software in 7th).

In past years I’ve burned the movies onto DVDs so the kids can watch them while on the bus, but since we allowed the students to bring their cellphones on the trip this year we chose to put them on YouTube. I created QR codes by monument or memorial, so the students can easily scan the QR code to see the movie at the appropriate location.

Easy, peasy – QR codes in DC!


June 3, 2013 Posted by | QR Codes | , | Leave a comment

Interesting Questing, continued

If you’ve been following this blog for any time, you know that gaming in education, especially of the digital kind, is a big passion of mine. I was fortunate enough to be able to explore a variety of ways of doing this with the support of an iCenter iChallenge grant this year, and I even managed to figure out how to work digital hunting into my ILP (Individual Learning Project) that I’m doing for my certificate in Israel Education through the iCenter and Spertus Institute for Jewish Studies.

I recently presented on Interesting Questing at the annual conference of the Illinois Computing Educators. My wiki page can be found here and my Livebinder is here.

So – what did I actually do? I created and ran two quests so far this year:

The first was for about 300 6th graders. They used mobile devices to scan QR codes to read instructions, watch videos online and seek out various locations in a local synagogue while performing tasks such as making a map of Israel with their bodies and making up bag lunches for a soup kitchen. The students were divided into groups of about ten students and used their own devices – iPods, SMART Phones and iPads – to read the codes. They had a lot of fun doing it. The buzz was unmistakable as they entered the synagogue and saw the codes posted. The code shown here is the one to the opening video.

The second was far more complicated. I used ARIS, which is being developed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. It’s in development, so some wonkiness should be expected, but it’s reasonably stable. The user interface is pretty straightforward. There’s a pretty minimal online user guide and a community forum, but I found the easiest way to learn the software was to just jump in and use it. The Flash-based editor must be used on a computer, and the game is played using iOS devices. I created a hunt that had seven stations in the school, with a task to be completed at each station. The app features data collecting tools such as audio and video recording, so kids had to complete tasks such as uploading a recording of themselves singing “Ha Kova Sheli” or a photo of the group with a particular item. ARIS allows you to create characters, which made it a great choice for a Purim-themed game. Some screen shots are shown here.

The other incredibly cool thing about ARIS is that you design it using a Google map, which allows you to put clues in the real world. Literally, you can sit at home on your couch (I speak from experience here, people) and place the clues wherever you want them. Additionally, you set the range so that you can determine precisely (well, sort of – see below) where a person needs to be when a clue becomes visible to them.

ARIS allows you to have the player interact with a character, get clues, pick up or give items, so a game designed in ARIS can have all the qualities of a regular scavenger hunt with the addition of immediate gratification.

The Purim quest was designed to take place during a 35-minute rotation, in which the students were guided through joining the school network (which had been opened for the event), downloading the app and creating a user ID. They were given a brief demo on how to use the tools and access the camera, recorder and QR code scanner (called the decoder in the app). Because we were concerned about the interaction between the devices’ GPS location services and the game we made extensive use of QR codes rather than relying on the range settings in the maps.

What did we learn?

Like all activities that involved the Internet, always have a plan B. The biggest problem with the Purim quest was that our bandwidth was really stretched to the limit, which prevented the kids from uploading the media they created (such as the movies or audio recording). Unfortunately, most of the logic for the Purim quest involved uploading media before the next clue could be seen, so if the kids couldn’t upload their media the game was stopped. Luckily I had created seven different versions (for purposes of staggering the groups) with QR codes as opening plaques, so we were able to get the students started on new games when the one they were on stopped.

The other thing we noticed with the QR code scavenger hunt in the first case was that groups of ten were too large. It’s not like a group of kids following a scavenger hunt on paper; the lure of the electronic device is just too strong – if the kids can’t touch the device at least part of the time, it loses its appeal.

The other issue was the accuracy of the devices’ GPS systems. When we tested ARIS on various devices – iPads, iPhones and iPods – we discovered that the accuracy of their GPS systems varied tremendously. Not surprisingly, phones seemed to work the best. I don’t know if that was because of the devices themselves or the fact that we were in the school building, but since the game was going to be played in the building, we felt we needed to compensate for the inaccuracy by setting the range pretty wide. This, of course, causes other issues in when clues showed up where they weren’t supposed to. To avoid that we used QR codes, rather than rely on the clues appearing automatically.

Designing in ARIS takes a lot of time. There’s a lot of testing involved, and it can get tedious with placing the items on the map. But it was a blast! The kids were excited to be using their devices in school, and the “coolness” factor is terrific. It’s definitely worth working with, and I’m excited to figure out where to use it next.

March 11, 2012 Posted by | Interesting Questing, QR Codes | , , | 1 Comment

Interesting Questing

Interesting questing logoA new interest for me is developing digital quests. These might be digital versions of old-fashioned scavenger hunts, or more complex activities like city-wide activities using GPS navigation devices. When I was in Vienna this past summer with Centropa, we went on part of a geocaching tour that was created by middle school kids. What a great activity, both for the people who are participating and the kids who prepared it.

What’s super exciting for me is that I’m going to getting support from the great staff at the iCenter as part of my iChallenge incubator grant. There are three projects which I’m working on:

  1. A pretty straightforward digital scavenger hunt to be held in the synagogue building.
  2. A digital quest for Purim.
  3. My preconfirmation (8th and 9th graders) “Finding the Jew in You” quest. My students and I will be creating a digital quest for Chicago-area teenagers to use. The quest will include going to various Jewish sites in the Chicago area, performing tasks and collecting student reflections

I’ve started to compile resources on my wiki. Here are a few of my favorites:


SCVNGR is an app which is widely used commercially. It has a clean interface and it doesn’t seem terribly complicated to create challenges. Free accounts are limited to five challenges, but the developers graciously granted me an increase to 25 just for the asking. The editor is online, and the user needs to download an app to play.

ARIS is a platform developed at the University of Wisconsin. The site is impressive and extensive, with user docs and samples. Players can interact with virtual guides and collect artifacts (which can then be annotated using voice or a smartphone camera).  The learning curve on this product looks steeper than SCVNGR, but there’s great documentation. Like SCVNGR, the user needs to download a free app in order to play.

QR (quick response) codes are not software per se, but rather digital tools. You create a QR code to encode some kind of data, such as displaying text or directing someone to a website or to create an email. There’s been a lot of discussion on how to use them in education, including digital scavenger hunts, links to podcasts and students portfolios and more. Users with smartphones, laptops or computers with webcams can use QR code scanners to read the code.For a video on how you can use QR codes in school, check this out.

Need some inspiration?

Getting a grip on the tech side is one thing, but there’s nothing like a little show and tell to get you going. Here are a few videos that might help:

Aris demo


And for a real dose of inspiration, check out Global Kids. Their New York City Haunts game will blow you away!

If you’d like to share what you’re doing, or what you’d like to do – please let me know!

September 14, 2011 Posted by | iCenter, Interesting Questing, QR Codes, Technology | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

QR Code Fairytale Storybooks

Saw this on Trendhunter today: QR Code Fairytale Storybooks. It’s simple: armed with a smartphone or iPod touch, a child can access media by scanning QR codes in a storybook. I’m really kind of loving the idea of augmenting books this way. My 8th graders create comics from folk tales – how cool would it be to add QR codes?

August 1, 2011 Posted by | QR Codes, Technology | , , | Leave a comment

QR Codes in Education: What’s the Point?

I’m so intrigued by QR codes – those little square boxes that look like messed-up barcodes. You scan them using a smartphone or other mobile device and, voila, you get some kind of message, or you get transported to a website or a video pops up.

Since I first discovered them, I’ve been determined to identify authentic ways to integrate them into education. Oh, there are lots of things I’ve found, but some of them don’t seem to make sense..

Here’s an example I saw this morning via Twitter… “Use QR codes for a scavenger hunt in your school” Well, that looked promising. But, upon further inspection, the QR code scavenger hunt is merely a set of questions for which you generate QR codes, and then you stick them around your school. No web access necessary – your students use a QR scanner to read the QR code, read and answer the question, and then move on. Seriously, people, that’s the best we can do with a smartphone? Turn it into some kind of 21st century decoder ring? That’s not worth having your students bring mobile devices to school. Sure, it’s cute, but it’s nothing more than a gimmick and we are cheating our students and lying to ourselves if we indulge in meaningless gimmicks and then pat ourselves on the back because “we’re integrating technology into our classroom.”

Here’s another one: an educator for whom I have a great deal of respect tells me, “oh, I use QR codes all the time.”

“Really?” I respond, impressed.

“Sure,” she responds. “I write messages like ‘happy birthday, Steven’ and generate a code for it.

And then?

“I stick it up and people scan it.” More decoder ring technique.

Lest you think I have found no bright spot in my QR code quest, I do want to share Rabbi Adam Simon’s technique for adding multimedia functionality to the timelines that he places around his classroom. Timelines are typically flat affairs, you know? Mere words on a sheet that we teachers typically stick too far up (at the ceiling, right?) for kids to use effectively. Well, Adam takes his timelines to the next dimension by adding QR codes that link to multimedia resources at the appropriate places. So, when his students are learning about a particular date they can access movies or other media. Now, that’s authentic. It uses cool technology – the smartphone, QR codes and the web – to enrich his students’ learning.

In another example, I spoke at length at a regional tech conference with a man who teaches kids with disabilities that make it impossible for them to type URLs in browsers. He generates QR codes for them and prints them out. Using a QR code scanner and a computer webcam, the kids can scan the code they need in order to access the website. Brilliant. Gives the kids autonomy and frees the teacher from typing URL after URL.

My favorite is the librarian who puts QR codes in the front of books. The codes lead to online reviews of books. I want to do that with my sixth graders’ book review podcasts.

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

My internal QR code debate is just another example of the “are we pursuing technology for the right reasons?” question.

So, my friends, I request that you ask yourself simple questions when introducing QR codes. Is this adding some kind of functionality that you could not get in some other way? Are you taking advantage of smartphone technology?

Most importantly, are you going for something other than the cool factor? Because the cool factor doesn’t carry you very far.

It’s a smartphone, not a decoder ring.

July 23, 2011 Posted by | Technology | , , | 15 Comments


%d bloggers like this: