In earlier classroom teaching, a square was simply defined in geometry as a shape with four equal sides.

In earlier classroom teaching, a square was simply defined in geometry as a shape with four equal sides.

But now, by combining an assortment of black and white squares together, technology has allowed the message to be entirely more complex.

Students at Washington Elementary School have been learning about and using QR codes this year.

Quick Response codes are matrix bar codes that are scanned with an iPad, smartphone, or other mobile device. They look like white, two-inch squares with black square dots inside, and work much like bar codes on products used to purchase items in stores. They have become increasingly popular in recent years, as many mobile devices now have the ability to read them.

But unlike the old bar codes, QR codes can be used in a number of different ways. In addition to item identification, it's also used for document management and marketing purposes.

For third-grade students at Washington Elementary, the codes have been used to teach writing and other skills.

Melanie Cherry's class recently used them to send Valentine's messages to others in the building. They typed out a message, which was digitally translated into a QR code. Then they printed the codes, pasted them on brightly colored Valentine's cards, and placed them where other students could see them. Using their own iPads, the other students could scan the code using an application called Qrafter, and a robot-like voice would speak the holiday message.

“My students love using the iPads, for anything and everything,” Cherry said. “QR codes are an excellent way to facilitate learning by making the mundane exciting and interesting. My students are always willing to go beyond, and using the QR codes helps put the learning into their hands.”

The students also learned to convert the message into another language.

“I hope the kindergarteners, with them just looking at it, they're probably going to be like, 'wow, I get to do that in third grade.'” said third-grader Brynn Talley.

Cherry began using QR codes in the classroom about three months ago as a way to access websites quickly instead of typing the full web address.

“I just thought it was cool that you didn't have to type in (the web address), and it would bring you to the wrong website, and then you accidentally spelled it wrong or you added a letter, ” said student Braden Razak. “I just like that it brought you straight to the website without any mistakes.”

Before the students learned about the QR codes, some weren't sure what they were used for. Razak and Caden Hardgrave said they thought they were another way of scanning an item for its price. Talley said she thought it was just a decoration on the product.

Cherry has since taught them about their use, how to create them, and how they assist in everyday learning. For example, they have seen QR codes on items from their surroundings, such as glue or Girl Scout cookies, and scanned them to see what marketing tool is used.

“Integrating technology into the classroom is essential,” Cherry said. “ My students are growing up in a very tech-oriented world.  Guiding students through the advantages and lesser uses of QR codes allows them to become more objective about the world around them. Giving students the tools to understand the technology around them, like QR codes, allows them to begin to find meaning in all of the technological symbols they encounter.”

In the future, the class will learn how to do a math problem and scan a QR code to check their answer. Cherry is also considering integrating them into creative writing pieces, presentations and book reviews.

“Students can easily maneuver iPads, smartphones and other tablets, but enabling them to use the technology in a way that can expand their learning, increase their productivity and encourage them to go beyond is the role that technology should play in the classroom,” Cherry said. “If third-graders can become proficient with the latest technology, we have and continue to explore updated technology, then imagine how much of a head start they'll have in 10 years when they're entering college or starting their careers.”

This differs from Cherry's experience as a student,

“When I was in third grade, we used big computers with floppy disks to either practice our keyboarding skills or play the Oregon Trail game as an extra fun activity when work was finished,” she said. “Now, there are so many different ways to present material using technology. We can now use technology to drive learning instead of accessorize learning.”

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel