Tuesday, December 21, 2010

QR Codes: The Desktop Version And A Follow-Up

When I wrote my post yesterday about QR codes I was just tossing around some ideas and putting some things out there that I had seen. I never expected the awesome feedback I have gotten and people wanting to know more. I have gotten lots of questions and have been thinking lots about practical ways to use these in the classroom...

First, QR codes definitely have the cool factor. Get your mobile device, scan, and be taken away to the magical world of the Internet to get some great information. Are they a necessary teaching tool? Probably not, but neither is most of what we use in education today. But they are another tool to use. QR codes are taking off, evident by their growing presence in advertisements and other places. Sure, it will take sometime for them to become mainstream. One question I got was are students using these now. I don't think so but, they are poised to hit things like console games. Think about it. Your game comes with this funky black and white box with the directions to scan. When you do you get a secret cheat code, or a code to unlock some part of the game you only can by scanning the code. (Heck, QR codes might already be on games. I have no clue though.)

The point is, these codes can contain just about any information you want. On your business card you could create a code that listed all your areas you specialize in. Since you have 4000 characters, there is a lot more room in the code than there is on the card. And the code removes the chance for mistyping a URL or leaving out some piece of information.

Scan and go.

Plug and chug.

There are some really great ways to use them in education that I want to highlight.

But first...

The biggest question I have gotten is "What do I do if my students don't have mobile devices." Not to worry friend! Many of the ways I have been thinking about using them don't involve mobile devices at all.

Today I threw together a short screencast with a couple of ideas on how to use a desktop QR Reader:

You can download this desktop QR Code reader here. Again, very easy to use and since Adobe Air will run on just about any platform you can install it just about anywhere. I am sure this is not the only one. David Hopkins told me about another (Quickmark) but I had trouble getting it to install and work correctly (but that could have been the machine I was using.) If you have other suggestions leave them in the comments below.

The other question I got a lot was about generating codes. The website I listed in the previous post works well for me. I like that it will do websites, text, even send a SMS message when scanned. And I can get the embed code or a link directly to the code to print or to copy and put where ever. I also found some browser extensions that will automatically create QR codes that you can then scan with a phone to save or get more information.

  • For Firefox, Mobile Barcoder sits at the bottom of your screen. You highlight anything; text, URL, image and it creates a QR code on the fly that you can then scan with your mobile to save the information. You can also highlight the text, right click and generate the code that way. Pretty handy for getting information to your mobile device. 
  • For Chrome, the QR Code Extension does all the same but has more options like sending the code to Facebook, saving the code so you can post it in email or on your website or blog, and integrating with the URL shortner Bit.ly so you can share your codes easily.

Ok, so you have put a QR scanner on your desktop or phone. You can generate them. Now what? How will you use them? In edition to some of the ideas from yesterday, here are a few more.

  • In the video I posted the morning as an update to the original post (and as I mention in my screencast), I see these going right in the front cover of books. Kids can create podcasts of book reviews, video of trailers, etc and in different places in the library, stations could be set up so the kids can scan the code and get the information. No mobile needed. Just a dedicated station with a QR Reader app and a webcam. 
  • Many schools have welcome videos or messages from the administrator (or better yet, ones that kids have made) that many times live on the web. What if you put a QR code on all your letterhead, school cards, even on in a permanent location in the front of your building. Anyone could scan your code and get an overview of what your building is all about. 
  • I could see desktop scanners being placed all over a school for a beginning of the year scavenger hunt or even just a "Getting To Know Your Building." I used to teach middle school and kids struggled in 6th grade learning where everything was. Set up a desktop scanner at all the locations (library, office, guidance, gym, etc) and in the student handbook or just a handout have all the codes for those locations. The codes could be for websites for more information about the location or just text about the location. 

So there are just 3 more ideas. Check out the comments at the bottom of the previous post. There are tons more resources that people have put there.

Can you think of a way to use them? Leave some comments here. I will compile them into another post to share all the wonderful ideas.

New Posted Resources 12/21/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

QR Huh? What The Heck Is A QR Code?

Have you seen these around town where you are lately?


I was a little surprised when I saw them all over the Black Friday ads back in November. This is a QR or Quick Response Code. Simply, put it is a 3D barcode. It's a much more sophisticated version of the barcode on your bag of Lays Potato Chips. QR Codes are popping up everywhere and are gaining in popularity in education. So, I have been taking some time and doing a little digging about QR codes and trying to find some resources so you can get started using them.

First a video.

In a nutshell, you need a device that has a camera so you can scan or take a picture of the code, a program to do the decoding and web access to see where the code takes you. This limits you to cell phones and the new iPod Touch. (You could use a computer and a scanner but we are going for mobility here.)

You will need a reader installed on your phone. There are lots to choose from and most are free. For the iPhone NeoReader seems to be the most popular. On Android the Barcode Scanner from Zxing is very popular (it's the one I use). But NeoReader works on most Android phones as well. There are other apps too for non-smartphones. Just do a Google search for your phone and "qr code reader" and you should come up with something.

Why A QR Code:
Because QR Codes can contain up to 4000 characters of information you can put a ton of information in just one code. For example, it could be something as simple as a web address. So if you scan the code at the top of this post you will get the address for my blog. QR codes are also beginning to appear on business cards because, again, they can contain lots more information. But by far their most popular use is for web addresses. The ads I mentioned earlier all contained codes to sales information that didn't appear in the ad or on the regular website. Another place I have seen them is at our local zoo. You can walk up to the exhibit, scan the code and get more information about the animals and even video and audio. (Great for those times when the animals aren't active.)

One idea for use in the classroom (I will have more below) that comes to mind is books. When I was in the classroom kids would go to the library and literally judge a book by its cover. But think about if you threw in a QR code on the front cover. The students can scan and read a book review written by a student from last year or even watch a video trailer of the book that a student created as part of a project. All of that information  contained in a small black and white square on the cover of the book.

Pretty cool huh?

Creating QR Codes:
Easy as (insert something you think is easy here). There are lots of different websites that will allow you to make QR codes. One of my favorite is from Kaywa. Simply drop in the website you want the user to be directed to (or other information like general text, phone number, or SMS message) click Generate and BANG! A QR Code you can embed or print anywhere.

More Ideas For Education:
I have been saving several websites as they come across on Twitter. There is tons of great information out there on QR codes in Education. Here is just a sampling.

Interesting Ways To Use QR Codes In The Classroom-This presentation, started by the amazing Tom Barrett, has over 28 ways to use QR Codes in the classroom. Best thing here? If you come up with a different way in the presentation, you can add your idea.

Using QR Codes To Tell A Story- This post I saw just the other day has several ideas on how students can create and use QR Codes to tell stories. Lots of lesson ideas and more QR Code resources here.

Using QR Codes In Student Projects-The ladies over at Simple K12 recently wrote about post about using QR Codes in the classroom and give some quick examples. There are also some great ideas in the comments so be sure not to miss those.

Take some time and read up on some of this stuff. Even if you don't have the devices for students use it is still worth knowing about.

Or maybe your students have cell phones you could sneak and use for a lesson.

I promise, I won't tell anyone.

(Have more ideas or information on QR Codes. Leave it in the comments below. )

Update: Be sure to read some of the comments below. There are some really good links in there! One I wanted to point out in particular was this video from David Hopkins on how one school is experimenting with QR Codes. Some really cool examples! (It also shows how you can use QR codes without a phone or mobile device.) Thanks David!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Posted Resources 12/16/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Google Cr-48 Laptop. A Review...

Yep, I am one of the lucky ones.

On Thursday of last week I came home to a package on my front steps. Not expecting anything (and not noticing and weird markings or wires) I immediately opened the box to find a brand new Google Chrome Cr-48 Laptop.

For those that don't know the Cr-48 is Google's first lap that runs the ChromeOS. Before now ChromeOS only lived on machines internal to Google and to rough versions found on the Internet. But this was the first devices built exclusively for the ChromeOS.

First, what is ChromeOS?

The big deal with ChromeOS is that it is basically a browser OS. Using it, you have to forget everything you know about how Windows, Mac, Linux or anything else because this is different. Everything takes place in the browser. There is no minimizing to a desktop or programs to install.

Here is a short video about how ChromeOS and the laptop work.

I live in Google so this was an easy process for me. I have been using the device exclusively (except at work where I can't) the entire time I have had it. There are some definite pros and some pretty big cons. Here are my impressions so far.

Probably, no not probably, definitely the easiest machine to set up. Since I live in Google and use Chrome all the time, across many machines, I am already used to the fact that no matter what I do on one machine (install an extension, make a favorite, change a look) it is all synced to all my other machines automatically. Booting up this machine was like setting up sync just as I have done many times before. I booted (which took about 2 seconds) and was asked to sign in with my Google Account. I did, took my picture, connected to my home wireless and all within the span of about 2 minutes my machine was ready to use. All my extensions, customizations, apps, everything was already there waiting for me. No mess, no fuss. If someone else (say my wife, who also uses Chrome on her regular machine) signs in, the same would be true for her. There is also a guest account which gives the user the Incognito feature which saves nothing they do, which can come in handy. But this system makes it so anyone can sign on to any machine and have access to all their stuff, no matter what machine it is. That is huge...

Portability. The design is basic. The machine itself is light and the keys are of a good size. There are no buttons for the trackpad (which took some getting used to) and there is an integrated webcam. I traveled this past weekend and used the device and it was handy. Not a netbook and not a laptop either. It is just different. There is also the 3G built in from Verizon which is nice (but with a 3G iPad I also carry with me everywhere, I don't see myself using this feature just yet.)

Fast, Fast Fast. When you close the lid the machine automatically goes to sleep. When you open the lid it takes about 1 second for it to wake up and for you to get going again. Boot up takes just seconds, type your password and you are in. No more waiting for the OS to load or anything silly. And since everything is in the cloud and the OS is easy to update it should stay fresh for the life of the machine, which I predict will be a very long time. 

It is still a little weird. Yep. Still weird. It takes some getting used to. If you download anything it can be a challenge to locate it but a quick scan of the help file told me the keyboard shortcut. I had a problem using a USB flash drive and there does not appear to be a way to get the files there. I would like to see the option to save to my GDocs, perhaps that is coming. There are no file browsers so it just takes some getting used to to figure out how it all works.

Buggy. It is still so new there are some bugs. And I expected that. My biggest issue right now is if I install apps or make any changes on any of my other machines, when I go to my Cr-48 things are synced right up. But, if I make any changes on my Cr-48 they aren't making it out and syncing to my other machines. I am sure this is just a bug and will be fixed but, come on. The syncing is what makes this machine rock. I would think it would work out of the gate.

Apps? Most of the apps in the Chrome Web Store aren't apps. They are bookmarks. Thats a bummer. I wish many of these sites would create new stuff like they do for other devices that use apps. The apps that are actually apps are really, really buggy, like more than normal. The Tweetdeck app, for example has a very long way to go. It works but I miss many of the features I find in the desktop version.And some sites for that matter don't even work at all like Netflix (but that is the fault of Netflix, not the device.).

Slow, Slow, Slow. Don't think you are going to play WoW or do any heavy video editing on this machine. The Atom processor is nice but it is slow. Takes a while to do things. There is slight keyboard lag which gets annoying for a fast typer but I have gotten used to it. Even connected to a very fast network at home it still takes time for the pages to process and load. I am a little bummed about this stuff but in terms of an Internet computer it works just fine.

3 Things For Google To Figure Out:
What am I gonna do with my iTunes? I would go exclusively to a Cloud machine but with over 50gb of music and video that is gonna be tough. I hope Apple and Google can figure things out and make the 2 talk to each other. Not a deal breaker for me. Just something that is much needed.

Speed? If Google is gonna sell this as is, it really should be faster. Faster processor and faster browsing times are a must. But again, this is just the first the line of this type of machine. I have no doubt it will get better.

Apps. Again, the Web Store is brand new. Still lots to figure out there but, apps are supposed to be applications not bookmarks. Lets get some really cool things in there, and fast.

Final Thoughts:
Overall, I know I am lucky to have one of these machines. I want to think this like getting my hands on an original Apple (but that might be over thinking it.) I have been looking forward to ChromeOS for while and I think this device has lots of potential. No matter what machine you go to, you would have all your stuff, period. Easy from an administrative end and from the end user. And I truly believe these could turn in to disposable computers.(I really could see these being sold in convenience stores like some cell phones are now.) Because there really isn't anything to the hardware and because anyone can use any machine the costs could come way, way down and this might help access issues and fit into ever tightening school budgets.

Will I be able to give up all my Windows based machines just yet? Nope. But the Cr-48 Laptop is well on it's way to being a good replacement...eventually.

Wanna Win A Computer?

UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulations to Derek Braman. He comment was chosen at random from almost 200 entries. Congratulations to him and his 5th Graders. Derek, I will be in touch!

Thanks everyone who entered!


Over the past few months I have been testing and using a Lenovo M90z Desktop Computer. Hands down, one of the best machines I have used. An All-In-One, glass front touch screen, this machine is one of best around. And you have a chance to win one.

First some background.

You can read more about the M90z by going to the official website.

Below is a short intro video:

Sweet machine huh?

Well, they have given me one to give away. Want to have one? Tell me why? I would like for this to go to a classroom or to someone who will use it with kids, although not a requirement. (Just a wish of mine...) Leave me a comment below. I will then use a random number generator and one person will win.

What are you waiting for?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Super Book Of Web Tools For Educators

There is lots of great information on there on Web 2.0 and using technology in the classroom for teachers. Heck, just check out the name of this blog. But often if you have teachers that are just starting out or need some help figuring all this tech stuff out, it can be a daunting task as there is lots of information.

My good friend Richard Byrne, writer of the wildly popular Free Technology For Teachers blog approached me a few weeks ago and asked me if I would contribute to a free ebook he was putting together. I was happy to contribute a section on social media. Beyond that you have some of the best in the business of education contributing sections as well, such as Patrick Larkin and George Couros, 2 of my favorite administrators giving us the administrators view of technology. Or Kelly Tenkely, Larry Ferlazzo, Lee, Kolbert, Beth Still, Cory Plough, Adam Bellow, and Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano. Such an amazing list of educators. I am so honored to be included in a publication with them.

Here is the book. Download it, pass it out, share it with your colleagues, administrators, teammates. Once you have a chance to check it out, head back here and tell me what you think.

Super Book Of Web Tools For Educators

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lessons From A Smackdown...

One of my favorite parts of many conferences is the Smackdown. What is a Smackdown you ask? Well, it can take on many differnt forms depending on who you ask but for the sake of our discussion a Smackdown is when people get up and they have a very limited time to share information about their favorite technology tool or trick. It could be anywhere from 60 seconds to 3 minutes.

Here is a video of one I did at #NTCamp in Philly over the summer.

Recently at EdcampCitrus in Florida they did a Smackdown session where several tools and tricks were shared. While I hate I could not be there in person, Jerry (one of the organizers) kindly created a Google Doc to share. Below is that doc so you can take a look.

I wanted to point out a few from this list that caught my eye:

Classroom 2.0 Live Archive-This is a great place to catch all the recorded Classroom 2.0 sessions. There are so many great interviews and sessions here. Everything is tagged and easy to find.

Wallwisher-I love this site for getting quick ideas on topics. It is basically a virtual sticky notes board that, when shared anyone can access. You only have a 140 characters but you can include links to websites, images, sounds and video, which can be helpful. I like this site for getting quick feedback and ideas for topics. (Be warned, however, it has been going down lately. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But it is too good not to include here. Always check before you use it. Lino It is a good alternative.)

WhenIsGood-This online scheduler is great. Say you need to do a meeting. Click all the times you are available. Send a link to invitees. They click when they are available. When all matches up. You have your meeting time. This is really great when trying to organize events with lots of people. Best part? Free!

Fur.ly-This is a URL shortner that allows you to combine a bunch of links into one. Great for kids to share sites or web tours or for just sharing a bunch of links all at once. Very easy to use.

Be sure to check out the doc. What is your favorite tool not on the list that you think others might not know about? Leave some details in the comments.

Update: Thanks to Jerry (mentioned above) and the girls at SimpleK12. Below is the video of the Smackdown from #EdcampCitrus. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Passion For Real Education Reform

Depending on who you listen to, this is a really great time to be an educator or a really bad time to be one. On one side you have those that would have you believe our education system is broken, un-fixable, so far beyond repair that they reach at straws trying to find something that will bring us back from the brink of disaster. On the other, there are those that know there is greatness out there, it just isn’t seen in the mainstream. There are lots of voices, each trying to be louder than the last, proclaiming that they have the right idea.
I don’t really have any answers. Lately, I have been struggling with my thoughts on reform and education, wondering what is right and who to listen to. But through all my reading, conversations and thoughts, one thing is, and will remain clear for me. No matter what, the key to any type of change or reform is passion.
Through the use of social media I have become connected to thousands of educators from all parts of the world. Each and every day these dedicated people walk into a classroom, office, workshop, where ever and do the same thing day in and day out. They want what is best for kids and will do everything in their power to do so.
I could get real cheesy and give you a Websters Definition of passion, or provide some You Tube video of what I think passion is. But honestly you know what passion is. If you would work with kids or in education in any way you know what passion looks like, or at least you should.
Passion is getting up everyday and walking into a room of students, not knowing who will come in hungry, or who's parent was arrested last night or who hasn’t had a place to sleep for the past week, but through it all providing the best learning experience for each kid.
Passion is arriving in the classroom before the sun rises and leaving after the sun sets to plan a lesson, set up a lab or take part in professional development, to provide the best learning experience for each kid.
Passion is spending thousands of dollars out of pocket each year on the supplies we know kids need but districts have decided to cut in their never ending search to trim budgets all in an effort to provide the best learning experience for each kid.
Passion is knowing inside that you really work 13 months a year, even though some might say you are lucky you have “summers off,” because you know what you learn and do in your free time helps provide the best learning experience for each kid.
Passion is working and learning with kids.
If I have learned one thing over the past few years in education is that change is not something that happens fast. And I believe it shouldn’t. A lot times schools are reactive instead of proactive and that just sets us up for disaster. We shouldn’t jump on bandwagons and change things as often as we change, well, you know the rest of that. Nor should we move at a snails pace, forming committee after committee to make mundane decisions.
Yes, there are things that are wrong. But are they as bleak as some in Washington or at the movies would have us believe? I don’t think so. I see lots of great things in schools each day. And the one thing that is consistent everywhere I go and with everyone I talk to is that they have passion.
Do you?