Research Paths into Language Learning

I have been continuing my research into my question of how English Language Learners best acquire Academic English and how they might be impacted, whether positively or negatively, by environmental influences. 

At first, I was searching on my college library’s database, and collecting numerous articles and book references. Most of my initial findings were about the behavioral aspects of peer groups or slightly related ideas. For instance, I found a research study that showed how pre-K students were already prone to conforming to their peers, especially if they were asked to perform or declare their opinion publicly. I also found many interesting articles were only tangentially related to my topic! For instance, one article looked at how to work with high school students who were low-proficiency newcomers, especially students who had had little or interrupted schooling experiences before coming to this country. Because I have worked with students in exactly this situation, it was hard to tear myself away from this article. Instead, I filed it away for future reference. 

I have been amassing a large number of articles for reading later, with little time to dig into them as much as I wished. I am learning to skim the articles and focus in on points that seem to be more pertinent to my topic, whether proving or disproving a behavioral or linguistic aspect. At the very least, I add them to my rough reference list. 

One interesting source has been the MEd. research thesis paper by Cheryl Poole at Meredith College, who looked at factors influencing Long-Term English Language Learners and their lack of progress. I find that every page has numerous useful points, but it is so long (and dense with information), that I have to put it aside every so often and allow the information to digest. 

Another source of sources is my on-going graduate readings. It takes me a little longer to get through some readings, because I frequently stop to take notes or track down a reference.

My readings have actually been an excellent jumping-off point for research, because I find many sources that have already proved useful to another researcher or writer. For instance, when reading Essential Linguistics by Freeman & Freeman (2004), I found some research by Brown & Cambourne (1987) about how using the “read and retell” method over a genre can lead to “features of the texts showing up on the students’ writings,” or what they call “spillover.” This glimpse of research inspires me to wonder if we could “seed” academic usage and vocabulary by using read and retell with academic texts with our ELLs. I am curious about the research they base their ideas on, but I can’t find their book at my institution’s library. 

I am also interested in descriptions of how focusing less on correctness of form and more on the meaning and context helps students acquire the desired language more effectively. I look forward to delving into those and similar findings by researchers/ theorists like Chomsky, Lenneberg, and Wells. 

I was also very interested in John Schumann’s research and theories of Second Language Acquisition, but the only publication I could access was The Neurobiology of Learning (perspectives of second language acquisition) as an ebook. That topic seems like it would help balance the classroom methods of Brown & Cambourne with some brain research, or exactly how the retelling part of the method engages the students’ acquisition of language patterns. I happen to believe that students do need both input and output to acquire language and content, but I’m happy to find some concrete research to support that idea. I have downloaded the ebook, so we shall see what I find. 

One way I help keep my thoughts and incoming ideas straight is to note my findings, quotes, ideas, and suppositions on index cards grouped by source. What can be frustrating is to attempt to take notes on sources that are not directly useful to my research. I am pleased that I have a few core sources that are allowing me to dig into the ideas. Right now, I maintain a list of possible sources, a list of call numbers to find at the library, a rough reference list, a few ebook downloads, and my growing stack of notecards.

Speaking of digging into ideas, I have several ideas that I am trying to tie together, among them: acquiring academic language, how ELLs acquire language from school and their surroundings such as community and peers, factors that influence effective acquisition, practices or circumstances that encourage or inhibit language learning, and more. I want to find out not only the behavioral circumstances, but the brain science that the environment supports or inhibits. A whole side topic is practices in the classroom or community that would support Academic English acquisition. Putting these ideas into practice is my ultimate goal, after all. 

Shifting to Research

My blog is now shifting to focus on my latest research project.

My topic area is looking at how English Language Learners are influenced linguistically and behaviorally by their peers and associates, and how they thrive academically (or not) depending on who they choose to identify with and emulate. One aspect of this is their understanding of code-switching, or the ability to switch registers of language use depending on the requirements of a context, such as “hanging with your buds” versus discussing subjects with your teachers. I speculate that having an understanding of different registers makes easier for ELLs to learn social language and still understand the need for academic language for more formal tasks. I don’t really know for sure how that works (and what I might do about it as a teacher), hence the research.

So far, I have been perusing myriad articles through Meredith’s library website, and journal collections such as World Cat. I barely have to go to the library in person, bless the internet! Actually, I do plan to check out a few books and articles that interest me. For the moment, I have read or skimmed a few articles, and had the rest of them emailed to me through EBSCO Publishing as PDFs for future reading. I’ve collected about twenty articles so far, and a thesis paper by Sherry Poole that looks at long-term ESL students. Most of the research I am finding thus far looks at the behavioral angle more than the linguistic angle, though.

In my preliminary search, I’ve used a few different search term combinations such as ESL, peer groups, and Academic English. It’s tricky to find the right search terms to yield the kind of articles I am looking for. I can sometimes find additional search terms by noticing terms used in the articles. I am also hoping to find more sources by looking through the citations from the articles.

Some of my current article titles include:

Callahan: School Context and the Effect of ESL Placement on Mexican-Origin Adolescents Achievement

Mashburn: Peer Effects on Children’s Language Achievement During Pre-K

Sáenz: Peer Assisted Learning Strategies for ELLs with LD

Määttä: Achievement strategies in peer groups and adolescents’ school adjustment and norm-breaking behavior

One of my favorite sources so far is a collection of articles called <Kids Talk: Strategic Language Use in Later Childhood, also available as an ebook. I’ve downloaded the maximum number of chapters and pages, and read several other chapters, for instance, Chapter 9: The Effect of Role and Footing on Students Oral Academic Language, which sounds exactly like the kind of research I am looking for.

I will also need to design some kind of hands-on project to inform my reading. I suspect I will interview teachers and students about addressing some of these concerns.  I’m still drafting my proposal. I’ll share that later this weekend when it looks mostly done.

So this week, I have made some progress, but have much to do.

Surprised by iPad

It occurred to me to be impressed with my iPad this week. I’m surprised.

I hadn’t planned to buy one anytime soon, but within a week of starting this class, I discovered I needed a mobile device. After I researched my options online and asked friends and fellow classmates about what devices they used and their user experiences, my husband and I decided to buy an iPad over some kind of smart phone. Once we had determined which generation we should get and from where, I ordered and paid for my preferred model online, and then was able to watch it progress halfway around the world to my own front door. It left China (refurbished) on Friday of one week and arrived at my door the following Monday afternoon.

Then came the fun part of learning how to use my new device. I found applications, bookmarked websites, downloaded apps, and set about discovering the capabilities and limitations of my iPad.

I discovered I enjoyed the feeling of using gestures to control my movements around the interface, even more so than on my laptop’s touch screen. I discovered I missed being able to open multiple tabs from one site. The screen was also a little small for some kinds of browsing that needed several functions open at once. I found that I could touch type surprisingly well, but it was tiring for extended text creating or editing (although to be fair, the sharp edge on my laptop starts to wear on me during extended typing or browsing as well).

Nevertheless, within a week, I was using the iPad in combination with my laptop while I researched and worked on projects and sifted through information. Matt Smith, writing for Digital Trends, made a similar observation while testing whether a tablet could replace a laptop for various day-to-day tasks. Namely:

Productivity is considered the domain of desktops and some laptops, while tablets are used as consumption devices.

That’s what I found too (although Mr. Smith gives a much more nuanced review); it was like having a second monitor. I could read on on one device and compile and create on another device. In other words, the iPad made a surprisingly positive addition to my efficiency and workflow.

Even more stunningly, within a few weeks of first getting my hands on the iPad, I used it to give a complete presentation to my class. I showed a short video clip on YouTube via the iPad web browser, and then presented and demonstrated an iPad app to the class via a plug (aka a dongle) that connected the iPad to the overhead projector with external speakers. Anything I could stream from the internet or the tablet was possible. I probably could have used a tool like Prezi as well. This was the first time I really noticed the iPad as not just a toy or additional device, but as a useful tool in its own right.

In the same week, another classmate, Heidi, demonstrated how an iPevo document camera can work in combination with an iPad and portable wireless hub to act as a portable “cam” alternately showing work from students around the class and allowing students to analyze and interact using their iPads. (See, for example, 10 Great Classroom Activities Using iPad Doc Cams.) Wow! That’s like having a handheld smart board. (That’s assuming all the devices work in tandem as they are supposed to.)

Recently I’ve been using the iPad as a handheld reader as well. Being able to adjust the angle of the text makes online reading much more comfortable, another reason why the iPad can work well in tandem with another device such as a laptop.

So yes, I’m surprised by how incredibly useful the iPad can be, especially in combination with other devices or with other digital resources such as apps and YouTube and wireless Internet. I’m not entirely convinced it is the all-round best device to have in the classroom as a student tool, but I have been enjoying its working style and efficiency. I’ve been converted into a fan.

Attempting Cross-Cultural Tolerance in an Intolerant Community

I’ve been reading about Global Collaboration Projects and mulling over how to engage students in cross-cultural communication and projects such as the Flat Classroom projects. I am excited about Global Collaborative Projects with all of their possibility and promise for preparing our students for the 21st century.

I read statements from Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds (Lindsay, J. & Davis, V.A., 2013) like,

“It should be the goal that before a student goes to college, he or she should participate in projects with 3.0 characteristics [global collaboration producing both information exchange and artifact co-creation]” (p. 9)

My first reaction is: Great! Fantastic! What a great idea! And I hope they get practice with their peers and local community in person before participating globally.

I’m concerned that some students and districts are so isolated that they do not know how to interact effectively and respectfully with others outside of their own experience.  For instance, I was saddened to see this recent story from NPR’s race, culture, & ethnicity blog, Code Switch:, about a town meeting in Tennessee gone awry.

The public meeting in Manchester, Tenn., about 70 miles from Nashville, was supposed to address and tamp down discrimination toward Muslims there.

But instead it turned into a shouting match

Or as one commentator pointed out, a shouting match has two sides. This was speakers attempting to make a positive change, being heckled and shouted at.

This appeared to be a well-intentioned meeting, but it failed to meet its goals of better understanding.  Why? I can think of several possible reasons.

  • The two main perspectives were not in agreement over the goals of the meeting.
  • The two parties did not check with each other to find common goals before attempting the meeting.
  • The people bringing a new perspective may have felt the need to lecture the town majority, who in return did not like being lectured at.
  • The town majority already has a some prejudice against the town minority, in this case, Muslims.
  • Either one or both sides did not know how to conduct a respectful dialogue or were not motivated to do so.
  • Outside protestors may have derailed any impulse toward dialogue.

You can probably think of more.

My big question is: How can we think of collaborating with other students around the globe when we sometimes can’t even talk respectfully with our neighbors? This distresses me.

This also has implications for any global collaborations projects we may propose.

For starters, our students (and perhaps educators, and administrators) need to learn how to talk respectfully with people unlike themselves. Many of us learn this as we grow older and gain experience with people outside our childhood experiences, but here we are thinking about asking our younger students to undertake this task. We may be asking students to step out of their family’s or community’s usual way of working with the world.

The first thing that comes to mind, is: the students need to be explicitly taught how to talk and interact with other people and other cultures. Learning effective discourse management skills is the first step to talking and working with other people.

Another aspect that comes to mind is what writer and blogger Alice Bradley refers to as training the puppy-brain: take small goals, and reward with positive feedback, and treats. We may have to start very small and give lots of positive feedback and “treats.”

I was so impressed and pleased to hear of a fellow student’s 2nd grade classroom this Spring – and her many learning centers with discourse promoted, practiced, and encouraged! She did not shush the children and teach them to be quiet; she taught them to discuss their ideas effectively and respectfully. (She may have even won the teacher of the year in her district – I haven’t heard the results yet.) This does not address larger cultural differences that may be present, but it sets an expectation of how to have a conversation.

Some students many already be fully steeped in the multi-cultural expectations – I feel grateful to live in a community where multi-culturalism is generally seen as a good thing, and people at least attempt to improve their multi-cultural “climate” – but some other students may need much more support to approach cross-cultural collaboration.

I don’t have any easy answers, but I think discourse management is a start.

National Novel Writing Month Prompts Teen to Write Book

I was interested to see this article in the Raleigh News & Observer last week: Novel Writing Mission a Success: Apex teen crafts schi-fi book as part of one-month challenge.

Not only was this fourteen-year old able to meet daily word counts as part of the annual writing project, but he was able to extend, complete, and then publish his story.

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National Novel Writing Month, and its offshoot, National Blog Posting Month (otherwise known as NaBloPoMo), take place every November. Every year, tens of thousands of people take up the challenge to write daily, either for blogs or on a novel manuscript. The challenge pushes the participants to keep writing, even when inspiration dries up.

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When I have participated in NaBloPoMo in previous years, I always started out with a few ideas to write about, then hit a wall when nothing inspired me. The point of the daily writing, though, is not so much to write beautifully crafted work (although that’s great too), but to keep writing even when you are not inspired. Some posts turn out nicely, and others are simply finished and posted. It’s an experience in perseverance. As writer Daniel Colvin says,

“Writing is like exercising. You got to do it often and it’s not always divine.”

The Novel Writing version sets a daily word count target and offers targets writing focuses, such as fleshing out characters and setting up conflicts in the plot. NaNoWriMo, and its Young Writers Program may be an even better choice for younger writers as it offers a finished result with lots of support. It’s worth learning that sometimes one has to to produce a bad draft to get to a better draft.

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Given my past experiences, I was excited to see that this young man took the project all the way to actual (limited) publication. This offers inspiration to other young and old writers, and to teachers as well.

Imagine your students writing daily. Imagine them focused and persevering. Writing for a goal helps keep them excited and motivated, even when inspiration is in short supply. There’s nothing like a goal to help move them along. Using Web 2.0 tools such as a blog or class wiki can only support this kind of daily writing. There’s also a community of other writers working along side your students. It can be fun and encouraging to be part of a larger project.

Have any of you undertaken a daily writing project, either for yourself or with your students? I’d love to hear about it.

Additional educator materials from the Young Writer’s Program here.

Pinterest as Teacher Tool

Last week I signed up to Pinterest as a teaching and blogging tool.

Pinterest is a way to collect interesting images and ideas. Each item is “pinned” to your “board” in an album, designated by you. You can collect pins by topic, however broad or detailed. You can follow another person on Pinterest and see everything they have pinned or tagged recently. You can even subscribe to their “boards” to be alerted to new content. You can repin another user’s pins into one of your own albums.

True, Pinterest is know for inspiring perfectionistic aspirations of beautifully done crafts, clothing, interiors, and food. We all like to look at pretty pictures, but almost anything can be pinned if you can find a visual for it.

What does this mean for teachers? Well, there are hundreds of collections of teaching ideas out there, ready to be collected. For instance, if you want to find some new (visual) ideas of how to encourage literacy for middle schoolers, there are probably pins for that. Helping preschoolers practice number recognition with fine motor skills? There are pins for that.

Crash test cars? Sure. Crazy cool science experiments? Oh yeah. You could spend all day on that collection, alone. Cute handouts and graphics to teach kindergarteners writing or visualize the life cycle of a plant? There are pins upon pins for that. What about examples of infographics, or better yet, classroom uses of social media,, or catchy posters about grammar points? Yup. That and more.

If anything, it’s too easy to collect pins. In my personal life, I have resisted getting drawn into finding and collecting the perfect images, but I do have a Pinterest account to collect some ideas about say, paving for garden paths and good looking food. I also have a few albums of educational ideas.

Now that I’ve started a blog, I decided I needed a separate Pinterest account specifically for education-related ideas and inspirations. The easiest way to both jumpstart and channel my process is to find some key people to follow who have similar interests. It’s a little like an RSS feed, but for visually presented ideas. Every week or so, you can receive an update on what the “boards” you are following are pinning.

You can check out my new Pinterest board, as rudimentary as it still is, and see what you think. Or try following a few boards and start collecting some ideas. I recommend finding a few interesting people to follow or searching for something you need to work on right now so it can be applied. I’m off to look for ways to present or practice parts of speech.

Digging for Educational Apps

I have spent the last few days digging around for educational apps to review for my class webliography. My focus is partly on apps for English Language Learners and partly on apps that I would use myself as a teacher, such as a student dictionary reference. Now having spent the better part of two days searching, I have been feeling like an app prospector, that is: panning for gold and finding mostly gravel. Or perhaps, since I am focusing on ELLs, finding garnets and rubies and the occasional rare pearl instead of the particular precious material I’m looking for.

There are not many apps or products targeted toward ELLs that are targeted toward older students. Basic apps are often too babyish and simplistic for the older children, much less high school students. Many of those apps are as easily accomplished by other means as well.

Meanwhile, I’ve been looking for a digital dictionary source to use with students. I’ve been a little frustrated by my search because many options seem to include either too much or too little information. My favorite one thus far is the Merriam-Webster educational website. I’m pleased to notice that they have a variety of dictionary resources for a variety of age levels. I do like their Learner’s Dictionary for Students of ESL, EFL, and the TOEFL Test. They have digital dictionary references for younger students as well.

I also tried out Dictionary.com, which is a free app available through the Apple App Store. If I were to buy an upgrade, that would get rid of the ads and add example sentences, both of which would be necessary or useful if the app were to be used by students. Dictionary is a little more pared down, which I think would be useful for distractible students.

I found Grammar Dragon or Grammar Words Types Quiz,  which looked promising untilI realized that their company, Always Icecream and Clever Dragons, also promoted other less-school friendly apps with any of their product line. I would not want children clicking on tempting games while trying to practice grammar unless they were grammar games! I found many colorful but hokey games.

I’ve been using several sources to search for apps and resources. From Edudemics, I found several links, including this list of The 200 Best Special Education Apps. I thought it might include some apps for ELLs. If I were looking for tools to use with Special Ed Students, it would have been fantastic. They offer a scrollable Scribd doc with the apps categorized by area. The first ones I investigated were related to helping students verbalize or communication simple needs, such as Communication Skills and Everyday Social Skills, both found in iTunes. The series by Mobile Education looked especially promising. They include Sentence Builder, Story Builder, and more. I watched several product demos to assess their suitability for ELLs, but not really. The Mobile Education apps are actually designed for children with special needs, and were originally developed by a father frustrated by lack of effective educational materials for his daughter with special needs. So the Mobile Edu apps are great for children with auditory processing or aspbergers or other developmental challenges, but not as useful for ELLs as I had hoped (unless someone was additionally learning challenged).

Another source I’ve been intrigued by is this “Padagogy Wheel” of apps arranged by how they coincide with Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is also used in the Common Core Curriculum. I especially like how I can find apps that correlate with the different verbs from Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy that are often used when writing lesson objectives. By the way, Padagogy is not a typo; all of the apps are available for use on the iPad, hence the ‘Pad.’ The developer seems very responsive to feedback, and has issued an update in the last week since I first saw it. My only quibble about the wheel is that is seems mostly about apps that I might not use with ELLs or younger children. Still, it’s an interesting arrangement with lots of ideas, some of which overlap with other arrangements.

I’ve also looked at Kathy Schock’s Web 2.0 Apps to Support Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, another take on sorting for lesson objectives. The two apps I looked at from there are podomatic and photobabble, both which seem to be apps for adding student-created audio. Interesting, but not quite what I am looking for.

One app that seems promising for ELLs is Pocket Artic by Synapse Apps, LLC, which features common phonemes for practicing pronunciation. I was a little disappointed by the price tag, though, nearly $10, and the reviews complaining about the need for additional upgrades. It is available for both iPad and iPhone, so it would be pretty versatile for older students to carry around, but I think it’s a little too technical to be useful for younger children.

I love, love, love Scholastic’s Read180 for ELLs and other struggling readers, but it is considerably out of my price range. Does a it count as a resource for teachers if I would have to lobby my school to license it?

So I’m still looking for my second app. I’ve scanned and looked over scores of apps and Web tools (more than I can even write about here!), but I’m just not finding one that seems to fill the ESL gap. I’ll have to decide soon. Maybe I’ll go back to assessing a non-ESL resource. There are plenty to go around. I just have to dig through a lot of “gravel.”

iPad-Centric Classrooms?

At Edudemic, I saw another interesting article by 4th grade math & science teacher, Nikolaos Shatzopoulos, iPads In The Classroom: The Right Questions You Should Ask. The article seems written out of the concern that we are making our classrooms more “iPad-centric” than “student-centered,” a concern I share.

In an especially apt quote (no pun intended), he says,

The truth is that that no device can match the value of human interaction with real life situations or with other human beings. The iPad can be a tool of immense value in the classroom. However, it should remain just that: a tool that complements instruction, and offers learning opportunities for situations and learning concepts that are impossible to be accessed, observed, or analyzed in a classroom setting without the assistance of technology.

I might say the same about other pieces of technology. How does technology (or how do certain resources or applications) contribute to the learning goals for a class?

Mr. Shatzopoulos offers an intriguing observation:

[W]e have to move away from the question “how to use an iPad in the classroom?” and think more in terms of “why to use the iPad in the classroom?”.

Then he surprises me by saying that before we even start to plan a lesson, we need to ask not just one but both questions as a movement along our developmental path.

I think this is right. It’s not that we want to keep technology out of our classrooms, but it’s more that we want to find just the right applications for our purposes, and the fact that there are so many options makes it more likely we will grab onto something that seems to work well on a given topic, is easy to use, and has an attractive GUI or interface.

An application may not be the best, but we have only so much time and energy to sift through our options, and additionally, to learn how to use them. We are all (well, many of us), trying to operate in a new language – the language of technology – and we have to think twice as hard to juggle all our cognitive tasks.

The people creating the content are also working away. Yes, I’ve seen apps that address student’s unique learning styles and challenges. I’ve also seen good ideas in half-baked development. I’ve seen productivity apps that are little more than a glorified scratch pad, albeit with cross-playform capabilities. I’ve seen “educational” apps that seem more game glitz than learning practice. Even well-developed apps sometimes contain glaring bugs or omissions. Not every resource can serve all ages and populations.  (See my next post for more on sifting!)

I think the real trick is finding those unique capabilities that a given resource can offer to the learning process. So for the iPad, what can it offer teachers and students? Or what unique capabilities do Interactive White Boards offer, a question I’m considering as I’m planning a sample IWB lesson plan.

I think part of what makes it so challenging is that technology applications offer a dizzying array of possibilities, and we are caught in learning them all, or enough to make use of them. Maybe we are so engrossed in learning about the “how” that we lose sight of the “why.” Mr. Shatzopoulos also points out that it’s been a scant few years since the iPad has been introduced into the classroom, so of course, we are still adjusting to its very presence. This reminds me of the learning curves I’ve experienced with each new technology I’ve encountered, such as my first computer with email, my first chat rooms, my first data processing applications and encounters with social networks. It’s the same with blogs, RSS feeds, and asynchronous collaborations. I’ve lost a lot of sleep while investigating each new technology. It was and is exciting, but exhausting too.

Don’t we all just take in big gulps of information as we try to take it all and find our footing? After a while of thrashing about and losing sleep while working with the new capabilities, we settle down and really focus on what role a given technology can fill in our lives. Some applications become incorporated into our workflow, while others drop away as insufficient.

I’m sure we won’t wait to implement new technology into classrooms until we work out all the bugs. We’ll continue to take in our big gulps of new exciting Web 2.0 tools. I hope we will soon finish the “big gulp” phase, though, and move onto tailoring the applications for our actual needs. As the author says, we’ll work on discovering the “potential roles” and “meaningful ways” of addressing learning needs.

My hope is that someday educational apps and Web 2.0 technology will include educational ratings to help guide their use, much like Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (and the Common Core Curriculum derived from it) help to guide our lesson objectives and learning goals. Until then, we’ll continue to swim about in our sea of new apps. Happy swimming!

The Impact of Usability on End-User Attention Span

My classmate Kate T recently wrote about feeling overloaded with all the new technology she’s been trying out. My Word Press is not cooperating with letting me comment at the moment, so I’m cross-posting my comment here.

Kate, I’ve been feeling the same way: inundated with new tools and technology.

 

I’ve found myself signed up for so many little technology accounts just to try them out, they start to blur together. My reaction is to cut back to the ones that work without too much hassle. For instance, one info-graphic tool has terrific graphics, but I had to sign up for more of an account than I wanted, AND the type was so tiny, I could hardly read it, and no option to increase the font size. If I had had two out of the three, I might have attempted it.

 

I think the needs of the end-user is a big factor in the usability or usefulness of a given tool. As a user with many things to do in little time, I have an internal rubric for how much time I am willing to put into making something work. After a certain point, I abandon a tool and try something else.

 

I think content creators need to be aware of this factor as well. All the snazzy design in the world does not help you if your application is not legible or useful. That then reminds me of our blog sites. We are working on both how they work and how they look.

(Cross-posted from Kate’s Power Play on Technology Overload.)

QR Codes – Quick Links to Web Content

One thing I needed in this class besides a mobile device was something to read QR Codes, those little black and white boxes with pixilated designs that look like an ancient Mayan designed a bar code! I’ve been seeing QRCs around here and there, but how to read them? The answer, for my iPad, was a great little app called QR Code Scanner Tool from Apple Apps. A quick download and I was ready to go.

Interestingly, this app tends to get either very good or very bad reviews. This app has been working very smoothly for me so far, though, so I am very happy with its performance. It focuses in on the code quickly, scans it automatically, and takes me to the designated web content with no extra clicks.

The main reason to read QR Codes for me is to follow along with one of our texts, Flattening Classroom, Engaging Minds book by Julie Lindsay and Vicki A. Davis.

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One fun feature of the book is the numerous QR Codes in the margins that take one to a specific area of the corresponding website, Flat Classroom, sometimes linking to videos, challenges, or interesting applications. There’s no need to type in the exact web address; the code takes you right to the exact page. Thus, with one scan, I found myself reading about a challenge to use new technology in the classroom – and to share my experience with others. Other teachers had already chimed in with successes and challenges. It inspired me to think of teacher collaboration as a potential for “cross-pollination” of ideas and inspiration.

Now that I had a means to scan and connect with QR Codes, I started looking for other QR Codes.

I saw one on the bottom of my raisin box. It took me to a website that first sent me to a movie promotion that the company was sponsoring. That was not of interest to me, but when I clicked around on the site, I found a terrific write up about the history and origin of the SunMaid logo. The logo image was originally based on a real person and a real red sun bonnet, and the story told me all about her and how she came to be featured in the logo. The site had lots of other links to recipes and other ideas, attractively laid out.

Next I tried a QRC I found on my Mueller whole grain spaghetti box. It sent me to a very dull, simplistic website with the logo and two link buttons, neither of which worked. Sorry, Mueller! It looked like a placeholder website while they figured out what to do with this new QRC technology.

I noticed a QRC on a stake that came with my orange pepper bedding plant. Scanning that QRC sent me to a simple website about that variety of pepper. More impressively, the company had a home website that offered lots of avenues to explore, everything from cooking ideas to tips for growing and storing the food and herbs.

A label for a basil plant took me to something similar, and more information about storing and preserving.

I looked for QRCs on other packaging and especially seed packets, but I didn’t find anything of use. I did find something that looked like a code on my tomato plant labeling, but in color. My scanner did not read it, so I gather it is a different kind of code that is less in use. The GetElastic website said it was some kind of designer tag. I think it is a Microsoft QRC tag. Very colorful, but my QRC scanner can’t read it.

I also attempted to scan the QRC off of my new tube of Neutrogena sunscreen. It looked promising, but the QRC was too tiny for the scanner to read. It was only a couple millimeters square. I think we’re going to need a bigger code.

Photo on 5-28-13 at 11.14 PM

Speaking of use, I went looking for QRC codes in magazines and newspapers. The only QRC I found in my newspaper was for Deal Saver, a “daily deal” company.

Out of curiosity, I surveyed the entire newspaper. I found that websites were mentioned more than forty times, and web addresses even more often, especially from the paper itself linking to particular stories, sections, or categories of feature. For instance, the obituary section had its own web link for submitting content. Other sections had links for a particular feature.

Of other mentions directing us to digital content, I saw three directing us to FaceBook, two to Twitter, and only the one to external info via a QRC. Email addresses for paper features or journalists were of course, ubiquitous. The local (state) paper has done a good job making sure we are as connected to their content online as in the physical paper.

Among other magazines on hand, none had any QRCs other than a denominational magazine asking people to look at plans to move the headquarters, and another for a survey. I gather they think they will get more people to fill out the survey if their readers can simply scan the code with their smart phone rather than key in a web address,

QR Codes aren’t ubiquitous yet, but they seem to be “up and coming” technology. They depend on people having a phone or scanner available to scan the codes. The primary use I’ve seen up to this point is on coupon websites. QRC coupons seem to be very popular, but I’m not sure how useful they are yet.

Still, it is very convenient in our book, to scan and go directly to a section of the website showing a particular project or topic. I will definitely look for QRCs in the future.

As I am writing this post, my “related content” that pops up at the bottom is yielding some interesting links and articles about QRCs.

The site Technology in Early Childhood explores using QRCodes to link to sight words as a audio-to-reading matching game for emergent readers. This sounds like it could very fun and useful if scanning technology were easily available.

For more on QR Codes, see the links under Related Articles below.