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Worksheets for the digital age: AR interactive print

By Larysa Nadolny
February 10, 2015
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Ever since schools started using copy machines in the 1960s, worksheets have been a perennial classroom favorite, beloved — by teachers anyway — for their convenience and their ability to foster independent work.

For students, however, worksheets have their downsides. Static text on a page is seldom engaging for digital natives, who are used to having so many more dynamic options.

But what if there were a way to combine the easy prep and independent work of a traditional worksheet with the engagement of digital tools and multimedia, such as websites, videos, 3D imagery and podcasts?

As it turns out, there is a way. Ever hear of augmented reality? AR is a technology that allows the blending of real and virtual objects — like the holodeck in science fiction movies or what you see when you wear Google Glass.

Although true AR may still be out of reach for most classrooms, there's a new, more accessible experience called interactive print that you can use in your classroom right now. Interactive print blends print materials, such as worksheets or posters, with virtual elements. A student just has to point her mobile device loaded with an AR app at a printed sheet of paper, and the app launches a corresponding digital element, such as a video, quiz, map, podcast or virtual representation of a 3D object. When the student holds the mobile device over the printed page, it looks like these digital enhancements just " "pop up" " over the page.

How does it work? You simply upload a PDF version of the worksheet to a website, where you add the digital resources on top. When the students scan their worksheets, the AR app pulls up the digital objects from the internet.

Check out the sample images below. To demo the interactive elements, download the Layar app on your mobile device. Open the app, point at the image and tap the mobile screen. Watch as the augmented objects appear!


Pretty cool, huh? And interactive print can do so much more. Imagine your students watching and manipulating a Civil War re-enactment on a map, solving 3D mathematical puzzles within a handout or watching natural disasters on a poster about climate change. Definitely more engaging than an all-text worksheet!

Digital literacy and differentiated learning

Melissa Wicklund, a teacher in northeastern Iowa, uses the AR mobile app Layar in her fourth grade classroom. The app allows her students to watch videos and audio without having to type in website addresses.

" "Augmented reality made an impact on students because it allowed them to learn more independently," " Wicklund said. Not only were her students able to make more connections between classroom discussions, videos and field trips, but she noted that " "working collaboratively in groups with Layar gave students more of an opportunity to make further connections with their classmates. We need to learn how to integrate technology for deeper, more meaningful learning." "
There are many benefits to incorporating interactive print documents in the classroom. Students who use this technology get to practice digital literacy skills as they evaluate online information and watch simulations — skills that address the ISTE Standards for Students for Creativity and Innovation as well as Research and Information Fluency. Students can also explore at their own pace, get immediate feedback and find differentiated materials at their fingertips. And those who do not have internet access at home can read the print document or use mobile devices to access the interactive information with a free app.

DIY interactive print worksheets

It's easy for teachers to customize the digital resources for specific learning goals or student outcomes.

Just follow these steps to create your own interactive print activity:

  1. Choose an AR program. A few of the best ones include Augment, Aurasma, Blippar , Daqri and Layar. Their prices vary from limited free use for educators to a small fee per page. Some offer educator discounts.
  2. Choose a topic. As always when integrating new technologies, you should keep your learning goals and objectives front of mind. Your topic should be interesting to students and include enough information to facilitate learning while inviting them to go deeper into the virtual portion of the experience and investigate further on their own.
  3. Create your print handout or poster. Just use any word processing or desktop publishing program for this. Some programs require you to make a PDF. Just make sure the document is free of errors and looks professional.
  4. Upload the document to the website. Follow the software's directions. Many of the programs require a document that is highly visual and contains many graphic elements. Some programs will require each page within your document to look unique
  5. Add interactive elements to the page. This is where you get to add the fun stuff, like web links, podcasts, YouTube videos, music and surveys. The available features vary from program to program.
  6. Publish the page. Be sure to test it with a mobile device before distributing to your students!
  7. Get ready for class. Make copies of the print document for your students and have mobile devices available with the app preloaded.
  8. Keep it updated. If you plan to use your interactive print activity more than one time, make sure to check the links between each use. Websites frequently change, and YouTube videos are often removed.

12 ready-made AR resources

Don't want to create your own interactive experience? Try out some of these activities and resources:


Eco Explorers in Action. Iowa State University researchers created this activity to teach the life cycle of a butterfly to elementary students. The team's main goals were to engage young children in active learning with technology and support learning with print. They created an interactive print handout that allows K-3 students to solve the mystery of what happened to a damaged garden plant. Students are led through a series of clues to determine which insect damaged or ate the plant. Each of the clues involves an interaction with the print document as well as a video, website or audio clue. By using critical-thinking skills, the students can discover the insect that ate the garden plant. You can download the Eco Explorers in Action activity for free online.
Spring Break en Mexico. The developers of Spring Break en Mexico strived to create an interactive print document that was relevant and rigorous for student learning, and its primary goal was to use technology to incorporate real-world contexts and issues into a mathematics activity. The theme for this activity is a spring break road trip to Cancun, Mexico. In each state, the students are faced with practical challenges that can only be solved with dimensional analysis. Students have access to related websites, audio hints, sample problems and bonus information. Download the Spring Break en Mexico activity for free online.


Guinness World Records. This popular series of annual books now includes an app that allows you to see 3D objects or even pose next to record holders.

Popar Toys. These interactive games, books and charts cover a range of topics, such as human anatomy, bugs, presidents and planets.


Chemistry. The Cambridge Chemistry Challenge in the United Kingdom created this free poster demonstrating the chemical reactions of different elements on the periodic table.


Anatomy 4D. Your students can explore an accurate and 3D view of the human body using this free anatomy app.
Elements 4D. Download the Elements 4D app to experience chemistry in action.
AR Flashcards. Early childhood educators will enjoy using these flashcards, which feature colorful 3D shapes.
SpaceCraft 3D. This NASA-created app lets you interact with models of real spacecraft.

Fetch Lunch Rush. Based on the PBS show " "Fetch," " this mobile app helps younger students practice number sense.
Cyberspace Shape Quest. Use this PBS app to encourage students to use their problem-solving skills and spatial reasoning on a printed game board.

Zooburst. Students can exercise their creativity while creating their own pop-up books. Print the marker for the book and share it with parents at home.

You can find even more resources on the author's interactive print site.

Larysa Nadolny is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University. She teaches instructional technology courses to current and future teachers. Her research focuses on the use of immersive technology in education, particularly virtual reality, augmented reality and game-based learning.

Brenda Welch is a 4-H youth development specialist for the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development program. She serves as the state liaison for the 4-H program in three counties in northwest Iowa. As the co-chair of the Iowa 4-H Clover Kids Curriculum Team, she is investigating new curriculum and methods of incorporating STEM into informal settings for children in K-3.