May 2012

As a beginning teacher, I was very cognizant of what other teachers were doing around me. Follow their lead, I thought, and you will be successful. Take their cue, and you will be set up for glory.

I drank the Kool-Aid.

I gave out scores of overhead notes, believing that if the students wrote down the information, they would somehow remember it. When they complained about having to take three or four pages of notes, asking why I had not just photocopied the notes, I told them the the kinaesthetic action of writing down the notes with their own hand would allow them to remember with greater clarity. Somehow the fact that students would write down the notes, shut their binder, and never look at the notes again didn’t seem to bother me. After all, I had done MY job.

But eventually, that Kool-Aid wore off. But it lasted the better part of a decade. I started to realize that Social Studies was the class that students loved…to hate. It shocked me – it had been my favourite class. How could you hate Social Studies? Students told me that it was a lot of pressure to memorize names, events and dates, especially because they were all in the past. Why should I care about some dead guy?

As I looked around the classroom at the students, I saw boredom. Heck, some of the students were sleeping. Clearly, my favourite class had become disengaging. Maybe it always was. There had to be another way.

Enter technology.

I didn’t just climb aboard the technology train. I took a flying leap. I fought for a SmartBoard, received approval to buy 15 iPods, and in 2010 signed up for a Master’s program in Technology and Learning. I would find a way to bring life back into Social Studies.

I drank the Kool-Aid. Again.

There are days when I look carefully at the day’s events, and have to ask the question – did I use technology to enhance learning, or did I use it because it was “cool”? Having the students use GPS to map out trenches in the back field was both. I gave students a sense of what it would have been like to fight in such a war, and the journals they handed in after showed that they could envision the lives that were led back then. My most recent foray into QR codes? It needs some tweaking. A little less cool, a little more pedagogy.

So this journey continues. I smile when I remember those heady days at the start of my career, when I thought teaching was an open and shut case. Follow a set number of steps, and success will fall from the heavens. Fifteen years later, I am still waiting for that success shower. But boy…I am enjoying the ride…

The day finally arrived for an opportunity for a lesson that involved QR codes.  The school I work in has a lot of history, as construction initially began around 1915.  I spent the night before generating QR codes that would lead the students on a tour of the school, stopping at the war memorials and pictures of soldiers from WWII.  In particular, I had the students take a look at the 1936 graduation photo of William McKnight, a famous Canadian flying ace.  The final QR code was linked to my school blog, where an assignment was provided for students to research McKnight, then generate their own QR code that could be used by other students in the school to learn more about a famous Canadian hero.

The excitement from the students was amazing.  Not everyone had a smartphone, but about 50% of them did, and the students worked well together.  Despite my warnings, they raced around the school, stopping at the key points, and taking pictures.  The entire lesson took just under an hour, and the next day they came rushing in, hoping I had made another QR hunt.

What made the exercise worthwhile for me was that the students not only learned something, but that they created their own content for others to see.  And because their QR codes would be on display in the school, they seemed to take more time to complete.