Monday, August 29, 2011

Learning Something New - QRCodes for the Classroom

In one of my blog posts, I talked about the three mantras for tired teachers, and mentioned that my learning goal of the month was to not only learn, but also test the pedagogical possibilites of QRcodes. I'm delighted  to say that I followed the two first mantras (learn and try) and am here to share (as part of the last one!) the results of my classroom results.

QR Codes

I studied QRcodes, thought of a lesson plan that fit my students' needs and school curriculum. It all started when I told my adult students how the advertisement industry was using QRcodes and Augmented reality in their campaigns (we were discussing about the world of advertisement). They had a question mark on their faces, for they'd never heard of QRcodes or Augmented reality. I explained it, then, there was a brochure in our school with a QRcode. I showed them how it worked. Most of my adult students own a smartphone. So, I sent my customary email of the day and included links to free app downloads of QRreaders for iphones and android phones. Plus, I added they homework in QRcode to make them curious and willing to take their time to download the apps.

I used to generate the colorful QRcodes with amazon links to specific products. We were practicing how to say in different ways how something was expensive or cheap, as explained in my last post:
2. Try, fail, try again in class                                                                                
Learning is not enough. Practice really makes perfect. Test with a plan.
I learned about QR-generators and found powerful free QRreader apps to encourage my students to download them.
I planned a shopping activity with QRCodes to practice talking about things that are too expensive and a bargain.
I invited my students to download the app to their cellphones (I gave suggestions for either Apple and Android smarthphones)
I feel ready to try. Here are the colorful QRcodes I prepared for the activity. 

I was ready for the classroom trial, a group of Prime 3 (unit 7). I had my cellphone with a QRreader app and my son's iPod touch. When I got to class, I asked if some of them had downloaded the app. Yes, Yes, Yes! So, we were ready. First, I elicited from students the dialogue we were practicing and the expressions they could use to say something was way too expensive or a good deal. Then, I handed in to the groups different QRcodes in different colors. They scanned them, and had a wonderful practice using real products from Amazon. I was careful to choose products that might really interest them (GPS running watch, Nespresso Coffee Maker, Gold bracelet, Watch, Touchscreen digital camera). The students were really into the activity and practiced extensively ways of talking about a purchase. I asked them to stand up and change partners holding their cellphones and their products. So, they had on the cellphone screen the product they wanted to talk about and they could also use the QRreader history to browse other products they had scanned. Some students had the cellphones, others asked about the products. The hard part was to make them stop!!! After that, we talked about the products and prices and what they would really buy, students were curious about how to buy online, what the shipping costs and taxes were, if it was reliable to buy online. What a wonderful discussion in which all the students had an experience to share! I was ecstatic with the positive results of my own learning.

Challenges and tips:

  • Such an activity will only work if your students have smartphones with data plan or ipod touch devices with wifi (and wifi at your school). Or if you bring your own devices to class. 
  • there needs to be preparation beforehand and, at least, some students need to download the scanning app
  • The content you choose to be scanned must be exciting, close to students' reality to make the effort worth it.
  • Encourage other teachers to join you. It is REALLY fun and brain-friendly.
For ideas on how to use QRcodes in the classroom check this PPT:

Cross-posted from

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Let`s M that Learning!

From time to time new trends and innovative practices take over the language classrooms. From video cassettes and cd players to computers and interactive boards, emerging technology has always been present in the lives of teachers. Some innovations are easy to deal with, others require patience, skills and a lot of creativity. In recent years, a lot has been talked about "m-learning", that is, the use of mobile devices (such as smartphones and tablets) in the classroom.Smartphones and tablets are gadgets that have come to stay and we teachers cannot deny their existence anymore. For teachers who are concerned about being up-to-date with the latest trends, it is paramount that they learn how to operate those state-of-the-art devices and get used to new lingo, such as APPs. By the way, do you know what APPs are?

As a matter of fact, like any other new technology that comes out in the market, the use of mobile devices in the classroom has already caused a great stir and generated a lot of controversial opinions. Our challenge, as teachers, is to find creative and effective ways to use these devices in classroom so as to promote learning in the classroom. Some experts believe that it seems to be a much wiser decision to find ways to incorporate the students' most beloved and inseparable object into the lessons than just saying to turn them off as they enter the classroom. By the way, have you already seen how many amazing (and sometimes unbelievable) things those little objects are capable of? Have you ever considered the colossal potential they have to turn learning into something more exciting and alluring to students of the 21st century?

But some questions might be already popping in your mind:
How do I get started?
How can I effectively use a smartphone or tablet with my groups?
What APPs do I use?

The answers to these questions have not been completely answered yet and the light at the end of the tunnel is still a little blurry. However, the more teachers experiment with this new technology, the clearer the light at the end of the tunnel will be! So this is the time to plunge into this ocean called "m-learning" in search of all the questions that need to be answered. Visit internet pages specialized in m-learning, google your questions, ask students about the APPS they already know and enjoy, explore your mobile devices, connect with other teachers who are already taking advantage of such devices in their classrooms, etc. I don`t consider myself a specialist and I still need to learn a lot about "m-learning". I`ve just had my first smartphone for 2 months but I have already experimented a bit with it and tried to involve the whole group in my proposed projects. Here are some of the ideas I have already tried:

1. Songify

This is a very popular app that transforms speech into music. There are different tunes you can use, some for free, some paid.The app has been advertised as free for a limited time. The songs can be shared via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook.

I have used this app in two different ways:

a) Students recorded a short paragraph about themselves using the target grammar structure. Then, classmates had to listen to the mixed song and summarize the information they could understand.

b) Students recorded some sentences about themselves using the target grammar structure. After, I (the teacher) asked some comprehension questions (just like a traditional listening comprehension exercise).

* tips:

a) avoid very long sentences or too much information because the mixing might break the information into chunks and change their order, making comprehension a bit more challenging.

b) results are better achieved if speech is loud and clear when recording.

c) re-songify the speech into a different tune if it`s too difficult to understand (depending on the tune you use, it can make a major difference!)

2. Web Treasure Hunts
You can ask your students to search the World Wide Web for some answers needed for some exercises. In one one my groups, for instance, they had to answer questions about popular bedtime stories. Most of them didn`t know all the right answers, so they promptly looked for information in Google and Wikipedia.

3. Camera 

a) Another project that got my students involved in a matter of seconds was asking them to go around the school hallways taking pictures of students, teachers and school staff. This group was learning vocabulary about clothes and physical description, so when they returned to the classroom, I asked them to pair up, show their pictures and describe the people in them.
* I asked the students who didn`t have a camera to pair up with someone else and use the partner`s camera. 

b) Once, I assigned a special homework project and, to my surprise, most students really worked on it. They were learning about likes and dislikes, so I asked them to go home , choose a family member and take 5 pictures of objects or situations that would clearly illustrate what that person liked or disliked. When students came to the next class, they sat in groups and shared their pics and talked a bit about their family members.
* Students who didn`t have a smartphone or tablet with a camera, used their portable video games or traditional digital cameras.

So, have some of these ideas inspired you? I hope so! So, what are you waiting for? The future has arrived, it`s time to try out new ideas. One important thing: share with us what you have done in class, this way we can build knowledge together and improve our skills faster.
Let`s "M" that learning!

Vinicius Lemos