Tech Tuesday #15: Five Tricks for Working with PDFs

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Adobe PDFs, short for Portable Document Files, have been around for years. We all use them, but do we know everything they can do? And I don’t just mean everything they can do when you pay. I mean how we can use them in and out of Office, Canvas LMS, and even on the web to do some pretty cool tricks. I’m going to share five of those tricks with you today.

Five Tricks for Working with PDFs

  1. Let’s first of all talk about three things that PDFs can do surrounding Microsoft Word. Number one. Have you ever purchased a product, maybe from Teachers Pay Teachers, that you really wanted your kids to be able to interact with? Or you really wanted to be able to customize it in some way and make a slight tweak, but you couldn’t? Try using Word to convert the PDF back to its original Word state! This trick doesn’t always work, but I’ve found it to be pretty effective if the document was originally created in Word. First of all, open Word. Then, go to your File menu, and instead of just browsing for documents, because you would only see Word documents listed, drop down and change your file type to PDF. Now, browse to the PDF you want to open. You will get a message that says it is converting to Word. Be patient! If all goes well, you will have a completely editable copy of your document in Word. Worst-case scenario, it doesn’t work and you can just use PDF document on paper as it was.

suzylolley.com2.  Are you ready for the second tip? It’s easy to take a Word document and convert it to PDF.  All you have to do to make that happen is just go to your File menu and click Export. You’ll find that PDF is the default option. *A side note here to say that it’s generally preferred that you convert documents to PDFs before sharing so that parents can access them from anywhere without having to download any fancy software.

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3.  Once the document’s in PDF form, let’s say you don’t want anyone to be able to access it without special permission. You can go to your same export menu, but this time choose Options, the little button on the bottom right. When you click it, you will see a checkbox to add a password to the document. Whoever tries to open that document will be prompted for that password. Just a word of caution: if you’re going to use this trick and expect to have any security, it is not high-level security, but certainly don’t list your password on a sticky note and stick it on top of the computer:-)

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4.  Your fourth tip is good for when you want to give students access to a document created in PDF, but you only want to share parts of it. For instance, maybe there’s a teacher notes section at the beginning or a key at the end of the document that students don’t need. Most Windows machines contain a PDF printer. So, if I open a PDF and go to my print menu, I can select that printer and then choose certain pages to print. But what if my machine doesn’t have a virtual printer, or what if I need more options than just printing certain pages? Well I have a website for you. I want to give a shout out to my friend Jim Berry for sharing. It’s called PDF Candy. On this website, you will see more than twenty options that you can perform on a PDF. Want to convert the document to an image? No problem. Want to split or reorder the pages? No problem. I find this website especially helpful if I want to embed something on my blog or in my learning management system and have it appear as an image instead of just a link.

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5. The last tip here is especially dedicated to those who use the Canvas learning management system, but if your LMS has a similar trick, I would love to hear it in the comments. When teachers send out documents to parents, their most likely device for viewing those documents is a phone. I don’t know about your phone, but when I used to have an iPhone specifically, I had a hard time opening PDFs. I had to open a special program to launch them. Instead of that, what if you showed your parents an automatic preview of the document that they never had to download? Here’s how it works: On any canvas Rich Text Editor, upload your PDF file. You will see it as a simple link. Then, go up to the File menu and choose the link icon. You will highlight over the link, and choose the check box that says, “Auto-open the inline preview.” Voila! Parents can see the document without downloading it.

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I certainly don’t know every free thing you can do with PDFs. Do you have another trick? Share it in the comments below.

This post is inspired by a session I do every Tuesday on Facebook Live at 8 PM EST. Join me there next week. In the meantime, watch the video below to watch me demonstrate all the tips I share above.

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Tech Tuesday #12: Increase Teacher and Student Efficiency with the Number System

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Running a class of 25-30 students a day is overwhelming; add to that the stress of managing students when you switch classes five times, and the organization the teacher needs is multiplied exponentially! As an eleven-year middle and high school teacher, I often looked for ways to cut down the stress by adding organizational procedures to my classroom. One of these that stayed with me year after year was what I call the number system. The definition is simple–I assigned each student a number. It was simple to do; I just went down my alphabetical roster in order. As students moved out and new students took their places, I was able to reuse out-of-order numbers with incoming students without changing the existing students’ numbers around. I loved this system, and I’m excited to share in this post my top six ways to use the number system in the classroom. Ready?

Six Ways to Use Numbers to Make the Classroom More Efficient

  1. After students have been assigned numbers, use a random number generator. You can find these generators everywhere, and I prefer one that has an iframe embed code you can easily put on your LMS or website. Let’s say students have projects due a certain day; you and I both know not everyone’s presentation can fit in that one day, and yet we want to be fair with due dates. Enter the random number generator! After allowing volunteers to go first, simply “spin the wheel;” if a person’s number comes up, it’s their turn to present. I never had flack for being unfair on presentations, because it was the machine, not me, making the decisions. 
  2. Have students take their own attendance. True story: I probably should have been fired more than once for forgetting to take daily attendance when I was a middle school teacher. Our registrar at the middle school warned me that at the high school, attendance every period was going to be my downfall. That’s where my use of the number system to have students do a self check-in saved my life…or at least my career. I created a multicolored Smartboard file, and it was ugly but functional. I had enough slides for each class, each with a different-colored background. The colors reminded me and the students to switch the slide if needed. Each slide was labeled with two columns, absent and present, and enough numbers for all my students were in the absent side by default. As students entered the room, they knew to walk by my board and slide their numbers from absent to present. This board served two purposes for me: because attendance was taking up my whole board, it reminded me to enter my attendance into our system. Second, it sped up the attendance process overall; I only had to verify those whose numbers had not been moved over, taking about thirty seconds, as opposed to the time needed to call a whole roster of students.  Feel free to visit Smart Exchange, Promethean Planet, or even PowerPoint to find or make cuter ones than mine, but my slide deck is linked below to give you inspiration. Here’s a final couple tips if you decide to integrate this use of the number system: don’t save the slide deck when  you close it; you want it to be blank and ready for the next class. However, if you’re like me and may save by accident, include an extra slide at the end for each group so you’ll have blanks just in case. 
  3. Write student numbers on clothespins. As an English teacher, I knew my grading would always take forever. I probably could have gotten it done a little faster if I didn’t dread it so badly! As such, my slowness caused an inconvenience for parents, because those students who hadn’t done their work wouldn’t see zeroes in the gradebook until I had gotten around to grading. That meant there was little opportunity for them to get their missing work made up.  Cue the number system. This tip is low-tech but so helpful! Buy some clothespins and use a Sharpie to write numbers on each of them.  You will need one set for each class, so I color-coded mine the same way I had colored my attendance slides. I put each group’s pins in a jar in the front of the room, near my turn-in trays for work. As students came to turn in work, i had them pull their numbers from the appropriate class jar to clip on their papers. Remember that I taught upper grades? Students in those grades still love to help, believe it or not. I had a student secretary who would quickly put the clothespinned-papers in order and mark off on a roster whose work was missing. The numbers made the papers easy to organize, so I was ready to put in zeroes quickly for parent information and student makeup capabilities.
  4. The fourth reason to use the number system is that students can do anonymous editing of each other’s papers. If you train your students to write only their numbers on their papers, at least for essays, they are able to give honest feedback to each other when editing. No more popularity contests! Students can give praise or critical feedback honestly and really help their partners be more prepared for the assessment process when it comes. 
  5. I also used numbers to assign everything! Do you have a class set of laptops, clickers, or calculators? Students always know what number to pick up. Not only do computers boot faster when the same few users are logging on each time, but students also take ownership and are able to keep a tally on damage done by a previous classmate. I had students sign out their computers with the date on a roster every time we used them. They reported damage on that same sheet, and I was able to take care of negligence more effectively. Tracking calculators or response devices in this same way keeps them from walking away.
  6. Do you get overwhelmed by grading major essays, projects, or journals all on the same day? Use the number system to vary due dates. Break your students into groups by their numbers and according to the days of the week. Students then always know if they are “Monday people” and you do too. Know that there’s going to be certain group that wows you or others who struggle? Make it easy on yourself! Be strategic with who you grade each day of the week, so that there’s not one day of the week you dread more than others. Mix a little sunshine in each group:)
  7. I’ve saved probably my favorite use of the number system for last. Use student numbers to have them do carousel presentations. If you’re honest, your eyes (and students’) have glazed over when all students have presented to the whole class. Listening to more than twenty presentations in a row about the same topic is torturous for all involved. Try this plan instead. Hand out your grading rubric to all the students, but omit the grade part. Just leave the levels and the criteria intact. Group students according to their numbers. For example, student 1 would be in a group with students 2-5. When it’s time to present, they all watch each other and give feedback on the rubric. You might circulate among the groups, but you aren’t the one giving the feedback. In less time, students have received more feedback than they would have just from you, and they’ve heard it from an authentic audience, their peers. Here’s the best part: if you collect the rubrics at the end, and most people agree on the feedback, simply add the numbers and put that grade in the gradebook. If students disagreed, you have a few presentations to go back and review yourself.

Don’t you love the number system? Have you tried it yourself? I’d love to hear more ideas for its use in the comments below.

Love a good podcast? Listen to the episode of The Suzy Show where I describe even more about my new student strategy. Click to play below, and make sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast player app.

Want to watch me talk about it? Tune in to this episode of Tech Tuesday, which you can join every week at 8PM EST at https://www.facebook.com/techlolley/. The episode about the number system is embedded below.

Resources:

Attendance Smart Notebook

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Check out the video below, which is embedded from the Facebook Live Tech Tuesday session I host every week at facebook.com/techlolley at 8PM EST.

Tech Tuesday #7: Straighten-Up Strategies for Outlook

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If you’re like me, your email box is one of your biggest sources of frustration and perceived busyness. Gone are the days when I started teaching fifteen years ago that we received memos in our school mailboxes; the color of the paper denoted the urgency of the message or lack thereof. One would think that managing messages digitally would be easier; nothing can get lost. I think that’s the problem. We never lose anything! It keeps piling up in our cloud-based limitless email boxes, to the point that the important does sometimes get buried beneath the minutia.

In this first part of the series I’m calling “Straighten-Up Strategies,” let’s tackle that inbox and the overwhelmed feeling it causes.

From today on, I want you to have two goals when it comes to your inbox. There is nothing new under the sun, so I want to give credit to two podcasters I mentioned in a previous Tech Tuesday, Amy Porterfield and Angela Watson, for inspiring these two goals. From Amy I take my first goal, one that I strive for but haven’t reached in forever: Start every day with inbox zero. Yes, you read that right. Make it a goal to completely clean out your inbox regularly, even if it’s not once a day. I know, I know…it’s just going to fill up again, especially if you’re a teacher. The same repeat happens with laundry and dishes as well, but we still have to try to make an effort, right?

The second goal, courtesy of Angela Watson, is this one: touch each email once. You know the drill with deleting, replying, and forwarding an email. However, if you will check out the video below, recorded as a Facebook Live I host every Tuesday, you will find more great strategies that will help you accomplish both goals.

Watch and learn:

  • how to create a calendar appointment from an email just by dragging and dropping
  • how to send emails and their attachments to OneNote
  • how keeping emails in both the “Sent” box and “Inbox” is redundant
  • how to use the Clean Up function in Outlook 2016
  • how to manage folders that are no longer relevant
  • how to use the Sweep function in Office365
  • how to undo an accidental click of the Archive button
  • how to create rules that automatically manage your email for you

It’s an action-packed video, so make sure to tune in!

Tech Tuesday #5: How to Choose the Best Content Delivery Tools for Your Classroom

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Content delivery is not what it used to be. I think of the teachers in both Ferris Bueller and Charlie Brown’s classrooms–monotone, dull, and definitely not engaging anyone. It would certainly be easier if we could be like those teachers. In this modern age, we still want our students to learn, and it just simply takes more to engage them. In today’s episode, for which you can see the video at the bottom of this post, I want to share my favorite strategies and tools for content delivery. We are continuing our series on connecting pedagogy with technology. Remember that it’s not just any tool you’re choosing for your students. It has to be a tool that’s a good fit for both what you’re wanting to accomplish academically and what your particular students need.
What features should you find in a content delivery tool? I have four of them I’d like to share with you.

Features to Find

Number one. As I mentioned in my post on assessment tools last week, you want a content delivery tool that is device-agnostic or unnecessary. Even if you’re in a one-to-one school, there will be many days when a student’s device is in the shop for repair. That means that they either have no device or they have a phone in their pocket to substitute for the original. You have to have a tool that can deal with all of that.

Number two. As I mentioned before, you need content delivery that is engaging for students. What we used to think was engaging is no longer the case. I remember when I first started student teaching that foldables were all the rage. And the mentor teacher that I taught with had kids glue everything in their notebooks. She was interactive notebook before that was cool 🙂 With the tools I’m going to discuss below, you will find that engagement element. But let me also say that what engages today may not work tomorrow. We should not make our students feel like they’re at a dog-and-pony show, certainly–that we have to have a new tool to entertain them with each lesson. But it does help to have several good and reliable tools in our toolboxes, so I’m going to show you four favorites in the video below.

Number three. Remember the 10 and 2 rule. In my former life, I was the Learning Focused Schools trainer for my middle school. One of the best things I got out of that training was this rule. You should always teach for 10 minutes and then have students apply or respond for 2 minutes. Lecturing for a 45-minute period with no time for student response just is not going to be functional.

Finally, when looking for a content delivery tech tool, make sure that it looks good and is big enough on any screen where it might need to be seen. I’m talking about responsive design. Tools like Sway that I’m going to show you tonight are made to look great on any screen from handheld phones all the way up to a giant interactive whiteboard. They maintain their perspective and aspect ratios, and kids aren’t distracted by something that looks wonky on the screen.

Tools I Recommend

In the video below, tune in to an episode of Facebook Live where I share four of my favorite tools:

  • OneNote,
  • Office Mix,
  • Sway, and
  • Nearpod.

I’m going to give you a tour of each and tell you about the best features that make them fabulous for Content Delivery. PowerPoint might have been cool when it first came out, but it’s even cooler now. Check out the video to see what I mean.

A Final Word

Finally, remember that strong content delivery is not just about using technology all the time. Everyone, including the teacher, needs a break from screen time. It’s finding that perfect blend between phone-or-laptop-focused and hands-on interactive. People are still the key, and that means the teacher is the hub of the classroom. That’s why it’s so important for you, the teacher, to have your content delivery arsenal armed with the right tools to pull out when your students need them most.

Which of the tools is your favorite? Which would you add to my list? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below, and if this post helped you to engage students in your classroom, I’d love to hear that for sure.

With tech and twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Tech Tuesday #4: Using Good Pedagogy to Choose Effective Assessment Tools

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I want to begin a series on the pedagogy behind the tools. I work with a lot of teachers who go to conferences and return excited about great tools. As a matter of fact, when I work with them in their classrooms, they love anything I can show them that’s practical. However, and we’ve all done it, they often miss the most important thing, which is student learning. Pedagogy and best practice are how we do what we do. As much as we think certain tools are fun, the engagement factor will never be for students what it is for us, because we come from the digital immigrant generation. That’s why our assessment tools can’t only be chosen based on what’s newest and shiniest. So with this series, I want to delve into different categories of technology tools and how you can make a good choice for which ones will be incorporated into your classroom.

Assessment Tools: Seven Features to Find

Let’s start by talking about assessment tools. As much as we often think we hate assessment, it is what gives us that cold, hard data that we can use to make informed decisions about future teaching plans. In an assessment tool, these are the features you should try to find:
  1. Auto grading. You want something that is going to take some of the grading load off your plate. Trust me, I was an English teacher. I often rewarded myself with cleaning or working out, both of which I hate, as a result of accomplishing the grading of just two essays. Thus, if I’m going to look for a tool, I want it to do some of my grading for me.
  2. Multiple types of questions. There are some things I machine just can’t grade. For those, I want to make sure that I have robust choices for what data comes back to me. In addition to auto-graded features such as true/false, multiple choice, or drag-and-drop, I want a feature that allows students to respond to a prompt of my choice and that I can grade, preferably with a rubric.
  3. Exportable assessments and data. Thirdly, I want data that I can take anywhere I want it to go, even after I move on from a certain product. As much as I used to love Quia, the only thing that is exportable is their data. Quizzes I built there I can’t load anywhere else. I’m forced to start over. Plus, I want data, preferably in Excel form, that I can take and manipulate and load into other systems. Many modern tools provide that, and it’s definitely a feature I would look for before making a commitment to a tool.
  4. With that data should come easy reports. One of the tools I discuss in the video below is a favorite for assessment because of the beautiful pie charts it creates. I love to read. That’s why I taught English. However, when it comes to data, I want visual, differentiated reports. So that’s another item you should look for when you are trying to find an assessment tool.
  5. Included Survey Tool. Next, with assessment comes surveying as well. I like a tool that will allow me to do formative feedback in the form of surveys, not just graded or summative quizzes. I don’t want kids to think my “cool tools” are really just a mask for punitive, serious grading, at least not all the time, and as any education grad student knows, much of our data is qualitative.
  6. Price Plus Privacy. Next comes a conundrum. I like free tools. After all, I’m a teacher with a limited paycheck. However, I also care if the tool mines student data. I’m linking here to Common Sense Education’s new initiative on vetting different educational technology companies for privacy. As you’re considering a tool, consider the cost, but not just in monetary reasons: also consider the cost to your students’ privacy. Never use a tool that gives away so much you wouldn’t want your own children to use it.
  7. Finally, and I will use this factor for a lot of the tools I share, make sure the tool you pick is device-agnostic or device-unnecessary. You have some students with smartphones or the latest affordable tablet from Walmart. You might be in a one-to-one Chromebook or Surface school or have iPads. Whatever the device the student has, you want to make sure the assessment tool works on all of those student technologies. Especially if you’re going to invest money or have your school do the same, please do a thorough trial with different devices that your students may bring to school, to ensure that they work with your integral tools.

Suzy’s Favorite Assessment Tools

The video at the bottom of this page comes from a Facebook live session that I do every Tuesday. I call it Tech Tuesday and it happens at 8 p.m. on my Facebook page, linked here. The tools I’m covering in this video for assessment include some of my favorites, which are:
  • Microsoft Forms
  • Kahoot
  • Quizizz
  • Socrative
  • Plickers
  • the Canvas Quiz builder 
I’m not going to repeat all that I say in the video about each one, so you’ll have to tune in;) Click Play to watch.
Here’s how the tools in the video stack up on the features I mentioned:
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More To Think About

Let me leave you with these final thoughts when it comes to choosing an assessment tool. Although many of us were raised in a generation when the teacher didn’t even know what formative assessment was, we definitely do. As you’re choosing a tool, make sure that it’s casual enough to allow students not to feel stressed out when you’re doing an informal assessment but then robust enough to give great data when you’re doing a summative.
Also, to curb the cheating concern on devices, here’s a little trick I used to use. I bought lots of resources for my 11th grade classroom from Laura Randazzo. One of her ideas that I thought was very helpful was the one-question quizzer. I’d love to hear how you adapt this for your classroom, but in the literature classroom, I would ask one assessment question from the chapter students read the night before. Students had an according number of minutes to answer it…usually two or three. They knew it or they didn’t, and they didn’t have time to cheat. It worked really well, and if my students were cheating, they were doing a terrible job of it 🙂 I definitely knew who the readers were.
Also, if you are going to be quizzing on school provided devices, have students put their phones face down on their desks or in phone jail. It’s not that phones aren’t amazing tools. As a matter of fact, I tell you several ways they are used in this post.  But allowing students to use two devices during a test or quiz is just asking for trouble.
Finally, if you’re going to do some of the short answer grading that I mentioned in the first section, make sure to show students the rubric. In tools such as Canvas Quiz Builder, you can attach the rubric right there. If you don’t use such an LMS, maybe you want to provide a paper copy of the rubric or a link to it. Letting students see the grading criteria is a great idea if you want better answers.
 
I hope these tips help you choose a better assessment tool. After all, there are so many flashy tools out there that I I’m sure have not even named half of them. As a matter of fact, here’s what I’d like you to do in the comments below:
  1. Please share your favorite tool. It could be one I listed or not. Tell why you like it.
  2. Also, share an idea with our readers about how you choose assessment tools or manage them in your classroom.

I would love to hear from you!

With tech and twang, 

Missed the other episodes?

Check them out here:

Tech Tuesday #1: Visual Goal-Setting with Sway

Tech Tuesday #2: Creating an Excel Habit Tracker

Tech Tuesday #3: Classflow, a Device-Agnostic Tool for Lesson Delivery

Visual Goal-Setting with Sway

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