February 20, 2024

From Scavenger Hunts to Photo Sharing, Fun Apps to Calm the Back-to-School Jitters


Excitement. Nerves. Dread. The first day of school brings out a wide range of emotions among students, particularly those entering a new school. Fortunately, clever uses of technology can help orient kids in unfamiliar environments—and get to know each other—with fun activities.

Most kids love a scavenger hunt. A QR code version can help students find their way around school, using a code reader app on their phones or tablets to decipher the clues. So, I may start by having students scan a code in my classroom. That code will prompt students to find the nurse’s office or the guidance office—where I’ve posted another QR code. Scanning that leads them to their next clue.

To create your own scavenger hunt, try QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator from ClassTools.net. This application provides everything you need to create and use your own QR codes. You type out a series of questions and answers, generate the QR codes, and then print and display the codes around your classroom and school. Your students will need a code reader app to decipher them. I recommend the QR Droid for Android and iOS devices, QR Code Scanner Pro for Blackberry, and QR Code Reader for Windows phones.

Tiny Tap is a free app that creates simple iPad games based on pictures—great for devising orientation exercises with K–3 students. Snap some photos of the hallway and rooms in your school—you can also upload images—and arrange them into a set in Tiny Tap. Then compose a series of questions about each image. To create your questions, press the record button and start talking. When you’ve finished recording, select a portion of your picture to serve as the answer.

Augmented reality tools are another fun way to orient students. Aurasma is an augmented reality app that allows anyone with an Android or iOS device to dip into this realm and create environments for others to experience. With Aurasma, I can create layers of information that appear on my students’ mobile devices when they point the devices at various objects. On the first day of school, for example, I might have students find the principal’s office and scan the door to have their device play a video welcome message from our administrator.

To break the ice and help kids get to know one another, have them create picture collages about themselves and their favorite things. Students can use PicMonkey to craft collages in a Web browser or Pic Collage for use on a tablet. Both services allow students to easily arrange images and add decorative effects. Ask your students to talk about their pictures and other elements that appear in their finished collages.

If your students don’t have a device with them, check out How Do You Play for tips on ice-breaker games, team-building exercises, board and card games, and many other in-person multiple player activities.

With these tools, you can quell the inevitable back-to-school nerves and help kids get off to a good start.

Richard Byrne About Richard Byrne

Richard Byrne (richardbyrne@freetech4teachers.com) writes the award-winning blog “Free Technology for Teachers.”