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An iPad Tour of the Newton North Learning CommonsNewton North High School Learning Commons

by Kevin McGrath, Library Teacher, Newton North High School and Jennifer Dimmick, Library Teacher, Newton South High School

When the city of Newton’s School Committee booked Newton North High School’s Learning Commons for its December meeting, the Library Teachers knew not to let this opportunity for advocacy go to waste.  Annette Tate, Donna Johns and Kevin McGrath immediately reached out to the committee to see if they might be open to taking a tour of the Learning Commons before the scheduled meeting time, and fortunately the committee liaison agreed.  Next, the Newton North Library Teachers reached out to their colleagues at Newton South, Ethel Downey, Marnie Bolstad and Jennifer Dimmick, to invite them to join in the process.  These six colleagues schemed over pizza at a departmental meeting, and the concept of an iPad tour took shape. 

The NNHS Learning Commons had started the year with 15 new iPad 2s which they opted to purchase in lieu of more desktop computers for students. The iPads circulate to students while in the Commons and to faculty for longer trials.  The iPads have proven to be tremendously popular, and we wanted to leverage their novelty in appealing to school committee members to come early to take the tour.  We currently use QR codes in both libraries to link to book reviews and recommendations, so it was a natural extension to use QR codes as the basis for our tour.  We placed prominent QR codes strategically around the Learning Commons to lure our tourists to each important learning space.  Each code linked to a custom page on the Learning Commons website containing a description of the space and the type of learning that it was designed to encourage, accompanied by photos or a video.  Here’s a sampling of the stops on the tour:

QR code



QR code


The QR (“Quick Response”) codes are easy to create.  We used free QR generators to start: and   We also had some fun as we discovered that you can modify sometimes up to 30% of the QR code with your favorite image editor. We used Photoshop and the code still works; see how we inserted text as an example.  A stop on the tour explains how we used the codes on novels for readers’ advisory.

Since Newton South was not the venue for the tour, we needed some way to try to represent our library so that it would not pale in comparison to Newton North’s state of the art facility while subtly demonstrating the need for some updates to the space.  We decided to create an Animoto video to highlight our space and our programming.  The video was accompanied by a soundtrack by the the NSHS Jazz Ensemble, and we had it running on a loop on both a flatscreen TV at the Learning Commons entrance and on a big screen in the library classroom. VIEW the  Animoto video

Finally, we invited our most devoted library students from both schools to join us that evening to accompany each school committee meeting on his or her tour, to help with with the iPads and QR scanning, answer questions, and be ambassadors for the Learning Commons.  As added incentive for the students, we plied them with pizza and soda 30 minutes before the committee members were due to arrive.  These ten students really ran the tour;  they excitedly described each stop to the ‘tourists’.  This proved to be the most effective way of showing how students are central to all that happens in the Learning Commons.

Miraculously, the evening went off without a hitch.  Fortunately, a number of school committee members and aldermen opted to come early for the the tour.  They were charmed by the students, captured by the iPads, and most importantly exposed to the important teaching and learning enabled by the Learning Commons.  Never miss an opportunity to advocate!

Last Updated ( Monday, 09 January 2012 )

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