Another Apple Event Thoughts Post

I hadn’t actually planned on sharing any thoughts on Tuesday’s Apple event. I’ve read and listened to so much commentary from far smarter people, I felt like I would just be regurgitating. But there have been a few topics I continue to hear people debate, so I’ve decided to add to the noise. This won’t be comprehensive. I’ll only weigh in where I feel I have something to contribute.

Who is the iPhone 8 For?

A lot of people have speculated Apple will have a difficult time selling any iPhone 8 models due to the existence of iPhone X. While it’s true I plan to order a X, it is not the phone for everyone.

Tomorrow, I will be waking up at 1:55am to order my wife an iPhone 8. She is currently still using an iPhone 6 that is on its last leg. To put that into perspective, her phone doesn’t have 3D Touch, Live Photos (which are a big deal to us with small children), raise to wake, or even the 2nd generation Touch ID. An 8 will be a huge update for her.

She also doesn’t care about the latest and greatest, and can often be change averse. The loss of the home button and her standard way of doing things will make the X less appealing, not more. The iPhone 8 is an almost perfect device for her (it would be nice if it came with the dual camera system).

Between my wife and all of the teachers I work with who just want a dependable phone with a good camera, I think Apple will sell plenty of iPhone 8s. The 8 Plus seems harder to justify because the cost difference between it and the X are not nearly as great, but I’d bet on the 8 being a hit.

Face ID vs Touch ID

I’ve heard several people say they wish the iPhone X either came with Face ID and Touch ID on the back or Touch ID would make a return under the screen at some point in the future.

I understand their desires, but I for one don’t want that (assuming Face ID works, which I believe it will). How much more often is there something on my hands (I do have small children after all) which prevents Touch ID from working than there’s something on my face?

I feel like there’s a possibility Face ID will eventually be more reliable than Touch ID. I’m really excited about it.

A11 Bionic

I’ll be honest and say I know very little about computer processors other than they seem to be growing faster over time. But the amount of things the A11 Bionic chip in the new iPhones is able to do in real time is mind blowing to me. When I stop to think about how much data needs to be processed instantaneously for Face ID or the new Portait Lighting camera features, it truly astounds me.

Though these numbers don’t mean a whole lot for actual usage, Geekbench is reporting the A11 Bionic as being on par with the current 13” MacBook Pro. Apple’s silicon team is what is keeping Apple so far ahead of the rest of the industry, and also why I have a fair amount of confidence in Face ID.

I can’t wait to get my hands on these devices. I’ll be updating my Apple Watch from a Series 0 to a 3, and iPhone from 6s Plus to X. It’s going to be a fun few months as an Apple fan.

Talking Automation on Robby Burns + Friends

I had a blast being a guest on Robby Burns + Friends to talk about how I’m using automation tools in my classroom. It was my first foray into podcasting, but it was a blast. I hope to do more.

I hope it’s helpful to any teachers out there looking to use technology to make their life easier.

Apple Acknowledges Siri Leadership Has Officially Moved From Eddy Cue to Craig Federighi - Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

Cue continues to oversee the iTunes Store, Apple Music, Apple Pay, Apple Maps, iCloud, and the iWork and iLife suites of apps, and handing off Siri should allow him to focus more on Apple's push into original content.

Interesting to see more and more being taken off of Cue’s plate. First the App Store in 2016, and now Siri.

Some people will likely say it’s due to Apple’s dissatisfaction with Cue’s management, but I can’t imagine that’s the case. Siri has become such a core part of all 4 of Apple’s operating systems, it makes more sense for Federighi to be have responsibility.

Also, Cue has always been known as a deal maker. Managing content deals for iTunes, Apple Music, iBooks, and now original programming has always seemed more in his wheelhouse. Though hopefully the new original content works out better than Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke.

I think this is a positive thing for Siri and Cue.

ARKit and Autism: New Futures

Craig Smith:

We have already seen some spectacular demonstrations of what ARKit is capable of, and as always when new technological opportunities present themself, I consider what this could mean for the world of autism support and the education of children on the autism spectrum.

I was already really excited about the potential for ARKit, but seeing people like Craig dream about what the new framework provided to developers with iOS 11 can add to the classroom makes me a bit giddy.

With the new $300 iPad and technologies like this which aren’t available on Chromebook, I hope the iPad can really make a dent in the education market.

Workflow and Todoist

I recently ran into a strange issue when trying to automate Todoist task creation with Workflow. While very few people probably use Todoist the exact way I do, I thought I would share just in case it can help someone.

As a teacher, I only have a small time before/after school and during my planning period to complete it. If I set a due time for each of those task, it would generally be 4pm every day when I generally leave school. However, I check Todoist every day before I leave school. I don’t need a half dozen notifications going off at the same time. So for most tasks I set a due date with no time and work from Todoist’s today list.

The problem I ran into was with Workflow creating tasks in Todoist. Even when I would use a format date action and remove the time from the due date I selected, when the task went into Todoist, it would always have a time of midnight the task would show as past due. It’s a small thing, but it drove me crazy.

I reached out to Workflow, and they looked into it, and eventually told me they felt like the issue was on Todoist’s end (Todoist actions go through the Todoist API unlike many other iOS task management apps which use a URL scheme). I reached out to Todoist, and it seems the problem is indeed with their API.

Fortunately, they offered me a workaround until they could get the issue sorted. In Workflow, if you set the due time of your task as 23:59:59, Todoist will remove a time and leave just a due date. 🤷🏻‍♂️

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For a couple examples of how I use this on a daily basis, here are a couple Workflows.

In Todoist Email Task, if I need to remember to email someone later, this creates a task in Todoist with a URL that I can tap to launch Airmail and automatically fill in the subject of the email. This is handy if I need to remember to tell a student’s parent something that happened during a day, but can’t do it while I’m actively teaching.

In Airmail to Todoist, I use Airmail’s custom actions to make a link in Todoist to a specific email I may need to reference to complete a task or an email I absolutely cannot forget to respond to. I tap the link in Todoist, and immediately see that email again.

This week’s episode of Upgrade re-ignited my love of automation, and with school having just started, I’m starting to look for more things I can automate. I’m glad I found this workaround, so I can have Workflow add even more things to Todoist automatically for me.

No More

For better or worse, I have always lived my life trying to please other people.

Ok, maybe there’s more worse to that than better.

It has led to a tendency to be a diplomat and a bit false sometimes. I can say what I think people want to hear, and I don’t like ruffling feathers.

So I have only on rare occasion posted anything online about politics or religion. But that stops today. This is too important.

I’m a white male who was raised in the south. For far too long I have been blind to my own racial prejudice. Not overt racism, but a subtle lack of understanding. Over the last few years, I have worked hard to find my blind spots and correct them. I’ll never be done, but I’m trying.

I’m also a Christian. I believe the Apostle Paul when he says in the book of Galatians

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28

In the context of the surrounding verses, Paul is not talking about differences between races and genders not existing. They do exist, and should be celebrated. Rather, Paul says we are all sinners. None is better than the other. The grace provided to us on the cross of Christ is not provided on merit, race, or gender. It is freely provided out of love. Who am I to look at someone and think I’m better than them when I’m in need of grace just as much, if not more than them?

And so I want to say publicly that I will not tolerate racism or hatred. I spend my days teaching to make sure that all children, regardless of background, race, gender, or religion have the opportunity to be successful. I will stand up to those who do not share that view.

Last weekend in Charlottesville was not “good people on both sides.” It was evil, and I don’t want my children or my students to grow up in a world where that’s accepted. I want their generation to not have to see events like this past weekend happen again. And while I’m afraid that may not happen until Jesus comes back, I’m going to do my part while I’m here to make that a reality.


I’ve been on Twitter since the summer of 2008, and it has easily been my favorite social network in that time. I’ve even recently cut Facebook and Instagram out of my life (we’ll see how long that lasts, but it’s been a month or so, and I don’t miss them), but Twitter has remained. It’s mostly where I talk Apple nerdery with people and follow a few people in my other fields of interest.

But reading Manton Reece’s post about owning your own content made me want to step back from how I use Twitter a bit. It also has freed me up to share my ideas longer than 140 characters, but not long post worthy. I decided I wanted to back Manton’s service on kickstarter, and I’m glad I did. also has a sustainable business model. It has a lot more potential to last for years to come than Twitter does right now because user pay for the service and gain a lot more control over their content in the process. There are no ads. There are no share holders to please. It's a 2 person operation, and they are laying a strong foundation.

There are some standard features from other social networks missing from, and that is intentional. The most obvious is reposting. Manton addressed its absence recently, and I’m personally glad steps are being taken to prevent false information and hateful rhetoric on

Having started using the service with a site hosted at GitHub Pages and strung together with some crazy Workflows, I have gotten a lot more out of since I switched to their hosted plan. Being able to post directly from the app instead of having to use Drafts, Workflow, and Working Copy has allowed me to post with confidence that everything will work correctly. Sharing photos has seen the biggest improvement. hasn’t launched to be public yet (just Kickstarter backers for a little longer), but I have a few invite codes if you’re interested. Go to the contact form here on The Class Nerd, and I’ll give them to the first people who respond. It’s a great service, and I’m excited to watch it grow for years to come.

Blogging, I’m a Fickle Friend

Over the summer, my church small group has gone through the book “The Road Back to You” by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. It’s about the enneagram personality typing system.

It turns out, I’m a 3.

And as a 3, I tried to over-perform with The Class Nerd in the middle of an incredible season. I tried to make the site into a big resource full of information for teachers including in depth reviews and how-tos of apps. I wanted to build a platform and reach followers.

What I really needed was a fun, creative outlet.

I don’t need to be the best blogger or make any money doing this. I want to share ideas and interact with fun people on the internet in (sometimes) more than 140 characters.

So here’s the plan.

First, yes I know I spend way more time changing platforms than actually writing. I get it. But I’ve made some changes to remove some distractions from my life so I have more time to engage with my family, take care of myself, and have a creative outlet. I have lots of post ideas for once in my life.

Next, micro-blog posts will be hosted on using Manton Reece’s service, and cross posted to twitter. You can also see my most recent micro posts on the micro-posts section of this site. All long form posts will be posted here at The Class Nerd. This means I could share about teaching, Apple, Star Wars, music, or more. My hope is that if you like things I like, you will enjoy what I have to say.

Also, Medium is gone. I moved The Class Nerd to Medium because it was free, and had a nice API. But let’s be honest. It was terrible and dying. That shows how little faith I had in this site at the time. I knew deep down what it was. I’m back to Squarespace. While it isn’t perfect for someone who works from iOS only, it’s a much more economical choice for me right now. I decided not to do this for money, remember?

A big change is posts will be from me only from now on. While I so appreciate Peter’s contributions to this site, with the renewed focus, it doesn’t make sense to have other contributors. He is a great guy, and has started his own blog. Go give it a follow for more great content on how to use technology in education. I’m so excited to see what he does with it in the future.

Finally, after this post I will stop posting to The Class Nerd’s twitter account. It just makes more sense to share more links to posts here from my personal account since this website is more personal than it was before. The account won’t be shut down, but new posts will no longer appear there.

The new school year starts Monday for me. It’s going to get busy, but I’m excited to have The Class Nerd as a creative outlet, and about its future.

WWDC iPad Hardware Guesses

In this week's episode of ATP, Marco Arment was discussing theories on potential iPad hardware releases at WWDC. His suggestion was Apple could refresh the 9.7" iPad Pro, add a 10.5" iPad Pro to the lineup, and possibly discontinue the 12.9" iPad Pro. In doing so, he thought Apple would drop the price of the 9.7" Pro by $100 so there would be a smaller gap between the Pro line and the 5th generation iPad released this spring.

This doesn't sit right with me.

The 9.7" and 10.5" are too close together in size to warrant having both. With Apple dropping the Air line of iPads and adding the 5th Gen, they have simplified their iPad line, targeting the marketing of each iPad to make it easier for consumers to decide which iPad to purchase. Keeping 2 "smaller" iPad Pros and removing the larger does not keep the line simple.

I agree with Marco that Apple needs to do something to make the smaller iPad Pro warrant an almost $300 premium over the iPad 5th Gen. Being thinner with a nicer screen, accessories, and a slightly faster processor is not enough to drive customers to pay a higher price.

But add a larger screen to that (but not one as large as the 12.9" iPad), and now there really is a significant difference between iPad and iPad Pro.

This lines up with Apple's strategy with the Mac as well. The MacBook is 12", and MacBook Pros have a 13" and 15" model.

So my prediction for Apple's iPad lineup post-WWDC is:

  • Discontinuation of the iPad Mini
  • 5th Generation iPad - $329
  • 10.5" iPad Pro - $600
  • 12.9" iPad Pro (Updated w/ new processor and TrueTone Display) - $799

Of course, these will be the starting prices, and models can go up in price from there based on storage and LTE.

If this 10.5" iPad is announced, I plan on purchasing one. If after 2 weeks of use, I determine it can be my primary computing device (i.e., it can replace both of my current iPad Pros), I'll sell my other iPads. If not, I'll return it and keep my current setup.

Whatever happens, I'm excited for Monday.

The Hunt for an Email Client

I think the true sign of someone who uses iOS to get most of their work done is they have tried more email clients than they can count.

I've used Airmail fairly consistently over the last year, but am always frustrated by its UI and frequent bugs. Unfortunately, there are power user features in Airmail that keep me there.

Here are the features I need in an email client:

  • Sharing a link to or the content of an email to another app (such as Todoist or Workflow).
  • URL scheme for accessing emails (see previous item) and creating emails via Workflow or Drafts.
  • The ability to work search an entire exchange directory for a contact (super helpful in a very large school district).
  • UI that helps you see your mail and is easy to navigate.
  • Reliable Functionality

Really what would solve all of my problems is if Apple finally added a share extension to in iOS 11 (3 years after extensibility was first announced 🙄). I want to be able to tap a link in Todoist and have it bring me back to the email I need to respond to or create a new message with one tap. One can dream, right?

Back to the Mac

No, I’m not referring to Apple’s 2010 Keynote introducing the MacBook Air and OS X Lion after being focused on the iPad and iPhone for much of 2010. But I thought it was a fitting title since after a year of working from an iPad, I have returned to the Mac.


In an effort to learn more about software development, I once again have a MacBook Pro so I can dive into Xcode. Not only do I once again have a MacBook Pro, but I have my old MacBook Pro back. The relative I sold it to wanted a MacBook Adorable, so I was fortunate to get this back. It’s not a fancy 2016 model, but it does have a retina display and plenty of power for my novice use of Xcode.

After a year of living the iPad only lifestyle, the last 24 hours with the Mac have been more difficult than I would have imagined. That sounds like whining, but I genuinely didn’t anticipate issues beyond occasionally trying to tap on the screen. One of the biggest I have faced is remembering to use the menu bar to find app settings.

Another area where I am struggling is automation. I know the Mac is often capable of more powerful automation than an iPad, but I learned how to automate through tools like Workflow, and I have not had time to figure out how to replicate any of workflows on the Mac with Automator, Apple Script, or other shell scripts. Though I am writing this post in Ulysses on my Mac, I will pull out my iPad Pro to post to this site because it is so much easier and faster.

I hope to share more about my journey through programming here over the next few months/year, but I thought it was worth a minute to share the experience of an iPad power user moving to a Mac since most blogs cover the opposite transition.

Both platforms have their advantages, and I feel fortunate to have both for when I need them. However, there’s no questioning that iOS is where I get my real work done right now.

30 Years and A New Website

Today is my 30th birthday. I think there is a cultural tendency for people to get freaked out by birthdays ending in zeroes, and I get that. But I'm actually doing really well today. While my life isn't perfect by any means, it is great.

I feel like a lot of your 20s are trying to get life settled and figure out who the grownup version of you is going to be. A lot of the anxiety I see in people hitting 30 is not having a lot of that figured out (This is an oversimplification or stereotype I know, but stereotypes exist for a reason). I'm fortunate to enter my 30s with a great marriage, family, and job. I know there will be difficult times ahead, but they will happen on top of a firm foundation.

That being said, I'm not done learning and growing. My next project in life will be teaching myself to program. I have fallen in love with writing code through using apps like Workflow, then moving onto Pythonista and Swift Playgrounds. I want to take the next step and understand how the apps I love are made, and see if I can even write one of my own.

I am again reworking this website into a blog to be able to document the process of learning to code as well as post about everything I don't share over at The Class Nerd like thoughts on Apple, TV shows, movies, and music. I have also been inspired by Manton Reece's work on indie microblogging, and this site will serve as the host for my account when the service launches later this year.

I'm excited about this next decade of my life, and thankful for all of you who reads what I write here. Here's to the next adventure.

Apple Updates Pages with LaTeX Support

Guest Post By Peter Davison-Reiber

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.

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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.

The Singlepad Lifestyle?

While I have built a website around how I get my work as a teacher done from iOS only, I am married to someone quite different from me. My wife gets her work done on a Mac, and has no desire to change that.

Unfortunately for her, she was without her trusty MacBook Pro all of last week. As a professional writer, she couldn’t be without a computer and keyboard for that long, so I set up my 12.9" iPad Pro for her to use. In the intervening days, I have watched a Mac only user have to work from an iPad, while I have worked solely from my 9.7" iPad. To say I have a clearer view of the shortcomings of iOS is an understatement. Here are a few things this experience has taught me.

iOS Needs User Accounts

For years, I have heard the cry of tech bloggers and podcasters for iOS devices, but as someone who doesn’t let his children use his iPads and whose wife has no interest in using them, I always thought this was silly. But as soon as I started thinking about how I would set my iPad for my wife, I realized I would need to reset the whole device and treat it as a brand new iPad. Everything from 1Password to Apple Music uses her Apple ID and iCloud to sync, so having her use the iPad with my account wasn’t an option.

So I was forced to erase my primary work computer. While I did have an iCloud backup of the iPad, it was still nerve wracking to delete everything. My restore was successful, but I would rather have set up a second account for her and not deleted my data.

Dropbox Integration is the Worst

My wife’s previous employer relied heavily on Dropbox to store and share files. When she left that company to work for herself, her habits for using Dropbox continued. She still uses the service to store the majority of her files. She also uses Apple’s iWork suite for most of her document creation. On a Mac, working on a Pages document stored in Dropbox is simple. On iOS however, it’s a nightmare.

This is because Dropbox doesn’t play nicely with iOS’s Document Provider system. In order to edit a file from Dropbox in Pages, a copy of the file has to be made instead of edited in place.

For the most part, my wife had to save those copies to her iCloud Drive and work from there for the week. While she could use a different cloud storage provider (like I do), she shouldn’t have to work primarily from an iPad.

I Need a Keyboard

With my wife using my big iPad and keyboard, I was forced to type on glass for a week. While I’m actually a quite capable glass typist, for longer emails or blog posts, it’s way more comfortable for me to have a keyboard. I found myself far less willing to write for the whole week.

I do think if I had only the 12.9" iPad, but with no keyboard it would have been nicer with a full-sized on screen keyboard. Not having to search for special characters would have helped a lot, but still not alleviated the problem.

All-in-all, I still love working from iOS, but I have developed platform friendly workflows over 5 years of regular iPad use. I do think the iPad can be a great computer for most people, but it can take some effort to make it work. Unless Apple makes some changes to iOS, this effort may be too much transition cost for most users.

Delivering Lessons with GoodNotes and Mirroring 360

Guest Post by Peter Davison-Reiber

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 WolframAlphaMyScript CalculatorNotability, 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!

Bear for Lesson Planning

Here at The Class Nerd, we know even among teachers who want to get their work done on an iPad, there are different needs, use cases, and personalities. This applies to myself and Peter as well. While he gets a lot of his lesson planning for high school math done in OneNote, his system doesn’t work as well with the way my brain works or with a 2nd grade, general education classroom.

In my 3 years of teaching and discovering how to write the best plans for me and my students, I have found plans tend to fall somewhere on a spectrum between being able to see a full week with brief descriptions of each lesson to incredibly detailed daily plans akin to those I was required to write in grad school which can take an hour each to write.

I have tried apps at all points on this spectrum in an attempt to learn what works best for me. I began with weekly spreadsheets in Numbers, and swung as far to the other side as writing out detailed plans of every day in Ulysses, my primary text editor.

What I have learned is I actually prefer my plans in the middle of the range with an ability to switch between views. This has ultimately led me to Bear.

I was first introduced to Bear by Federico Viticci as he was attempting to use it as his primary note taking app.

As I have discussed before, I’m actually quite happy with my note-taking workflows, and Bear lacks too many features I need in my primary notes app such as Apple Pencil support, rich previews of links and other content, and background syncing from the sharing extension. But there was always a part of me that knew even though Bear wasn’t the app for me, I wanted to try it.

I realized while Bear wasn’t a great note taking option, it might be perfect for my lesson plans. I’m still giving it a try, but after a few weeks, I’m really excited about the possibilities as I move into a new semester.

Bear stands out among other apps I’ve used for lesson planning in two areas: writing and organization.


One of the primary features which has made Bear so appealing for people as a note taking app is its support for writing in Markdown. This is also why it works so well for me as a lesson planning app. For years I have longed for the ability to write my lesson plans in Markdown because I can write so quickly and still make something readable with nice formatting.

While Bear uses its own, slightly different variety of Markdown, it does have a “Markdown Compatibility Mode” setting which allows you to use standard Markdown. Bear also shows your Markdown formatted properly making it easier to read.

 A Typical Lesson Plan in Markdown

Bear also has an extensive URL-scheme allowing for automation using apps like Drafts and Workflow. The team at Workflow also recently updated the app with several Bear actions making it even easier to automate adding information to notes in Bear.

I created a Workflow helping me fill out a template lesson plan with the lesson date, subject, and unit tags (more on tags in a bit) for that lesson. While it is highly specific to how I like to write plans and my school district’s curriculum, hopefully you can adapt it to your own needs.

You can download the Workflow here. If you need help understanding what I’m doing with dictionaries in this Workflow, I recommend this episode of Canvas where Fraser Speirs gives an excellent explanation of lists, dictionaries, and how they work.

Automating this process saves time and ensures my organization system stays in shape.


The developers of Bear have put a lot of thought into how users can organize their notes. They have included 3 primary tools I use regularly: note links, pinned notes, and tags.

Note links are perhaps my favorite aspect of Bear. By enclosing the title of another note in double brackets, you can create a tap-able link to that note. I use this to create one note for each week with links to lesson plans for each subject on each day along with a brief description of the activity. This gives me the full week view I desire while still making it easy to get more details if I need it.

 A Week View in Bear

I use Bear’s ability to pin notes to the top of the list to keep the current week’s overview note at the top of my list so I never have to worry about finding it.

The final way I like to look at plans is by unit. My school district groups our standards into units by topic or theme, generally 2–3 major units per subject per quarter, so I create a tag for Science Unit 3 or Math Unit 5. My school is also an IB school, so all of our curriculum is tied to one of the 6 IB PYP units. I have tags for these as well. This helps me make sure the flow of my instruction makes sense with regard to each unit, and that I cover everything I am required to cover.

Moving Forward

As I look to the future, I’m hoping my increased productivity along with a better system for writing and organizing plans in Bear will save me time and allow for richer, more well thought out lessons.

My main concern with using Bear is overwhelming the system as I continue to add more and more similar notes. But only time will tell on this. For now, I’m quite happy and feel more prepared for my daily lessons than I have in a long time.

Marking With Copied

Guest Post by Peter Davison-Reiber

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.

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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.

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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.

GTD as an Educator Part 2

A few weeks ago, I published an article discussing how difficult GTD is to implement as a teacher. It was a pessimistic view, and probably didn’t need to be published, but everything on Medium says write and publish everything.

In the spirit of growth, I made 3 major changes to my GTD system since writing the last article. Though my task management is not perfect, I have seen a significant up-swing in my productivity.

Moving Task Managers

I have experimented with different task management apps through the years which always returned me to OmniFocus. However, I realized if my system didn’t feel like it was working, perhaps OmniFocus wasn’t working as well as I thought.

About a year ago, I gave 2Do a chance based on Federico Viticci’s review, and ultimately gave it up because I missed some features of OmniFocus (defer dates and an Apple Watch complication). Then as I thought about what some of my issues with my system were, I began to consider 2Do again.

Feature wise, 2Do and OmniFocus are similar, and their differences even out in terms of pros and cons. The primary differentiator for me is their user interfaces.

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="800.0"]<img src="" alt=" 2Do on the Left, OmniFocus on the Right "/>  2Do on the Left, OmniFocus on the Right [/caption] 

From the 12.9" iPad Pro down to the iPhone, 2Do keeps its list navigation visible on the left side of the screen in almost every view. In OmniFocus, the further into a folder or project you dig, the longer it takes to see other task categories. Yes, you can create perspectives to help you see the information you need at the time, but there are still several taps required to change perspectives. The UI is strong on the Mac, but not iOS.

Since switching to 2Do, even without a review mode similar to OmniFocus, I’m finding I miss fewer tasks and don’t have to flag (or star in 2Do’s terms) or set due dates on as many tasks because I can more easily see tasks and make smarter decisions about what to do when I have time.

Shortly after making this switch, something David Sparks said recently in a post on MacSparky about false urgency in tasks validated my decision.

If you feel like you are drowning right now, take a look at the false urgencies you are carrying around and see what you can do about setting them down.

To keep myself from forgetting tasks, I was flagging them in OmniFocus which led to major stress when I didn’t have time to do them immediately. I now use due dates solely for tasks which actually have a due date, and don’t find myself using 2Do’s stars at all. I just get work done.

There is some potential that my increased productivity and decreased stress could be due to my system in 2Do being the new shiny thing. Maybe I’ll fall back into old habits, and if so, you’ll probably read more about that here. For now though, I’m really pleased with 2Do.


The 2nd change helping me feel like I’m not doomed to fail at GTD as a teacher has been the adoption of Streaks. I mentioned this briefly in my previous article, but since then, Streaks has become an essential part of my workflow.

   [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="600.0"]<img src="" alt=" The Streaks Complication (Bottom Middle) and my two tasks "/>  The Streaks Complication (Bottom Middle) and my two tasks [/caption] 

Streaks is an app to help gamify the formation of habits. I keep it as a complication on the Apple Watch face I use at school, and have it available on my phone as well.

I have 2 habits I’m trying to manage: a daily (weekday) review of 2Do and emptying my physical classroom inbox at least 3 times a week. Doing this has made sure important tasks and information are not lost, and has replaced the need for OmniFocus’s built in review feature.

Removing Friction from Email

My final change has been with email. As I wrote about previouslyAirmail was my primary email app for awhile due to its fantastic power user features. However, after a few important emails never left my outbox after pressing send, I was forced to move away from Airmail and return to Spark. After a couple months on Spark though, I found myself missing the features of Airmail and wanted to see if it had become more stable. Cautiously I began using it again, and have been quite pleased.

The Airmail feature I most missed while using Spark was its url scheme to help automate to process of email creation as well as the tight integration with 2Do which allows me to create a task from an email with just a swipe.

Using Workflow, 2Do’s Link Actions, and Airmail’s URL scheme, I have created an easy way to remind myself to contact others and remove friction from actually doing that.

Now, when I think of someone I need to contact, I run this Workflowfrom the Workflow Widget in my phone. Workflow will ask me who to email, about what, and if it is a personal or work email. It then creates a task in 2Do in the appropriate list reminding me to email that person. Finally Workflow will create a callback link for me to tap in 2Do which opens a blank email in Airmail from the correct address with the subject already filled in.

This extra automation has given me the freedom where to process a few more emails each time I sit down to do so due to saved time.

So while I still wish there were more hours in the day, my initial thoughts that GTD can’t be done well when you’re a teacher may have been a bit premature. GTD isn’t necessarily the problem. It’s my own habits. Changing those has allowed me to get a lot more done than I ever had before.

Office 365 and Apple Pencil

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.


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

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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.


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.

GTD as an Educator

While this blog generally focuses primarily on technology in education, a lot of the apps and tools I discuss focus on productivity. They generally go hand in hand. So while the following is less focused on tech, I hope it still appeals to my audience.

I first read David Allen’s Getting Things Done in early 2014, just before I decided to become a teacher. Since then, I’ve tried countless apps (I always come back to OmniFocus) to help manage my GTD system. I’ve re-read GTD multiple times and revamped my implementation often. Still, in my 3rd year teaching, I continually find myself stressed, behind, or overwhelmed by everything I have to do.

Fortunately, I was recently encouraged I’m not alone in a tweet by Fraser Speirs.

But I often wonder if education is a field where I’ll never feel on top of all my tasks.


One factor in my struggle to get ahead of my work is a conscious choice. I work hard to make sure work doesn’t interfere with my family or my health. I regularly work out before school instead of arriving before sunrise and I leave at a reasonable hour to spend time with my kids before they go to bed.

Being there for my girls (and being healthy enough to be there for a long time) will always take priority over extra hours spent at work every day to get through my task list. So maybe my issue isn’t with GTD or a particular app, but with a profession that doesn’t necessarily align itself with my priorities in life.


Outside of the lack of time and large amount of tasks, teaching is a difficult profession to get things done because outside the moments of actual teaching, it is difficult to create a routine. Recently I created a “Routines” calendar which had items like “Plan Math” or “Email” in it at the same times every week. This just didn’t work for me due to variations in my schedule. True, I have a planning period at the same time every day, but that period can be taken by parent meetings, assisting other staff members, or helping a student in crisis. Things can come up last minute which make it next to impossible to know every Tuesday at 10:30 will really be free. So I’m forced to find time anywhere I can to plan, email, and manage all of my other teacher admin, but it has to be stuck into random places in my schedule instead of prioritized.

I recently downloaded the app Streaks to help me handle some of these tasks a certain number of times in a week instead of on certain days. We’ll see if flexibility helps me accomplish tasks better than the specificity of a calendar.

The system works in that I do get most things I need to done. However, David Allen’s promises of GTD keeping you from being overwhelmed are not being fulfilled. This isn’t necessarily Allen’s fault. Our profession doesn’t lend itself well to its principles. I’ll continue my grand experiment to find a way to get ahead of my task list, and will share more if I ever find anything works well for me.