Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

How to Use QR Codes in Classroom

by Vicki Davis, Cool Cat Teacher Blog

QR Codes (Quick Response Codes) are just barcodes. There is nothing fancy about them.

Just like the grocery store clerk uses barcodes to look up the product and scan the price into the computer, your mobile device or computer can look up QR codes to:

  • take you to a website,
  • read some text,
  • give you a phone number, or
  • generate a text message.

QR Codes are barcodes of information that hardlink the physical world with the online world. They are considered a form of simple augmented reality.

QR Codes in the Classroom 

For the classroom teacher, they are valuable for three reasons:

  1. They can save us time.
  2. They can save paper.
  3. They provide a link to mobile devices that help students do their homework and follow along.

Back in March, we discussed QR codes in our Lesson in Simple Augmented Reality. We used them extensively in our eighth grade portfolios this year and it has cut assessment time in half. Many of you have asked that this post be written to help you on your journey.

This Post

This blog post is divided into three parts. First, you have to be ready to use QR Codes, then you have to teach the students. Finally, we learn seven ways QR codes are being used in the classroom RIGHT NOW.

The first step of a teaching journey is to embark on learning it yourself.

Preparing the Teacher to Use QR Codes

 i-Nigma 4 QR code readerStep 1 : Get Your Mobile Device Ready: Download a Free QR Code Reader

On my ipod Touch, the fast, free i-Nigma 4 QR code reader is the most robust of the five or six tested. It is useful on the iPad – just enlarge the screen (the low rez actually speeds browsing.)

Step 2 : Get Your Computer Ready

If you have a computer with Adobe Air, and a webcam get the  Adobe air QR Code reader by following these set up instructions.

Step 3 : Learn to Generate QR Codes

Using Kaywa’s Free QR Code generator or the Firefox plug in Mobile Barcoder (which lets you right click on a link) type in a website name and generate the code. Start with your school or class website. If you have your reader on a mobile device, you can take a picture of the code on your screen and test it there.

QR code in classroom

Step 4 : Copy the QR Code onto your computer

If you want to use the code in a document, download your QR code by using the right click in your PC browser. In Firefox it is “Save Image As.” Once on your computer, it is a picture that can be put into presentations, graphics, and blog posts.

You are ready. Be prepared for typical problems as you prepare your assignments.

Common QR Code Problems


  •  Lighting Problem: Glare from light on a shiny page protector or front of notebook, particularly on webcam-based qr codes is a problem.Solution: Sometimes you have to take the qr code out of a shiny sleeve.
  • Shadows

    While grading in the den with a spotlight while the family was watching a movie, I had a problem with shadows.Solution: Adjust lighting or move your head out of the way so the barcode can be evenly lit.
  • Slow Reading.

    PC Readers are not as fast as readers or loaders of content as mobile readers.Solution: Use the PC when you need to go to full websites that will take a while to load anyway. If you’re just checking links use the mobile version.
  • Mobile Websites Don’t Show All Features.
    Problem: When used on a mobile device, many websites (like Ning) will take you to their mobile-enabled website which may leave out the item (like a blog) that you need to assess.Solution: Look at the bottom of the page for the “view the regular version of this website” link. I recommend this if you’re on an ipad, in particular.


  • Folded or crumpled code.Problem: At first, I had students print, cut, and staple their codes in the corner of a page. If the QR code is not flat, there can be issues.Solution: Flatten it with your finger but consider teaching students how to have them be part of the printed document.
  • Unreadable Code.Problem: When screenshots are used, or when a code is placed too close to the edge of a paper and the printer will not print it – the readers will not scan the code. The whole code must be there.Solution: Students should test their codes. This is part of doing a good job. If it is unreadable it is unusable.

How to Teach QR Codes

Step 1: Homework Assignment

I ask students to download a FREE QR Code reader onto their device as homework at least 3-4 days ahead of time and pair students who don’t have an ipod, ipad, or smart phone with those who do. Let them find and pick the code.  (You could ask them to go through their magazines and find a qr code to test.)

Step 2: Lesson Preparation 

Go to Kaywa’s Free QR Code generator (above) and encode the four types of things into at least 4 QR Codes. For a larger classroom, you’ll need more. Print them and tape them on the wall.

Include some funny videos, the phone number for the school, a text message that says something like “You Rock Because You Can Read This” and an SMS pretending to be from someone like Justin Beiber.

Step 3: The Lesson

Start the lesson with a simple statement.

“QR Codes are barcodes for information. Using your free QR code reader I want you to figure out what kind. You have 7 minutes to figure out what is encoded in these secret messages taped up on the wall. Go!”

Step 4: Learning to Use QR Codes

I then have the students go back to their computers and pull up their last blog post. I teach them to take a screenshot of the post and paste it into Microsoft Word. (We include their four best blog posts in their printed portfolio.) 

Then, we use Kaywa’s Free Free QR Code generator to create the code and insert it in their document. We test it. Because it links to our private Ning, it will take them to a username and password screen which they enter. Then, they can see their post.

7 Uses of QR Codes in the Classroom

QR code for classroom1 – CoverPage for Portfolios

I have my students write one summary blog post including hyperlinks to everything they have done for that period of time. For the eighth grade portfolio, we do have printed copies of many items that they save to use as reference during high school. (A sample MLA paper, instructions on creating MLA papers, proofreaders marks, etc. as well as their best of work.)

Their cover page has a QR Code on it. I can snap a picture on whatever device I need and have their summary post up on my screen in less than a second. The summary post includes hyperlinks to everything they have done online.

2 – Anything I have to assess online

If I have 3-4 online items in a week, I have the students generate QR Codes and put them on ONE piece of paper and turn that in on Friday. Assessment is a snap and I can take pictures and use them.

3- When I want them to use an app

I would like to be 1:1 ipod touch or iPad at some point. But, for now, I share free apps with the students and try to find the Android, Blackberry, and iPod/iPhone equivalent. Put a picture of the QR Code for each of those on the Powerpoint Slide and show it on the board. The students can take a picture of the Code for their device and be taken to the app download screen immediately.

4- Take them to a website from a PowerPoint slide

If I’m using a PowerPoint and want them to go to any website, I always put the QR code on the slide.
(This needs to be standard practice at all conferences.)

5- Take them to a website as we are surfing

Add Mobile Barcoder to your Firefox web browser. When you go to a website and want your students to follow you there on their mobile devices, you can use this handy add on to generate and show the mobile barcode on the screen. Just make sure that the link you are encoding is near the top of the screen, sometimes if you generate it low on the screen, students cannot get a good photo on their camera.

6 – Encode Homework

This is a new one I’m testing. I don’t give a lot of homework, however, if I have some things I need them to do, I can encode the text and tape it up onto my assignment grid. They can snap a picture and put it into a text program of their choice. I’m not sure whether I’m going to end up keeping it as an SMS message or text file, but for now, I do it as a text file.

If I’ve written a blog post assignment, this is simple as I just encode the URL, they snap the picture and can mark it on their mobile device.

7 – To Hardlink and Remember

Our trophy case is FULL of trophies and state championships this year. We’ve just won state boys and girls track, team tennis for girls, state runner up tennis for boys and are hopeful about baseball. We’ve got movies of the assemblies and things. I’m encoding these and putting QR codes on the bottom of the trophies linking to the YouTube videos — for posterity. Eventually, we might put them in small plastic picture frames in front of the trophies, but most of the adults aren’t quite ready for that yet. (See more on hardlinking.)

In Summary

It is a fact that students ARE using cell phones to cheat. However, they used paper and pen before cell phones.

I think we should just take cell phones out and have them on our desk at all times. When it is time for the test, they put their cell phones in a box on the teacher’s desk and get them back afterwards. Let’s harness the elephant in the room instead of pretending he isn’t there. Cell phones and mp3 players provide us valuable links to the pockets and minds of the students we teach and qr codes are a great tool to leverage that connection.

Related articles:

Author Bio.

Vicki Davis – full time teacher, global collaborator, and Mom. Author of award winning wikis, blogs, co-founder of Flat Classroom projects and co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. There are a lot of lesson practices and ideas on her site, licensed under Creative Commons.


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
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