Tech Tuesday #15: Five Tricks for Working with PDFs
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.

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:-)

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.

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.

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 #14: Office365 for Littles
I was a middle and high school English teacher for eleven years. Little ones were foreign to me, and that fact was compounded by the fact that I don’t have children of my own. How to teach them was a mystery. However, since my transition to Instructional Technology in the last four years, I’ve been working with elementary-schoolers more and more…and their teachers. What I’ve seen with the little ones is that it takes more repetition to teach them something, but they can do it. What I sense with their teachers is tremendous fear over allowing them to do things on the computer. Of course that’s not a universal truth, but I see that fear as pretty widespread. Thus, I made it my mission to “con” the teachers into trying some different activities with their little ones.

Since we are a Microsoft district, I began launching templates that they could use with their students via our learning management system, Canvas. These templates are inspired by Christine Pinto’s work with Google templates and are adaptable for different age levels, although I have focused on K-2 here. Let’s walk through some of the templates I share in the resources link below.

Activities Ready for You to Use Tomorrow with Primary Grades

  1. First of all, if you’re a teacher with Excel fears, you’re not alone. I hear more than any other software that this spreadsheet-making machine makes teachers shake in their boots. However, I have little ones graphing already. One of the templates that I share at the bottom of this post is one that allows students to decorate a picture either of the beach or of a leprechaun’s lair. They drag items into the picture and then count and graph those items. The graph is powered by conditional formatting so that the students see bar graphs start to appear as they graph. I have done the same activity with kindergarten through 2nd grade, and all have enjoyed it. For a twist, and this was suggested by first grade teacher, I added a challenge tab where students count the items by twos, fives, and tens and then graph that way. It’s elevating the learning but still allowing them to have a lot of fun.
  2. In addition to Excel, I have several PowerPoint activities the kids really enjoy. One group of second grade teachers said that they really wanted to use a self-paced center in our learning management system, but they needed help designing it. Since I love lesson design, I asked them to send me some ideas and materials, and I would build the activities for them. Thus, I learned that there are three strategies for subtraction with regrouping. Who knew? When I was in second grade, we just wrote down the numbers and figured it out;) I created three different subtraction activities for them. In one of those activities, students use a number line to help them solve an addition or subtraction problem that involves regrouping. I created a table with jumps that they can fill in to help them do the math along the way.
  3. Another activity involves the traditional algorithm or what some students cause stacking. It’s the method we all learned as a child. However, there’s a twist. Students are taught the “rhyme rule” to help them decide when and if they should borrow. This activity is a choose-your-own-adventure where students decide which part of the rhyme rule applies and click a button to select it.
  4. Finally, I gave them both an addition and subtraction activity with base ten blocks. The students represented two different numbers with the base ten blocks, which were digital on PowerPoint, and then they were able to count and arrive their final answers for each of ten problems. I’ve also adapted this activity for first graders. Instead of adding the digital blocks, they simply count how many are represented and write that number both as tens and ones and as a final answer.
  5. I love when a teacher is inspired by a lesson and feels like she can adapt it for her own use. After I created this series of math lessons, I had a teacher reach out to me and asked about the best tool for making a coin sort. She wanted her students to know the fronts and backs of the coins and also how much they were worth. I was able to create that for her, but the idea was hers.
  6. Any of these templates can be used as inspiration just like that. Let’s talk now about some activities for kindergarten. These students not only need to know how to use technology but also need to be able to apply it to real content from their classes. With that in mind, and with Christine Pinto’s inspiration (site linked above), I was able to create several activities for them. One of them, which is iPad-based, has the students go around and take pictures of items that are representative of a certain color word. They are learning to match the color with the word itself and also to find items in that color. I did this one was kindergartners recently, and they really liked it.
  7. Another activity I created involves number sense. This template is best for the computer, although you can certainly adapt it for the iPad. Students were given a number on a slide and had to know what that number was in its written form in order to add that number of shapes to the slide. In PowerPoint, it’s really easy to go to the Insert menu and add shapes, and those directions are included on the template. Though I did not get to this part, having them also fill the shapes with color would have been a fun extension.

With inspiration from the activities I’ve discussed here, I hope you feel empowered to create activities for your own students. You can always reach out and ask for help, and I will be glad to help you make any templates. There are lots of Google resources out there, but I’ve struggled to find many created for Office 365, so I’m proud to have these activities join that movement. Your little ones can do technology, and they can use it to do more than just play. I would love to hear from you what your favorite activity is from my resource folder and what you wish I would create. Leave a comment below; I love sharing and receiving great ideas!

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

P.S. Every Tuesday night, I host an exclusive Facebook Live at, starting at 8PM EST. Did you miss this week’s? Tune in below:

Tech Tuesday #13: What to Do When There’s Not Enough Classroom Tech

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In today’s post, I aim to shatter the number one myth I encounter as a teacher tech trainer: “I can’t use technology if everyone doesn’t have a device.” I can address this myth, because I overcame it in my own classroom, and you can too! My most recent classroom teaching experience was as a high school English teacher. Because our school was overcrowded, I got to live in trailer land, cottageville, or whatever you want to call it. I had twenty-four laptops in a car I had earned years ago, but at this point, they were slow-to-boot and not always the best choice for quick formative assessments. I also had one iPad (more about that later), as well as two desktops. The bottom is that, while I did have devices for some students, I had to rely on student phones for much of what we did in class.

Five Ideas for Using Your Limited Technology

There was never a day I taught that I had 1:1 devices for my students; however, I found a way to use technology with students almost every day in my class. Here are five ideas from my classroom to inspire you to make the most of your devices as well, specifically student phones.

Number 1: The One-Question Quizzer

It was always hard for me to use other people’s lesson plans. However, as a new American Lit teacher a few years ago, I turned to my best friend, Teachers Pay Teachers, for inspiration. One unit I purchased was from Laura Randazzo to teach Huck Finn. She gave me the idea to give students a one-question quiz on each night’s reading. Students came in every day, took out their phones, and followed a shortlink to a Google Form where I had put her questions. If they had read, it was very quick. Of course, I had to walk around while they quizzed, but the quizzers were great for phone-accessibility, and the data was ready for me at the end of the quiz to inform my instruction for that day. What about kids without phones, you ask? My two desktops and my one iPad were both available as supplementary devices, but I honestly had no problem with kids sharing phones; after one kid was done submitting, he could pass his phone to his neighbor for a quick turn answering the quiz. (P.S. If the kids did cheat this way, they were very bad at it ;))

Number 2: Reading Comprehension Checks

Another idea for using the phone devices that students do have is to create short formative assessments. Sites such as Socrative or Kahoot make review fun. In my classroom, I loved using Newsela as a site for nonfiction content related to fiction I was addressing in my class. However, the quizzes were pretty difficult.  By using the more gamified sites, I was able to quiz over those articles quickly with student phones and they thought they were just having fun. Two students could again share if the quizzes were short enough.

Number 3: Lightning Debates with Instant Feedback

One of my final teaching posts entailed me teaching honors 9th grade lit. Those kids loved to debate. They may not have been interested in everything I did in class, but if there was a chance to argue or make their points, they were certainly interested in that. Here’s where their phones came into play and made debating more fun and relevant. I lined students up facing another student in desks. They had previously researched a controversial topic such as euthanasia when I taught Tuesdays with Morrie. As the students went back in a point-counterpoint style debate, the other students had phones out and were able to vote for the winner in the three minutes that the the debate took. At the end, I had a grade on the rubric and was able to add bonus points for the winning student in each team. None of this required computers or iPads, just the devices in their pockets.

Number 4: Video Feedback

I’ve mentioned several times on the blog that the feedback students care most about is not the teacher’s. It’s that of their classmates or the greater world. This next idea for using phones when there aren’t enough regular devices addresses that need. I used Poll Daddy, which allows you to create free polls that are embeddable on a website. When students completed a video project, such as the time I had them present grammar terms or vocabulary words in a fun video, they were able to share the voting link with family and friends both inside and outside the school. Whoever got the most votes was declared the winner of Lolley’s Red Carpet Awards. How did students do their voting? From a phone 🙂

Number 5: Free Phone Apps for Classroom Tools

Finally, a last way to take advantage of non-traditional devices that students already carry is to connect them to free apps that support your learning management system or class digital notebook. The apps I like are OneNote, Canvas LMS, and any of the Google apps. Again, all are free and all are perfectly powerful on handheld devices.

Three Ideas for Getting More Classroom Devices

I’ve talked a lot in today’s  post about how to use hand-held technology, but what if you don’t even have that? What if your classroom is a no tech land? I have three ideas for you. Number one is to submit a Donors Choose Grant. Of course, you need to follow your district’s guidelines on how grants can be submitted, but if this high school teacher who generally didn’t get presents could get donations enough to buy class iPad, so can you.

Tip number two is ask parents to send in old phones. I don’t know about you, but I have at least one or two phones sitting in a drawer at my house. They’re not in service either because we upgraded or because they weren’t functional for what we wanted to use them for. However, if they can connect to Wi-Fi, the pared-down versions may be perfectly good for what needs to happen in your classroom. Tap those parent resources.

Finally, as I tell some of my schools that are not one to one, use what you have. Even if it’s small, if you can prove to your district or your parents or whoever is holding the purse strings that you are determined to use technology in your classroom despite the limitations, it’s going to send a message to somebody and when there is technology to give, I’m sure it will come to you.

No man is an island, and neither is a classroom teacher. Though I thought of some ideas for using the tech you have and even getting more, I would love to hear yours. Share something that will rock my socks off in the comments below.

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 at 8PM EST.

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

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 The episode about the number system is embedded below.


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 at 8PM EST.

Tech Tuesday #11: Acclimating New Students to Class with Ease

If I haven’t shared it before, I struggle with forgetfulness. They say it’s a sign of creativity or even genius; that’s what I’m hoping for, but as a teacher, forgetfulness, whatever the indication, isn’t generally considered a positive trait. Welcoming new students into a classroom, especially a high school one, where the students notice everything, takes enthusiasm and finesse. It also takes a lot of organization to get the student caught up and familiar with class procedures. That’s why I developed a procedure I used in my classroom and want to share with you: the new student welcome packet.

Why do teachers need a new student packet? I can think of three reasons.

  1. Your class has been up and running the whole time this student has been elsewhere. You have procedures, policies, and content that is crucial for students to know if they are going to catch up and have success in the class. The packet gives them that information in one place.
  2. In addition to these procedures, it’s easy to forget what the new kid doesn’t know until you assign homework for which he doesn’t have the information. He might need a copy of the syllabus, the LMS login, the Remind code, etc. Having this information for future reference takes stress off both student and teacher.
  3. By using the folder, the teacher can give new students purposeful activities to do the first day they join the class or for homework that night, especially if the class is finishing something they don’t have time to catch up on.

How was the folder structured?

I gave my students a colored pocket folder with prongs, instead of just a packet, because it was reusable. It was labeled with “New Student Packet” on the front and copied the elementary use for the two pockets–one pocket labeled “read and keep” versus the other labeled “sign and return.” Students were instructed to return the folder to me when they were finished with it,  as well as the returned contents.

Let’s look inside now at the folder contents. I provided a list of these requirements on a cover sheet, which I have attached a copy of in the resources section below.

  • Student number and directions for self-reported attendance
  • Syllabus plus directions for syllabus quiz to get them a real grade
  • Literary essay handout–adapt for all courses (background knowledge)
  • Account setup or orientation for LMS
  • Sign up for accounts: Remind, Turnitin, Noodle Tools, etc.
  • What the kid does need to do along with the class and extended deadlines as necessary
  • Contact information for the teacher and a reliable friend
  • Procedures list and coping strategies:
    • How to find help at home: friend, read directions again, teacher (email shows me you tried)
    • Absent work policy

The Making of a More Modern “Packet”

When I last taught high school students, I did use Edmodo as a mini-LMS, but that platform was more project-based for my class. It was not as robust as the Canvas LMS our district has now adopted. If I were to take my packet into the modern era, I would make these two changes:

  1. The information would not be a packet at all but would instead be an interactive module in my course that students and parents could access repeatedly and from anywhere.
  2. Instead of just listing the assignments the student had to go back and complete as prerequisites for the course, I would assign those to him with a different due date than the rest of the class as needed.

Want a more robust tour of my strategy? You have two ways to hear me share more about the content!

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 The episode about my new student packet is embedded below.

Below, I’ve linked my resources for you, but I would love to hear the resources and tips you would add to my list. Be sure to leave a comment!

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink

Related Resources:

  • New student packet
  • Online learner module–If you’re a Canvas LMS user, search the commons for “Suzy Lolley” to find and add this resource to your course.

Organize URLs and Enhance Productivity using Excel Spreadsheets and OneDrive

I crave organization. I’ve written several articles about my love for Alejandra, my favorite organizing guru. However, I’m one of those people where you have to give me warning if you’re coming to my house. I’m just telling it like it is. As much as I crave that level of organization, I don’t always do it.

I do, however, try to organize my online life. I have folders and I know what’s in them. I keep files alphabetized. My desktop is generally pretty clean. But links are one of those hard things to get organized. I used to use tools like Delicious, and of course there’s Pinterest, but what if I want my links organized natively with all my documents related to the same topic?

One hack that I’m sure we’ve all done before is to create a Word document and to put the link on it. I don’t really like that, though, because then you have to go open the Word document and click the link. It’s not intelligent enough for me.

I can think of two better ways to handle such a linkage conundrum. In this video, I show you how to take either an Excel spreadsheet or your OneDrive and save links there the same way that you would save documents, so that when you go to teach a lesson, everything is in one place. Check it out.

Automate Your Life by Connecting Favorite Online Tools with IFTTT

I am just slightly hyper, as anyone who knows me can attest. However, I still need help. I can’t possibly get everything I want to do done in the day, and I’m sure you’re the same way, right? Enter a really cool product called, “If This, Then That,” or IFTTT for short. IFTTT provides a way to have two tools in your online life talk to each other and allow automation you never thought possible. For example, your Twitter account can send photos to Facebook, or Facebook can send tagged photos of you to your Google Photos account. Cool, right?
Watch this video to see how other IFTTT applets just could be work-life changing.

Tech Tuesday #9: Four Powerful Tools for Student Engagement

I’m what you might call a free spirit. For that reason, I probably should never commit to doing a blog series, because if something more interesting catches my attention, I will definitely abandon the series to go to that topic. That’s just what happened when I paused to talk about blended learning and email/file straight-up strategies. Anyway, here is the long-awaited conclusion for my series on choosing the right tools for your classroom. In previous weeks on Facebook Live and in this blog, I have addressed how to choose assessment tools as well as content delivery tools and my favorite recommendations for each. If you missed those parts of this series, go back and read them or watch the videos. So with part three, we’re going to talk about student engagement tools. No matter what grade you teach, you probably struggle at least some of the time with your students’level of engagement. I know I did and still do, even with my adult students. And we’re only making the problem worse when we lecture or do worksheets or even show videos for extended amounts of time with no application. I’ve referred to the 10-2 method as I’ve discussed benefits of blended learning and other best practices. What do you do, though, with those two minutes of application? Well today, I have four tools I’d like you to try when you’re ready to engage your students. But before we get down to the tools, let’s talk my favorite topic: pedagogy. How do you know what tool to choose? What if the tools I recommend don’t work in your school or those companies go out of business? You can’t get too attached to a tool. I’ve learned that as one of my favorites, Office Mix, is retiring in a couple months. I have to instead get attached to what the tool does, and that’s what I want to help you learn as well. So without further ado, let’s dive In.

 Choosing the Right Engagement Tools

 What are the best features you should look for when you’re trying to find a tool to engage your students mid-lesson?
  1. First of all, look for live response. There’s nothing that excites a kid more than to see his or her name or nickname pop up on the board with a response. It could be exactly the same thing that we previously would have had them put on a sticky note, draw on the dry erase board, or write on a piece of paper. It’s not the topic. It’s the methodology.
  2. Next, you will want a tool that will allow you to have either anonymous or name-associated posts. Sometimes you need your students to be accountable for what they write. At other times, though, you might be looking for survey tools that will allow your students to do a response, especially if you’re expecting honest answers. Make sure what you pick is appropriate for the job. You could use a tool that allows anonymous or named posts, or you could use two different tools for either one. That might add some nice variety anyway.
  3. Number three, and this is basic, is to choose a tool kids like. Referring to what I just said in tip two, that pursuit of the elusive student interest might mean that you have to change things up every once in awhile. I showed the tool Sway, which I’ve discussed in a separate post, to a sweet male teacher a couple years ago. He fell so in love with it that he said, “Suzy, I’m having my kids make a Sway every week!” While I shared his excitement about loving this tool, I’m sure the kids did not enjoy working with the same tool week after week. So pick a good one, but don’t be afraid to change it up.
  4. Number four is to make sure the tool is free or affordable. You are the boss of how you spend your money, and maybe you’re still in one of those blessed school districts that still has classroom budgets to give out. Or maybe you can talk PTA into giving you some money. But if not, free is the way to go. If you do decide to pay for a tool, look at how many times you’re going to use it and divide that up from the total cost. That way you can see if you’re really using a tool that’s worth it.
  5. My last tip before we go diving into some of my favorite tools is to make sure that the tool does not mine student data. I am loving the new Common Sense Privacy Evaluation Initiative research. I was at ISTe when the organization launched this initiative to a small group of us at dinner, and the project asks companies to evaluate and provide evidence of their abilities to protect student privacy. I know it may not come to our minds all the time, which is why I’m sharing this tip here, but you really should care about what the cost of free is. Make sure the tool does not give away more than you would want to share about your classroom and the students in it.

Four Powerful Tools for Student Engagement

Now let’s get into the fun part and the reason that so many teachers go to conferences. I get it. You want tools you can use today or tomorrow. So let’s get down to business.
  1. Have you heard of Mentimeter? It’s a great pulling tool that allows you to collect student options in word clouds and eleven other ways. From their phones or devices, students simply go to and put in a code for your presentation. Preparation on your part is minimal, and students can respond to form a word cloud, take a poll, take a quiz, and more. If you’re using the tool to have students vote or give feedback to each other, I also love the ability to present only the winner, complete with a confetti celebration. Here’s a video that shows how the tool works:   Mentimeter has been the go-to tool at many conferences I’ve attended recently, so it definitely merited a place on my list. However, I don’t want to ignore the tried-and-true.
  2. Poll everywhere is a tool I’ve used for years. Though I’ve been out of the classroom for 5 years, I’ve still found use for this tool even in church camp settings. It allows students to respond to an open poll, again in word cloud or graph style. A practical classroom use I had for Poll Everywhere was the ability to have my students instantly vote on debates. I matched my freshman students in mini one-to-one debates for three minutes. At the end of each debate, other students were instantly able to vote for the winner. Though I graded everyone individually, the winner received bonus points. It was a great motivating factor. Any time that students can give instant feedback, that feedback is going to be more valuable. Also, the fact that the feedback comes from peers makes it ten times more exciting for students than if the teacher had just graded them.
  3. My third tool is Today’s Meet. Again, it’s an oldie but a goody, and I don’t want to assume that everyone’s heard of it. Today’s Meet allows you to open up a temporary room where students can chat or answer question you’ve provided. After the amount of time that you selected, the link deactivates, but there is a transcript feature while it’s still open. When I was first introduced to back-channeling, maybe ten years ago, this is one of the tools that caught my attention, and it still works well. A neat little feature that it has also is that students can’t put their full name in. When they start to type more than one word, it limits them–the tool respects student privacy. Try this fun little tool for shy kids in your class who may need to have an ongoing chat with you but don’t want to ask questions in front of everybody. You can also read any questions at the end of the lesson and answer them.
  4. Finally, Microsoft Forms is definitely a favorite. It replaced Excel Survey a few years ago,and has a beautiful layout that I was missing with the older tool. You can give surveys and graded quizzes. It also embeds beautifully in your learning management system or in a Sway. If you need to collect easy data and have beautiful visuals at the end of it, Forms is worth checking out. I actually did a whole webinar on this tool. Though some of the interface has updated, the basics are the same and I think you might find the webinar helpful.

Want to know more? Watch this video for a quick sample of all four tools in action.

So those are my tools and tips. I want to end, though, with two other little tidbits you might find valuable. First of all, try taking your link from one of the tools and pairing it with either a QR code or a short link or both. Any way that you can make the student link more accessible will just speed up the ability for students to get there quickly and to interact with you. You don’t want to waste the two minutes out of the 10-2 method just getting to the link. Also, as I stated earlier, you want to make sure your students have each other as the audience as often as possible. In addition to the debate idea I gave you, here’s another idea: two groups of students who need to give speeches could do so over Skype or video conference. As one student is speaking, the students in the other class are giving compliments and critiques via one of the tools we suggested above. These are just two more ways to get your students flowing with technology and engagement. 

Do you have other engagement tips or tools? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below.
With Tech and Twang,

Create Recipe Lists and Auto-Populated Emails with Office Quick Parts

I don’t know if I hate it or love it more when I find the product I’ve been using for years has hidden secrets I knew nothing about. I think I love it. I owe this tip to the illustrious Susan Dreschel, who was my unintentional mentor for my first three years as an Instructional Technology Specialist. She has now retired and left me alone, but that’s a subject for another day 🙂

Anyway, just such a hidden treasure exists in both Outlook and Microsoft Word, and it’s called Quick Parts. Did you know that you could have both of those programs save text that you frequently use and spit it back out at your command? Did you know that you could send fully-formed emails with just a click of a button? Or that you could generate your recipes and related shopping list with just a couple clicks as well?

Not only will the tip I’m about to show you save you time, but I also love when the process of giving you the tip is quick. Check out this post on creating your own embed codes if you like quick-to-receive tips.

But now on with the show…if you’re intrigued about Quick Parts, watch the video to learn how to use them.

Tech Tuesday #8: 10 Straighten-Up Strategies for Your Computer Files

If you tuned in to last week’s episode, you might be a little cleaner this week…or at least maybe your email inbox is. However, if you are a desktop, documents, and flashdrive saver, maybe you’re in need of a file cleanup intervention as well. Look no further!

Ten Straighten-Up Strategies for Your Computer Files

    1. Use one location for your working files, and make it cloud-based. It’s hard for any of us to multi-task, and trying to figure out where we’ve saved our files when they’re in multiple locations is an unnecessary stressor. I use OneDrive, but you could use Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, or whatever service works for you. I call OneDrive a giant flashdrive you can’t break, lose, or fill up, and your files are accessible anywhere.
    2. Recognize the difference between a backup and a working copy. When I went to India, I took the advice of other travelers to make a paper copy of my passport. However, when I went through the airport, I didn’t hand the attendants a piece of paper; I handed them my real passport. The paper was kept safe in my suitcase, in case of anything akin to the movie Taken.
    3. When copying or moving files from multiple locations, right-click on a file location and use the “open in a new window” feature. It’s just like opening a new tab in a browser; you can look at one file location without closing another, and the tip works perfectly when used with tip number four.
    4. In conjunction with the new window, use the WINDOWS + ARROW keys to split the screen. I always knew you could split a screen manually by dragging, but with Windows 10, this two-button combination makes moving files to a centralized location even easier.
  1. Renaming files is essential if you want to stay organized. If you’re using a cloud service, you’ll find the auto-saving to be an amazing feature, but the default name of such documents is not helpful at all. When those documents sync down to your computer, you’re left with twenty Word documents all named “Document 1.” Thus, it’s important that wherever you create and save your documents, you save them in such a way as to make them searchable later.
  2. When you need to organize multiple files, remember these two crucial buttons for moving contiguous or non-contiguous files: SHIFT and CTRL. If you want to move ten documents in a row, click the first file, hold down SHIFT and click the last one to grab them all. Need to pull non-contiguous groups of documents at once? Use CTRL; keep holding it while you click multiple documents that you can copy and paste where they need to go.
  3. Need to paste a document into your cloud sync folder? Remember the white space. Sometimes when you’re pasting a file to a location that already has a lot of files in it, you start to lose room for adding new files. Make sure to look for a white space on the edge of the destination folder to paste safely to the root of the drive without accidentally putting your file into a sub-folder where you’ll never find it again.
  4. Want to sort a frequently-accessed folder to the top of your list? Add an underscore. Simply add an underscore to the beginning of your assignment title when renaming, and you’ll never struggle to find that favorite folder again.
  5. Be consistent when renaming files, so that they will sort correctly. Especially if you’re going to use numbers in your titles, make sure they are formatted the same. For instance, sometimes your folder that starts with a 10 wants to file before the folder that starts with a 1; try different renaming strategies to see what works for you.
  6. The ultimate straighten-up strategy? Delete unwanted and unneeded files. Whether you’re working on the computer itself or the cloud, there’s always a recycle bin. In case you have cleaner’s remorse, you can always go back and restore the file, at least for thirty days. Most files I’ve deleted I never need again; take the plunge and delete, knowing that you can retrieve the deleted file if need be.

Want to see all these straighten-up strategies in action? After all, a video picture is worth a thousand words. Check out the video below, filmed on Facebook Live every Tuesday night at 8:30 PM EST.

Do you have other strategies I missed? Please share them in the comments below.

With Tech and Twang,

Suzy Signature Pink