OneDrive Updated with Drag & Drop and Files Support

John Voorhees, writing for MacStories:

Microsoft has released version 10.1 of its OneDrive app with support for drag and drop on the iPad and a new, cleaner design.

Drag and drop support allows users to move files and folders within the OneDrive app or drag files into and out of other apps. For example, users can drag photos from OneDrive into an email message to add as an attachment or drag attachments from messages into OneDrive. Users can also access their OneDrive files from Apple’s Files app.

Despite the advances the Files app has brought for dealing with multiple cloud services on iOS, the experience remains inconsistent. Dropbox offers probably the best integration so far, with Google’s half-hearted attempt lagging behind. For a long time, OneDrive looked like it wasn’t even trying, so it’s good to see them adding support for it in their latest update. For those in the Office 365 universe – which includes many teachers – I know that this will be a godsend. The Office apps on iOS also recently (and quietly) added drag & drop support, bringing them much closer to being full citizens of iOS 11.

Of course, the best integrated cloud service with the Files app is still iCloud Drive, part of the reason I consolidated most of my personal and work files there after iOS 11 came out. While I’ve been happy with my experience of going all in on iCloud Drive, I hope that iOS 12 and future updates bring more of an even playing field for cloud services on iOS.

Marking with Tally

Tally is a really nice little utility that I only recently discovered. It’s made by Agile Tortoise, the developer of the wonderful Drafts app.

The concept is extremely simple: when you open the app, all you see is a large zero in the centre of the screen. When you tap on the screen, the zero becomes a one; each time you tap again, the number increments by one.

All of the other controls are gesture based. Swiping down decrements the number by one; swiping up reveals controls where you can adjust display settings and reset the counter to zero. Left and right swipes open menus where you can manage multiple tallies and change other settings.

Recently I found a really great use for Tally: counting marks in tests. When I’ve finished marking a set of tests, I go through and count up the total number of marks for each student. Now you might think that, being a maths teacher, I would be pretty good at counting, but it’s surprisingly easy to get distracted and lose count, or get out by ten. Sometimes I need to stop and re-mark something as I’m counting, and again it’s easy to lose count.

With Tally, I just have my phone on the desk by my left hand, and a red pen in my right hand. As I flick through the pages, I just tap on my phone screen. I can double or triple tap for multiple mark questions, and I don’t even need to be looking at the screen while I’m doing it. Using Tally in this way allows to me concentrate on reading the student’s work and my own marking. I can stop and make corrections without worrying about losing count. Even if I don’t need to make any corrections, I find I am much quicker and more accurate at counting the marks in this way, and as an added bonus I feel like I’m a World War II Morse code operator as I tap tap tap away.

With some tests, it’s easier to count the number of marks lost, and Tally supports this too. Using the sidebar on the right of the main screen, you can change the number to which the the counter resets and whether it counts up or down. So for a test out of 75 marks, I set the reset value to 75, and make the counter count down instead of up.

I can imagine many other uses for Tally in the classroom. Keeping track of merits or other student awards would be an obvious one, although Tally wouldn’t scale if like me you teach multiple classes. I would love to see Tally implement multiple collections of tallies, so that I could have one for each class, but I could understand why the developer, Greg Pierce, might be reluctant to complicate what is a beautifully simple app. On the other hand, Drafts, one of my very favourite apps, manages to combine absolute simplicity with the possibility for amazing levels of complexity, so perhaps that’s something that could be achieved with Tally as well.

Tally is a free download on the App Store with a £1.99 in-app purchase to unlock unlimited tallies and dark mode.

Slack for Teacher Collaboration

Slack is a tool for teams that aims to simplify communication and collaboration. It’s marketed as a solution to many of the problems inherent in email, and as any teacher knows, school email is a problem very much in need of a solution!

Before I get into talking about how Slack can help teachers collaborate more effectively, it’s worth talking about why it’s necessary at all. What are the problems with email that need solving?

School Email

First and foremost, I think the major complaint most teachers have with school email is the sheer volume of it. I would argue, however, that it is not the volume of information that is the problem, but the lack of organisation and structure of that information. The nature of email is to be an undifferentiated mass of stuff, with messages which vary greatly in terms of their relevance, urgency, and importance. Almost all of the burden of filtering and sorting that deluge is placed upon the recipient, as you quickly come to realise when you leave your inbox unattended for too long.

I’ve recently started using some server-side email filtering rules to try to create a bit more order. I’ve set things up so that the emails which are directly relevant to me go straight to my inbox, whereas other emails are automatically sent to a folder, archived, or deleted. This has helped quite a bit, but it’s still very much my job to sort through everything.

Email also creates bad habits. I think a lot of people fall into the trap of using their email inbox as a de facto to do list. The model of the single inbox with a list of items which need to be dealt with encourages this, but for many reasons it’s a very bad idea. For one thing, it’s a to do list that other people can add things to whenever they want. To be productive you need to have control over setting your own priorities.

Email also falls done when it comes to collaboration. Long chains of messages organised around ad hoc subject lines is essentially a hack which has been grafted on top of an ancient protocol. Finding and searching through emails on a particular topic is difficult, as they will often be split across several different subject lines. If someone new becomes involved in a project and they were not one of the original recipients of the emails, someone needs to forward the whole messy and fragmented email chain to them.

Slack

Slack solves many of these problems. While it doesn’t necessarily reduce the volume of information, it does impose a structure on it. Within a Slack “workspace”, messages are organised into “channels”, signified by hashtags. You start with two channels: #general and #random for team-wide announcements and casual chat respectively, and you can then create other channels focussed around particular topics. Members of your team can choose which subset of channels is relevant to them, and can even adjust their notifications on a per-channel basis.

The channel structure is a far better solution for organising discussion around a particular topic than email subject lines. It places the burden primarily on the sender to decide where they should post their message, and for the recipient, all messages received are pre-sorted into topic areas. Senders can also fine-tune the relevance of their messages using mentions. By including the @username of one or more members of the team in their message, the sender can indicate in a more precise way exactly those people for whom it is relevant. On the recipient’s side, these messages are highlighted.

Another strength of Slack is the level of customisation of notifications that’s possible. By tweaking the settings, if you want, you can only receive a ping when you are specifically mentioned in a message. That way you can be getting on with work and only be notified when a message specifically requires your attention. You can even snooze all notifications to get some quiet time.

Slack also solves the problem of the inbox as a to do list. Slack has no inbox, so as the recipient you need to be proactive in deciding which messages require action. Email is essentially an opt-out system: you need to delete or archive messages which do not require action, leaving behind the ones that do. Slack, on the other hand, is an opt-in systems: as the conversation flows, you decide what you need to capture and act on. If it’s not relevant, you don’t need to do anything: you simply let the messages disappear up the timeline. In my experience, taking control in this way makes you a much less stressed and much more productive person. This may be an adjustment for those who are not used to having to have a separate place to capture things, but it leads to far healthier habits in the long run. You can do this within Slack in a basic way by starring messages, but my recommendation would be to get things that require action into a task management system that you trust and maintain.

Slack is also built from the ground up for collaboration. Sending messages, attaching files, and replying to other people is quick and easy. There‘s a lot less friction than with email, where decisions need to be made about recipients, subject lines, CCs, and BCCs. This reduction in friction might well increase the volume of messages being sent, but I would argue that this is for a good reason. Considerate users of email minimise the number of recipients and the number of messages because they know that, by sending it, they are giving everyone who receives it a task to do. This can actually have the effect of discouraging collaboration: you are reluctant to send a message unless is is genuinely important. With Slack on the other hand, there is little cost to others if your message is less relevant or less interesting to them.

Slack in School

In my school I’ve piloted the use of Slack within the Mathematics Department. Primarily we use it for sharing teaching resources. We have a channel for each of the year groups, so that teachers can join the channels for the classes they teach. Another really helpful use we’ve found is for discussion around marking tests. We are often doing these separately at home, and it’s good to be able to chat about the mark scheme and post photos of student answers that we are unsure how to mark.

One of the concerns other teachers have about using a tool like Slack for collaboration is that it’s just another place to check. That concern is legitimate: unless using two different tools offers significant advantages, it’s inconvenient to have to use them in parallel. However, in my experience, collaboration within a subject department is distinct enough from whole-school email that a division between the two isn’t disruptive, and as I’ve argued above, Slack is a significantly more powerful tool for effective collaboration.

While I think Slack works best in teams that work together day to day, it’s interesting to think about how it might work on a whole-school level, and whether it could completely replace email.1 There are big companies which use Slack, so it does scale to that level. At the high school level, it would need to be organised around subject departments, and since each subject would probably require multiple channels, there would probably have to be some oversight to ensure there was a consistent naming scheme for channels, among other things.

Alternatives to email are becoming widespread in the corporate and charity sector2, and it’s about time that schools started experimenting with some of these tools as well. Teaching is a profession where effective collaboration is not always a given, but in my experience sharing ideas and resources with other teachers is one of the most fulfilling parts of the job. On its own, Slack is not going to magically create a collaborative environment in a school, but it can certainly enhance what’s there. If you’re looking for a better tool for your school, why not give Slack a go?

  1. I would love a #lostproperty channel that I could completely ignore.
  2. My church is all in on Slack.

Apple Notes for Teachers

This summer, for the first time, I decided to take the plunge and install the iOS 11 beta. In previous years, I had heeded the warnings not to install a beta operating system on your main work device, but this year the temptation was just too great. For the iPad (much more than the iPhone), this was a huge release, with several headline new features that I couldn’t wait to try. My 12.9” iPad Pro is my main work device, but I figured it was the summer holidays, and if I had any major problems I could probably (🤞🏻) fix them before September.

One of those headline features was drag and drop, but since I was using a beta OS, and wasn’t using any beta apps, it was only Apple apps that I could use to test out this feature. The obvious app to start dragging text, photos and documents into was Notes.

Partly because Notes was suddenly a lot more powerful than all of my other note-taking apps, I started using it more. When I got emails with attachments I wanted to keep for reference, I would just drag them into Notes.

This spurred me to do a proper tidy up of all my notes, and organise them into some kind of structure. Previously I had just two folders: “Notes” and “Archive”, the former a list of my currently used notes, the latter a junk drawer of stuff I wanted to remain searchable.

One of the iPad Diaries columns from MacStories gave me some ideas about how to organise things. I ended up with two main sections: “School” and “Personal”, and inside each one a number of sub-folders. For a reason that is beyond me, and despite its many advances, Notes on iOS still does not support the creation of sub folders. You can view them and even rename them, but to create them you need to use either the Notes app on a Mac or the iCloud.com web interface on a Mac or PC. Federico Viticci managed to find a rather fiddly iOS-only workaround, which requires the use of the Puffin Pro browser, but I haven’t always found this to be reliable. I think it’s a glaring omission from an otherwise powerful app, all the more surprising because the iOS app is in many ways more fully featured than the macOS version.

Below, I’ll go through each of the sections I created and talk about what I’m using them for.

School

This section is mostly school documents I need to refer to plus my own notes on some school activities I’m involved with. It’s really nice to have notes where I can easily drag in multiple files, add my own text and other information. Storing reference documents in context like this, rather than just as files in a folder, makes much more sense to me. In a folder, the only metadata I have about the file is its filename, whereas organised in a structured note, I have much more information. For PDFs and images I have a visual preview, and for other documents I – crucially – have some explanatory text that I can search for. Because everything in Notes has been put there deliberately by me, I find it much easier to find things than searching through a gargantuan email archive.

The new document scanning feature in Notes in iOS 11 is also great for getting paper stuff into Notes. My school still seems to occasionally enjoy distributing information via the medium of dead trees, so I like to be able to take the scan it and shred it approach.

I also keep two notes which I update from time to time called “Teaching Ideas from Podcasts” and “Teaching Ideas from Blog Posts”. These I use as part of my effort to keep up my own professional development. If I read a blog that I enjoy, I’ll save it for reference. If I’m listening to a podcast1 and get an idea that I could put into practice in my own teaching, I save an Overcast link along with my own thoughts and a couple of action points. I find this especially useful with podcasts where it’s harder to skim back through them later to find the parts that were especially helpful.

Tutor Group

This year I am a tutor, which means I have pastoral responsibility for, in my case, six boys. I keep a note for each one of them with important information like contact details for their parents. My students also recently completed a self-review for their first half term, so I have saved those in there along with my own comments.

I also have a note called “Notices” where I keep a list of information that I need to pass on to the boys when I see them. This is a case where drag and drop really comes into its own. With Mail and Notes in split view, I can drag an email straight from the message list into Notes, which creates a link to the message. After this I archive the email, knowing that I can just tap on that link in the note when the time comes to open the email again. I keep the links in a checklist, so I can tick them off when I’ve passed on the information. 2 I’ve pinned this note by swiping it to the right in the note list so that it always appears at the top.3Maths

Here I keep any department-related stuff including notes from department meetings and ideas for teaching resources, as well as things related to my own subject teaching. I also keep a couple of notes that I call “Personal Policies”. I’ve been experimenting this year with actually trying to write down the way I do things. While I’m good at concentrating hard on one particular thing, I find that my working memory is very constrained. So creating, for example, a personal assessment policy, which describes how I intend to deal with homework, in-class assessment, and class tests is something I’ve found really helpful. It helps me think more carefully about how I’m going to do things, it helps me do them more consistently, and it keeps me accountable to myself.

Lesson Plans

I had been using Bear for my lesson planning, with a similar setup to the way Craig described in his article “Bear for Lesson Planning”. However, I think I spent too long setting up a complex structure of notes, and not enough time creating a simple system that I would actually use. I found myself creating detailed lesson plans, and then not actually using them in lessons because I just couldn’t get the basic information I needed at a glance. The structure I had created was also built around planning whole sequences of lessons on a topic, and while I do believe this is the best way to plan, if you’re super busy it isn’t always possible. Sometimes you just need to make sure you have tomorrow’s lessons planned, with a very brief list for each lesson of what you want to do.

I also took advantage of both document scanning and drag and drop to add PDFs to some of my lesson plans. Sometimes I would take a scan of an answers page in the textbook, and sometimes I would drag in the PDF of a worksheet that I was planning to set for homework. Later on I could drag it out into an email to send to my students.

I haven’t decided whether I’m going to use Notes or Bear going forward, but I think I might try to create something a little simpler and grow it more organically into a useful database of lesson plans.

Archive

I have one of these for both “School” and “Personal”, in both cases notes I don’t regularly need but which contain information I might need in the future.

Note the use of emoji in these and other folder names. This helps me to easily distinguish them visually.

Shared

Shared notes, first introduced in iOS 10, has become a really useful and reliable feature. In this folder I keep a bunch of notes shared with others, mostly my wife. We still use Google Drive to share some files, but again, having documents in context along with some additional notes is much more useful than a complicated nested folder structure.


Notes for Teachers

Teachers have a lot of information to deal with and keep track of, and it comes in many forms: emails, attachments, paper documents, conversations with colleagues and students. Having a simple, reliable way to collect these things together and keep them organised and accessible is important. Notes achieves this admirably. It’s solid and unfussy, and feels like the default choice in the best of ways.


  1. My current favourite teaching podcast is the Mr Barton Maths Podcast.
  2. One slightly annoying detail is that these links only seem to work on the iPad. I’ve tried tapping on them on my iPhone, and while the Mail app launches, it doesn’t open the email I was looking for.
  3. Pro tip: you can see all your pinned notes across different folders by opening the “All iCloud” folder at the top of the folder list.

Apple Updates Pages with LaTeX Support

LaTeX on Pages

Amongst the flurry of new features that accompanied the release of iOS 10.3 yesterday, one small change to Apple’s Pages on iOS could make a big difference to maths teachers.

Pages now supports entering equations using LaTeX, a typesetting language which is especially useful for mathematics. LaTeX can be used to create entire documents using a sequence of plain text commands to define exactly how the output PDF should look. It particularly appeals to nerds who enjoy the precision that a programming environment offers, but it’s a necessity for anyone who wants to write a mathematical or scientific paper. Once you’ve learnt the language, entering mathematical symbols and equations in the exact way you want them to appear becomes fast and precise, and it also gives you a lot of control over layout. Both of these things come as a breath of fresh air to anyone who has had to deal with equation editor or dragging images around in Microsoft Word.

For non-nerds (and not all maths teachers are), learning to lay out a document using what looks scarily like a programming language can be intimidating. At first, there is a lot of debugging to get things the way you want them, and it can be fiddly at times. The new feature that Pages now offers creates what I believe is an ideal middle ground for people who want to dabble in a little LaTeX without having to worry about some of the more technical details.

As an excellent word processor, Pages on iOS offers all of the standard features you’d want and covers the vast majority of use cases. Creating a worksheet is easy, and only when you need to add an equation or formula do you need to jump into LaTeX. By picking up just a couple of commands for common mathematical symbols, you can easily and quickly create an equation which looks just the way you want it to. The extra keyboard row in the equation editor view – borrowed from Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app – is also a really nice touch. Once you’ve created your equation, you can easily make changes to it or move it around.

For an even more accessible way of creating equations in LaTeX, the wonderful MyScript MathPad lets you draw equations with your finger or with a stylus and export them to LaTeX. Unlocking the ability to copy and paste the LaTeX requires a £2.99 in-app purchase. It’s a great way to get started if you are a beginner.

If the LaTeX bug bites, there are advanced options for pro users. I’ve been playing around with the amazingly full featured Texpad, which as far as I can tell is the only iOS app which offers a split pane view, so that you can see your typesetting commands and a preview of the output at the same time.

Texpad

I’m not currently a huge iWork user, but with the recent updates to Pages, and with all the good things I hear about Keynote, I think now may be the time to revisit the suite. Even the slightly neglected Numbers is one I want to look at again as I am currently rethinking my Markbook workflow. It’s great to see that Apple still believes in these apps, and in their future on iOS.

Delivering Lessons with GoodNotes and Mirroring 360

For a long time I thought about my iPad Pro exclusively as a personal productivity device. I would research and plan my lessons there, I would design my lesson materials there, but after I’d saved everything into OneDrive, it would be the Windows PC connected to my smart board that I’d use to actually display these to my students. Because I was creating my lesson materials in PowerPoint, with my lesson plans in OneNote, this workflow made a lot of sense: one app for my students on the smart board, another app for me on my iPad.

I think it was getting my Apple Pencil that eventually tipped the balance. When I first got it, I was using it to create my lesson materials, but when I displayed them on the smart board, the only option for marking up and annotating was to use the ‘smart ink’ function on my PC. This felt buggy and clumsy compared to the precision I had when using my Apple Pencil.

On another level, I had also been thinking a lot about behaviour management. I’m not someone who naturally has a huge amount of presence in a room, so I like to move around my classroom quite a bit to help manufacture this to some extent. When I was writing on the board, I always felt stuck at the front, facing in the wrong direction, at precisely the point when I most needed to be aware of students’ attention levels. Being able to move around the room while presenting material on the board was an idea that really appealed to me, and it’s been really exciting to start trying it out.

Mirroring 360

If you’re in a school where working on an iPad isn’t the norm, the infrastructure isn’t always a there to allow you immediately to start presenting lessons from your iPad. However, don’t be put off by this; there are some good solutions. The most obvious and well documented way is to connect an Apple TV to your projector. I thought about buying one exclusively for this purpose, but I wanted to test it out first to see if it was worth the money. The only Apple TV I was aware of in the school was the one connected to the TV in the staff common room, so I politely asked if I could borrow it for a couple of hours. While it worked quickly without a lot of complicated setup, I wasn’t entirely happy with the results. Whether the issue was with the Apple TV or with the projector I’m not sure, but I couldn’t get the aspect ratio the way I wanted it. However I tweaked the settings, I ended up either with black bars on all four sides, or bits of the screen spilling off the edges.

I ended up exploring different options, and settled on a software rather than hardware solution to the problem. There are lots of apps for Windows and Mac that can pretend to be Apple TVs and accept video input via AirPlay. I can’t say I’ve tested a lot of these and found the best one, but the one I do use seems to work well and it fits my needs. It’s an app called Mirroring 360, and it’s available for Windows, Mac, and Chrome OS, with client apps for iOS and Android.

I really liked the business model for this app: after a one-week free trial, I could buy a single device license for $14.99 for the PC in my classroom. It’s a one-time purchase, not a annual fee, so it’s very affordable even if you’re just buying it as an individual. This is much better than the situation with a lot of education apps on PCs, where you can only try them out if you can persuade your IT department to purchase a whole-school license.

Menu on Windows PC

After that, you just need to download the iOS app and you’re ready to share your screen. On launch the PC app displays the menu above: the most important thing here is the ‘mirroring assist’ button. This opens up a QR code which the iOS app can read to connect to the PC for the first time. Once connected, you can share your iPad screen via the AirPlay Mirroring button in Control Centre. I’m not sure what the implementation is, but for some reason (probably an iOS system restriction), the PC only shows up in Control Centre as an AirPlay receiver when the Mirroring 360 app is open, but once you’ve selected it, the app keeps mirroring your screen even when you’re in another app.

Using Control Centre to start AirPlay

One slight restriction with this setup is that your iPad and PC need to be on the same network. In my case, My classroom PC is networked via ethernet, so my iPad can talk to it when connected to the school wifi. If you don’t have good, reliable wifi in your school, using a software solution like this won’t work for you, but you can fall back on the Apple TV hardware solution. The latest generation Apple TV supports AirPlay without the two devices being on the same wifi network.

What I’d love to see in future is the ability to AirPlay your iOS screen over the internet. This would mean I wouldn’t have to worry about having a particular app installed on my PC, I could just use a web browser. It would also mean that if I was in another classroom, say for a cover lesson, I would still be able to stream my iPad screen. Mirroring 360 currently has a pro version in beta which allows to you share your screen online, but you can only do this via the PC that is receiving the screen, not directly from the sending device. iOS doesn’t currently support AirPlay over the internet, but I hope this is something Apple will consider implementing in the future.

As a teacher, you do need to be aware that AirPlay mirroring shows everything that’s on your screen, including notifications and the passcode screen. With Touch ID, the latter isn’t an issue, but I’d recommend liberal use of the Do Not Disturb feature in settings to ensure you don’t have any text messages, emails, or other notifications popping down from the top of the screen when you’re trying to teach algebra to excitable teenagers. Since I just knew I would one day forget to turn it on, I decided to use the ‘scheduled’ option to activate Do Not Disturb at the beginning of every school day and turn it off at the end. Make sure you also select the ‘always’ option so that notifications are blocked whether or not your iPad is locked. While mirroring my screen, I also make a lot of use of the freeze button on my projector remote so that I can have a look at the next page of a powerpoint or navigate to another document while what students can see on the smart board doesn’t change. It would be great to have a bit more control over video output at a system level in iOS. I’d love to be able to hit a freeze button on my iPad rather than using the projector remote.

Do Not Disturb Scheduling

GoodNotes

GoodNotes 4 by Time Base Technology Limited is an excellent companion to Mirroring 360. Unlike many other note taking apps, it is ideal for presentations, since it has a mode that alters the video output feed that is sent via AirPlay. Like PowerPoint presentation mode, it presents a clean, UI-free view on the projector screen, while showing the full UI and tools to the user on the iPad. This means you can navigate pages, change writing tools, select objects and move them around, all without creating visual distractions for your students. This option is enabled via the ‘Hide User Interface’ option in the app settings. It’s worth noting that even when you have GoodNotes in split view, as long as it as the primary app on the left side of the screen, students won’t see the secondary app on the right. This is great for looking at your lesson plan, or navigating through documents while delivering a lesson. Swap the apps over, and the split view can be shown, which is also occasionally useful in lessons.

Hide User Interface option

GoodNotes is also a well designed app with an impressive array of functions. You can create notebooks with multiple different paper types and then group them by categories. As a maths teacher, I mostly use A4 squared paper in landscape, but the app also offers graph paper, lined paper, and even manuscript paper for musical notation. I have one category for each class that I teach and then one notebook for each topic.

Categories and Notebooks

The drawing tools are simple but effective: different coloured pens, highlighters, erasers, and a tool to convert what you draw to exact straight lines, perfect circles and other geometric shapes. Other features include the following:

  • Full Apple Pencil support, as well as support for a number of third-party styluses
  • A zoom function which is difficult to describe in words, but allows you to write continuously when zoomed in without having to pan around
  • The ability to import images and entire multi-page PDF documents: great for annotating worksheets
  • Export to PDF or images
  • Auto-backup (in GoodNotes format or PDF) to your cloud service of choice
  • A slightly random one, but GoodNotes is the only app on iOS I have so far discovered which can do bulk rotation of the pages of PDF: handy if you’ve scanned something in the wrong orientation

GoodNotes has also changed the way I do lesson planning. I find writing out my slides with my Apple Pencil helps me think more carefully about the structure and timing. I still take brief notes in OneNote, but I find that I’m doing most of the thinking in GoodNotes, where I can easily draw diagrams and use mathematical notation.

GoodNotes in action

It will be interesting to see to what extent I re-use these slides next year. I haven’t yet developed a good workflow for saving the original slides without the annotations and solutions I write on during lessons, so I may have to go back and tidy them up to some extent. One missing feature that I’d love to see in future is the option to duplicate a page. This would mean I could have one page with just the questions I’ve written, and another with all the answers as well. It is possible to copy a page and then paste it as a new page, but it requires far too many taps at the moment. I raised this with the developers and they have said they’ll work on it for a future version.

In terms of behaviour management, it’s been a real help. I’ve often found that with difficult classes, standing at the back of the room can be a bit of a power move, and now I can stand anywhere I like while delivering the lesson. The 12.9″ iPad Pro can feel a little unwieldy at times; I think the ideal device for this purpose would probably be the 9.7″ iPad Pro, but all things considered I still prefer the 12.9″ and I’m not yet tempted by the #multipad lifestyle. What I’d really like next for my classroom is some kind of lectern or sturdy music stand that I could put my iPad on when standing. With my Apple Pencil in one hand and cradling my 12.9″ iPad in the other, it can be difficult to gesticulate as much as I would like.

It’s also helped me to improve the quality of my lessons. A simple but effective pedagogical tool is to take photos of good examples of students work using the camera input tool in GoodNotes and display them on the board. I’ve had great class discussions based on talking through these with my class: what the particular student did well in their working and what they could have done better. I can mark up their solution in real time, adding corrections or extra bits of explanation. Students are naturally curious to see each other’s work, and they are really motivated to show good working so that their solution gets picked to go up on the board. It’s a fantastic way to finish a lesson and summarise the material, since it encourages students to reflect on their own work and others’.

Using your iPad to present lessons as well as planning them opens up a huge new world of possibilities for students’ experience. The whole of the iOS App Store becomes a potential teaching tool. I have used apps like WolframAlpha, MyScript Calculator, Notability, and the wonderful but strange Qama Calculator, but GoodNotes is still the app I use most often, and the app that is most central to the way I plan and deliver my lessons.

GoodNotes is usually $7.99 in the App Store, but for a limited time is reduced to the amazing price of only $0.99. Get it while you can!

Marking with Copied

App Artwork for Copied – Copy and Paste Everywhere by Kevin Chang (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/copied-copy-paste-everywhere/id1015767349?mt=8&uo=4)

This week I came across a fantastic little app called Copied. Copied is the best kind of utility app: both incredibly simple and extremely powerful. Stumbling across it on a weeknight while marking felt like a real bit of serendipity. It had exactly the functionality I was looking for and it’s a great looking app as well.

Primarily, Copied is a clipboard manager. It handles text and images efficiently, and the intuitive swipe gestures make it easy to get things into and out of the clipboard. But Copied’s capabilities go way beyond copy and paste. The app offers the ability to use ‘text formatters’ to reformat a snippet in various ways. The built in text formatters apply to URLs and allow you to do things like convert a link into Markdown or HTML, but the most amazing thing about this feature is the fact that you can add your own custom text formatters using either basic templates or with custom scripts written in JavaScript.

Copied’s simplicity hides other powerful scripting tools. It’s also possible to write merge scripts, which define how a selection of snippets will be combined together into a single snippet. While I’m making some progress with Python, JavaScript is a language that I’m not yet familiar with. With apps like 1Writer (in which this article is being written) also leveraging JavaScript for their automation, I think it might be worth picking up. For example, I can imagine creating a script that would find and replace all gendered pronouns within a snippet to help prevent embarrassing errors when writing reports.

Screenshot of Copied custom keyboard in use with Airtable

It’s in conjunction with the custom keyboard that copied really comes into its own for marking. When I set a piece of math homework, the kinds of errors that I expect students to make usually fall within a reasonably predictable range. So the kind of feedback I need to give, and the information I need to record in my markbook, is usually a small selection of individualised comments from a total set of around a dozen possible comments. As I’m marking and writing comments physically onto student’s books, I’m also recording my comments into Airtable, with the Copied custom keyboard in the lower part of the screen. I use an external wired USB keyboard in conjunction with the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter (I’ve never understood why this isn’t also marketed as a keyboard product as well). This means I can still type normally while the Copied custom keyboard is on screen. By default, custom keyboards, like the on-screen system keyboard, are hidden when you connect an external keyboard, but if you press and hold the downwards pointing chevron in the bottom right of the screen, it will appear as in the screenshot above.

Screenshot with selection copied

In my markbook, I try to record some positive comments, some points about what could be improved, and a single action point for students to follow up on. I type out the first few, and each time I write a single comment I select and hit Command + C. The custom keyboard changes to a different view as in the screenshot above, with the options to save the snippet to Copied or specifically to the current list. I usually create a list for the specific piece of homework I am marking, and copy my comment into this. It’s then added to the scrollable list of buttons displayed on the keyboard, and I can re-use it for another student by just tapping when my cursor is in the appropriate field. It makes it incredibly quick to insert a string of personalised comments for each student by just tapping multiple buttons. I can imagine this would also be incredibly useful for reports, where the combination of things I write needs to be personalised to each student, but where I can save time by not having to retype the same individual phrases or sentences repeatedly.

The visual aspect of Copied is what really appeals to me. I don’t have to remember text shortcuts as I would if I were using something like TextExpander. I can just tap one button which has the text I need. For snippets you might repeatedly use over time, you can even give them a title to aid identification. For example, I have one for my home address formatted on multiple lines, something that the iOS text replacement tool does not support.

Copied is a free download, with a one-time in-app purchase of $2.99 to upgrade to Copied+. I had upgraded within about 15 minutes of buying the app, because I could instantly see how useful it was. The free version allows you to try out the vast majority of the features, but limits you to a total of 10 items at any one time. Unlocking Copied+ removes this cap, allows the creation of lists in which to save items you will re-use, and enables iCloud sync if you want to use Copied on multiple devices. It also unlocks an amazing feature called Rules, which allows you to use Regular Expressions to automatically filter items into the lists you have created as soon as they are added. For example, you could create a rule which would filter URLs from a particular website straight into a dedicated list.

Copied is a fantastically useful and nimble little app, and wherever you keep your markbook or write your reports, it has the potential to save you a lot of time typing out the same things over and over again. By reducing the friction involved in recording my comments about students’ work in my markbook, it has made me more consistent in building up a picture of each student’s strengths and weaknesses. And by nudging me to think more carefully about what common errors arise in the work students produce, and how often particular errors arise, I have become better at giving whole-class feedback about homework. Little by little, I think that Copied is helping me to become a better marker.

Office 365 and Apple Pencil

OneNote and Powerpoint in split screen multitasking

My name is Peter Davison-Reiber, and I’m a Mathematics Teacher at a high school near London, England. I’ve always been a bit of a tech nerd, and since starting to work as a teacher around four years ago, I’ve been interested in learning about the ways technology can be used in education. I also like writing and sharing my ideas with other teachers, and I get a huge kick out of helping other teachers to become more productive and enjoy their work more as a result.

I recently started at a new school, and over the summer I invested in my first iPad Pro. At my previous school we had been given Windows laptops for our individual use so this was where I did most of my work, but towards the end of my time there, the school began to roll out the iPad Air 2 to teachers as a trial run before later rolling them out to all students. This was what really began to interest me in the potential of the iPad as a platform for getting work done.

When it turned out that, in my new school, the only IT I would have for my own use was a big old PC on a desk in my classroom, I was inspired by the likes of Federico Viticci and Fraser Spiers to go all in on iOS and the iPad Pro as my main computing platform. I wasn’t quite sure how this would turn out or how compatible my setup would be with my new school’s infrastructure, but I decided to give it my best shot, while still being prepared for the fact that I might have to sit down at the big black box on the desk from time to time.

After purchasing my iPad Pro, I was very excited when I heard from the IT department that they had purchased an Office 365 for Education subscription for all staff and students. This meant I could have the full suite of Office apps on my iPad Pro along with 1TB of OneDrive storage.

OneDrive

Even though we are storing more and more of our data in the cloud, it’s my experience that a lot of schools still run their file sharing systems using their own servers. On a Windows PC, this is usually a seamless and native experience. Files are stored in a number of drives in the which can be accessed from “My Computer”. These drives usually include a home drive for the individual user to store their files, and several shared drives for departmental and school wide use. Logging onto any PC with your username and password allows you access to all of these drives, but getting at them from elsewhere is usually more difficult. Some schools have some sort of web service which allows remote access, but in my experience these are universally awful, particularly if you want to use them on a Mac, or – dare I say it – an iPad.

OneDrive unfortunately is not integrated with these shared drives in any way. What I would love is if all the school shared drives were instead shared folders in OneDrive so that they could be easily accessed anywhere and on any device, and it would also be great if my home drive on the school network was the same thing as my OneDrive folder. I’m told for the moment that this isn’t possible because of the issue of syncing. For a OneDrive folder to be natively accessible on a PC, it needs to be synced, but this requires at least as much server capacity in the school as there is storage offered in the cloud, and few schools have the infrastructure to provide a terabyte per user. I’m hoping Microsoft considers implementing some sort of on-demand system in the style of Dropbox Infinite to make this easier for schools in the future. This would allow files to be displayed natively as ordinary files in ordinary folders, but only a subset would, at any one time, be stored on the device. The rest would be in the cloud, and be downloaded on-demand when accessed.

In practice, I hardly use my school network drive, and instead keep all of my files in my OneDrive folder. The 1TB of storage has been amazingly useful, and I have been able to consolidate all of the resources I have picked up from the various schools I’ve worked at into one place. Any school documents or spreadsheets I need to refer to, I can also just copy there, and with the folder upload that’s available when using Chrome on a PC, you can do this in bulk quite easily. Obviously I can’t use this for any shared documents on the school network where I need to collaborate with others, but the only times I have to do this are very particular circumstances such as entering grades from a test.

Office Apps for Lesson Planning

OneNote lesson planning

The Office apps for iPad are really powerful and full-featured, and feel particularly great to use on an iPad Pro. For a far better overview of what they are capable of than I could ever manage, I’d recommend a listen to a recent episode of Canvas. However, I’d like to mention in particular some of the ways I use them in lesson planning.

Excel is probably the app I use least. It’s very useful for referring to school documents which I’ve copied into my OneDrive including timetables and student lists, but I’m not currently doing a lot of creation of spreadsheets (I use Airtable to record student grades). Next up is Word, which I use to view and edit worksheets. Even though the iPad app forces you to update any old Word documents to the latest format, I’ve found it does so with very few issues, even on documents with lots of mathematical notation and diagrams. Although there is no equation editor on the iPad app, it displays worksheets with equations exactly as they appear elsewhere.

The two apps I use the most are PowerPoint and OneNote. PowerPoint I use to create any slides that I use in lessons. I don’t create huge amounts of slides in the way some teachers do since I do like writing on the whiteboard as well, but it’s very useful for starter questions or extension questions that I can display during the lesson. The Apple Pencil has also been incredibly useful when making slides, but more on this in the section below.

Despite having never used it before, I was somewhat surprised to find that OneNote quickly became my favourite of the Office apps for iPad Pro. It has become my home base for lesson planning, and essentially I write all of my lesson plans there. I have one tab for each class I teach, and within each tab I have a page for each topic in the scheme of work. In one of the tabs I keep a template lesson plan, and then simply copy this page to a new tab when I want to create a new sequence of lessons on a particular topic. The strength of OneNote is how many different kinds of things you can put there. Text, headings, lists, images, videos, files, links, equations, and even full page PDF printouts: OneNote copes will all of these with elegance. (It’s puzzling to me though why OneNote has an equation editor when none of the other apps do.)

One of the most useful of these is being able to attach files anywhere within a page. Files can be added from any of the usual document providers, including OneDrive. With this tool I can attach all of the worksheets and PowerPoints directly to my lesson plan. You can even preview them there without leaving the app. The only disadvantage is that once a file is attached, it effectively becomes a copy of the file within the note. You can edit the attached file in PowerPoint, but these changes will not be synced with any changes to the original file in OneDrive. An alternative is to paste a OneDrive link into your note, but this has the annoying feature of opening your file in a browser rather than the relevant app. Microsoft may need to do some work on universal link recognition to fix this.

Apple Pencil

At my last school, where they had only just been introduced, most teachers found it difficult to see the potential of iPads for their work or their teaching, but this is an issue that I think affects all such deployments. I’ve learnt a lot about the importance of effectively conveying to teachers what an actual lesson involving iPads looks like from Fraser Spiers and Bradley Chambers in their excellent podcast Out of School. (If you want to know more about what a good iPad deployment looks like, I highly recommend their Deployment 2016 series.)

This is a particular issue in mathematics, where the way the subject is currently taught doesn’t seem to be all that compatible with a device that can handle text well, but struggles with mathematical notation. There are some apps (such as the excellent Nebo) that aim to help you input mathematical notation into notes, and there is also the comprehensive but technical mathematical typesetting language LaTeX, but neither is really designed for the process of actually doing mathematics. Sitting down with a pencil and paper remains the fastest and most productive way of working on a problem.

My great revelation has been the Apple Pencil. I didn’t buy one when I originally bought my iPad Pro because I thought it was more suited for artistic purposes than the kind of work I was doing. However, after I started using OneNote for my lesson planning, it dawned on me how useful it would be to be able to quickly jot down a bit of maths as part of one of my lesson plans. Since then, I have used my Apple Pencil every day when doing my lesson planning in OneNote and even more so when creating slides in PowerPoint, where I can quickly write down a question involving a formula or an equation without having to think about it.

All of the Office apps have a draw menu, where you can control the colour and thickness of the stroke, use highlighting and erasing, and select using the lasso tool. Selecting parts of your drawing is easy, though I have sometimes found it difficult to move objects after selecting them. Using the “convert to shapes” tool is useful for drawing simple diagrams, and will detect most basic shapes that you draw. I use the draw menu most often in PowerPoint where I am writing questions or drawing diagrams most often. I also use it to jot down occasional things in OneNote such as a derivation of a formula that I plan to go through at the board. I use it occasionally in Word when creating a worksheet, but never in Excel. I don’t really understand why you would want to draw on top of a spreadsheet, but I’m sure there are people out there who have come up with a reason!

The only frustrating thing about drawing mode is that you are very much drawing on top of the document: you are not creating an inline image. Most of the time this is a good thing since you don’t have to worry about text wrapping, but when you go back and edit some text in a OneNote page, all of the equations you wrote can suddenly be misaligned with your text.

Conclusion

The Office apps, along with the Apple Pencil, have quickly become the main tool I use for planning and teaching my maths lessons. The Apple Pencil has been a revelation to me, and for the first time I have felt completely at home doing mathematics on an iPad. For any school where students use iPads, it’s makes a compelling case to go for the Pro. For any teacher working on iOS with equations or pictures or diagrams, it really is a must-have tool and makes doing this kind of work on an iPad Pro feel incredibly natural.