QR Madness, or ‘How Geek is the new Cool!’

Next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up a product and look on the packaging for something that looks like these:

created by j.rinkercreated by j.rinker

These are QR codes and you’re going to start seeing them all over the place. You’ll find them in magazines, on TV, and even on t-shirts. That’s right, the Grade 6 students at ISY have made a class t-shirt using QR codes. It’s the ultimate in geek-chic! Wearing one of these ultra-cool codes tells everyone: “I’m standing at the cutting edge of technology, and the view is amazing!”

Grade 6 ISY

So what are QR codes? QR stands for ‘quick read’ and these codes can be read by smart devices like iPods, iPhones and other mobile devices with a camera and a QR reader like ‘i-nigma‘. QR codes are like bar codes but offer richer information. QRs can generate text, direct you to a website, connect you with a phone number or send an SMS.

i-nigmaiPhone screenshot by j.rinker

QR codes offer some very exciting ways to interact with the environment. Imagine standing in front of a building. You whip our your smart phone and point it at a tiny QR code mounted by the front door. Immediately a website appears on your screen that gives you the history of the building, or links to the websites of all the offices inside. Or imagine marveling at a piece art with a small QR next to it. With a smart phone you can read the code and link to a website that tells all about the artist, displays videos and photos of her creating it, and a list of other venues to view more of her art. All very exciting, indeed.

Making QR codes is simple and fun, and it reminds me of how I loved creating secret codes as a kid. There are many places on the web to create them. My students and I use a site called qrcode-kaywa.

For an excellent and more detailed explanation of this amazing technology, check out Vicki Davis’ ‘QR Code Classroom Implementation Guide’. I learned about QR codes from Vicki at the Flat Classroom Conference in Beijing and have been hooked ever since. While still a beginner, I sense a great potential for these cool codes to add another exciting dimension to education in the same way that they augment the reality around us.

For now, my students and I are just going to strut around proudly wearing our QR codes like members of an elite team. We’re  out to let the world know that geek is the new cool.

Learning How to Learn

At ISY we offer our students a standards-based education. This means that every teacher has a list of standards, or understandings and skills we expect our students to acquire before they move on to the next level. Traditionally, a teacher’s job is to understand the standard, figure out the best way to teach it, and then test the students along the way to make sure they are learning it.

Well, in Grade 6 we are doing things a little differently for the end of the year. Inspired by Josh Stumpenhorst’s ‘Student Driven Learning‘, I decided that our students were more than ready to take control of their own learning.

photo by j.rinker

Collaborating on Manga comics

As teachers, our goal is always to help students become aware of what kind of learners they are, how they learn best as individuals, and to become responsible for their learning.  In short, we expect and trust them to learn how to learn.

photo by j.rinker

Early ideas on peace and conflict

For their final challenge of the year, I have turned the ISY standards over to the students and have given each of them the responsibility of figuring out the best way to learn and demonstrate what the standard expects of them. Currently, Grade 6 students are exploring ‘Global Connections and Conflict’ and are addressing two essential questions:

Why do we fight?

How can we make peace?

Using our Peace and Conflict Project wiki, the students are planning their own ways to explore these questions and find answers, and they will design a way to communicate their understandings of key concepts to a global audience. They have pitched ideas for films, websites, and even Manga comics to other students and to a small group teachers for feedback. They have refined their ideas, developed rubrics, and are now busy exploring the essential questions that will lead them to an understanding of what it will take to live peacefully in the 21st Century. More importantly, the entire process provides them valuable practice in understanding what kind of a learners they are, how to learn effectively, and to know when they’ve mastered skills and understandings.

photo by j.rinker

Pitching ideas for feeback and revision

I must admit I was very anxious about turning my job over to the students. Then I reflected on who these kids are and how far they have come since last August. They are curious, they love learning and relish challenges. I am confident that they will do what they always do when I expect great things of them- they will exceed my expectations.

Students Speak on ‘Development’

The Grade 6 Humanities students have been wondering why some societies are more developed than others. To help us explore this idea we identified indicators of developed nations and came up with:

  • strong economy
  • good leaders
  • happiness of the population (GNH)
  • high level of technology
  • good infrastructure
  • friendly relations with others
  • quality health care

We then explored two ancient civilizations: Egypt during the Age of Pyramids and Greece in the Classical Age. According to our indicators, we examined how developed these ancient societies were. Students collaborated and created a wiki to collect and share information with each other. Check out the 6A Ancient World Development wiki and 6B Ancient World Development wiki!

Using all the information gathered in our wikis, the students chose which ancient society was the most developed,  and each wrote a persuasive speech. The students really challenged themselves by moving beyond the comfort of our classroom and presenting their speeches to several high school classes.

In the end the student’s speeches were filmed in front of a green screen, a graphic from distant lands was added, and each student now has a digital record of the time they taught the high schoolers a thing or two about development in the ancient world.

Student speaking on Ancient GreeceGrade 6 Student

Water Festival Burmese Style

Photo by J.RinkerThingyan is the ancient celebration of spiritual cleansing and renewal that signals the new year in Myanmar. Traditionally celebrated by sprinkling fresh, cool water over another to wash away bad karma, the holiday is now a jubilant affair where buckets and fire hoses have replaced small cups of water. Maybe the bad karma has gotten more difficult to wash away. Whatever the case, Thingyan is now four days of riotous fun and being drenched to the bone. Many devout Buddhists prefer to observe more peacefully by heading to a monastery for four days of dry clothing and meditation.

ISY will be on our Spring break during this time so the Grade 6 bloggers will be off for the week. They’ll be traveling in all directions to look for inspiration for their next blog posts. In the meantime enjoy our latest posts. Have a safe, rejuvenating week and don’t stay too dry or you’ll miss all the fun!

Team Challenges

In Grade 6, the ESLRs (Expected Student Learning Results) are an important part of what we do everyday. The ESLRs are the deeper skills that we want our students to learn. They are life-long skills like communicating, collaborating and creating meaningful ideas.

Team challenges are a small but important part of this learning in Grade 6. Once a week students are given problems that they must work together to solve creatively. The problems themselves can often seem silly and nonsensical, but the problem is not the important part. What is important is that students must communicate and cooperate to find creative solutions for the problem, and it is these skills that will serve them their whole life through.

Check out what the students have to say about team challenges:

Team Challenge from Grade6 ISY on Vimeo.

Writing Meaningful Comments

Blogs are all about connecting ideas and starting a good conversation. This is why the ‘comments’ feature on a blog is so valuable. Here bloggers and readers connect, share ideas, and help each other grow as learners.

When you read a blog post always try to leave a comment.

Ms. Yollis’ class in California offers some excellent advice on ‘how to compose a quality comment‘ so the conversation can be an enjoyable, illuminating experience for both readers and bloggers.

Below are some commenting guidelines recommended by Ms. Yollis‘ students.

1. Be specific. Rather than saying ‘Good job’ how about ‘Your wonderful poem made me feel like I was actually at the beach.’

2. Offer  a compliment. Again, be specific and encouraging: ‘Your ideas on singing are creative.’http://flickr.com/photos/santea

3. Add information. This is where you can help the blogger learn more about their topic.

4. Ask a question. What more would you like to know about the ideas in the post you just read?

5. Try not to repeat yourself or others. Read the other comments and offer something that hasn’t already been said.

Now, go out, find an interesting blog and use these tips to begin an exciting conversation!

Any comments?

Our Class Blogging Guidelines

Your blog will become part of your digital footprint and may be seen by anyone in the world. It may be the first (and only) impression that someone has of you.


Please think carefully about what you write in blogs and in comments, and always follow these guidelines. When in doubt, remember that your blog is an extension of school and your classroom. Behave as you would in class.


  • Only use your first name.
  • Don’t be specific when writing about yourself. eg. Say: “I play soccer with my school team” rather than “I play for the Santa Cruz Banana Slugs”.
  • Keep your address, email address or phone number private. You can keep in touch through the blog.
  • Always ask permission before posting photos of others.


  • Keep your posts and comments friendly and encouraging.
  • Be considerate of others. When commenting, show others that you have read what they have written rather than just saying “great job”.
  • Be open to other people’s opinions, but be prepared to discuss your own position if you don’t agree.


  • You know about good grammar, spelling and punctuation. Apply it!
  • Save abbreviations and shortcuts for chatting and texting.
  • You are broadcasting yourself to the world. Present yourself in the best possible light.

*Closely adapted from Christian Jacobs on ‘Our Space’

What is a blog?

digital journal

At its heart, a blog is a journal. It is a place for the author (a blogger, you) to record ideas and feelings and to reflect on them, to explore them. But this is where the similarity ends.

A blog is not only about sharing ideas, it’s about connecting ideas.  A blog allows you to connect with your audience, with other bloggers, and with a web of ideas bound only by an your ability to imagine and to search.

Because a blog exists in the digital world, it is easy to connect to readers who can comment on your ideas, pose questions and help extend your thinking on a subject.

Other bloggers who share your passions and ideas are only a few keystrokes away, and connecting with these like-minded people can be a community-building experience.

And because there are literally millions of bloggers out there, all eager to share their ideas, to learn from others, and to connect in global, digital communities, blogs are a powerful learning tool.

Want to write about paper airplanes and learn about others who do? Then check out the paper airplanes blog! Have a question for your favorite author? She has a blog! There’s even a blog on how to get along with insects!

Blogs about anything are everywhere. As our students become bloggers they take another step from being consumers of ideas to producers of them.

It’s all about learning. Anytime..anywhere…anything.

Welcome to the Grade 6 Blog!

By starting this blog we begin the exciting activity of connecting, interacting, and building relationships with people who share our interests and passions. Fireworks over Vancouver

Each Grade 6 student will host their own blog so he or she can explore the subjects and ideas that most matter to them. Here they will write about everything from singing to soccer, from gaming to caring for animals.

More importantly, the students will be able to connect with others who share their interests- experts and amateurs- from all over the world so they can teach and learn from others about those things that matter most.

So, welcome to our blog and enjoy connecting to and learning from our wide, wide world.

Mr. R