Shrewsbury EdTech

Tech resources for Shrewsbury Public School educators

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Five Notability Features You May or May Not Know About

I’ve been using iPads in my classroom for almost two months now. As much as I’m trying try “modify” and “redesign” learning with the iPad, I’ll be honest in saying most of the day-to-day work involves Notability. I wasn’t a huge fan of Notability at first. However, I’m becoming more of a fan as I see just what it’s capable of doing. Sure, students can add typed text and handwritten notes to PDFs, but there’s so much more.

1. Add pictures

This may not sound like a huge deal, but it’s become very handy in my science classroom. Not only can they insert images, but they can crop the photo from within the app itself. We have already had a few science investigations where students must make observations, collect data, and analyze that data. They intuitively take photos to document their observations. They have taken pictures of density columns, white powders (to help identify them at a later date), bowling balls floating in water, etc. The best part, something I’m not accustomed to, is they then refer back to those images as evidence for the lab. We use a “claim, evidence, reasoning” framework for science labs. When referring to data as evidence, students will take a screen shot of their data tables and/or their graphs, crop the photos, then highlight the specific data they want to use. It works very well.

2. Back up to Google Drive

I know many Sherwood teachers already know about this feature, but I just learned it a few weeks ago. One potential drawback to using an app like Notability is that if the iPad gets lost/stolen or destroyed, the data may be lost. There is a way to have all of their notes automatically backed up Google Drive! It’s easy to set up (see link below for instructions), and students can set up a folder to save everything to. They can also decide whether to save everything as a “note” or a PDF file. When I had my students set this up two weeks ago, I noticed about half of them had already done this in 5th or 6th grade. We created a new “8th grade” folder so they were organized. One of the best parts about this is that it automatically creates subfolders based on notebooks in Notability. If they have a different notebook for ELA, Math, Social Studies, and Science, then those four subfolders would automatically be created. Then, just like the good ‘ol Ronco rotisserie, you just set it and forget it!

Read this blog post to learn how to set this up on student iPads.

3. Add or delete pages

This may not be a feature that gets used very often, but it’s very useful when it is needed. I gave my students a lab handout as a PDF last week that was still formatted the same as last year. As a result, there were two pages of “class data tables” where students used to copy data down from other groups in class. Since all class data was shared this year using Google Spreadsheets, those two pages were no longer needed. Students asked if they could delete the pages from the PDF. I said yes, not really believing they could do that. Sure enough, they could. I have also seen a few students add on a page if they need more space to answer a question or add more photos/drawings.

4. Merge PDFs

I just stumbled upon this feature a few days ago. The 8th grade science teachers are having students research a manufactured object. They must research the materials that are used to make that object, focusing on the intensive properties of those materials, to determine why those specific materials are used. Students will communicate their learning by writing a magazine article. As teachers, we hope to combine all of these articles together into a digital magazine of sorts that can then be shared with parents. After looking into many options, the easiest way of doing this (I think) is to have all students share their final PDF with the teacher, who can then use Notability to easily merge them all together.

5. View Google Presentations

I showed a Google Presentation in class not too long ago. I planned on having students download the new Google Slides app so they could read along on their iPads. Before I had the chance to tell them this, a few students had already opened the presentation in Notability. Not only could follow along with the slides, but they could mark up the slides!! Granted most students did not take advantage of this, but I plan on adapting future presentations to make them more interactive for students. I’m not sure if this feature also works for Keynote or PowerPoint presentations, but it’s definitely worth trying!


Annotating PDF documents on the iPad

One of the biggest benefits to using iPads in the classroom is moving toward a paperless classroom. In order to do this, we must find an alternative to having students write on paper worksheets or other graphic organizers. One of the easiest ways to do this is to have students annotate a PDF (Portable Document Format), then save that revised version on their iPad.

In most classrooms it looks something like this: 

1. Teacher makes a PDF of the worksheet/handout/graphic organizer. This can  be done by scanning the paper copy and saving it as a PDF file. If the handout is made in Microsoft Word, the file can be saved as a PDF file. (All of my class handouts are converted in this way.)

2. The PDF handout is made available to students. This can be done in numerous ways. Read our blog post on iPad workflow for more information on how to do this.

3. The student uses the “Open in…” function on the iPad to open the PDF document in an a particular app that lets them annotate and save the document. The most popular app being used for this purpose is Notability.

However, unlike most people, I am not a huge fan Notability. I gave it a shot earlier in the year and quickly began the search for alternatives. Notability does have more bells and whistles compared to other apps. However, the most important features I need my students to have is the ability annotate text (highlight, underline, cross out, etc.) and add both “hand written” and text notes. I’m not saying Notability can’t do these, it’s just not as easy. So, two possible alternatives to check out are Adobe Reader and PDF Expert.

Alternatives to Notability…

Adobe Reader (Free)

Adobe now offers an Adobe Reader mobile app for Android and iOS devices. It looks and acts much like the desktop version. 
File Management: 
All annotated files are saved in your main “Documents” folder. You can create additional folders (for different subjects) and subfolders (different units?) for your documents. You can also sign up for an account at that lets you sync files between different devices. 

Press down on a word, and you have the option to copy, highlight, strikeout, underline, or define the word. Once you highlight, strikeout, or underline, you can then change the color and opacity of your mark. 
Adding notes: 
Press down on an empty spot, and you have the option to add a note, typed text, freehand, or a signature. The “note” creates a sticky note, but all other types of notes can then be modified. You can delete the note or change the thickness, color, and opacity. Also, when you press on it a second time, a text box is created that can easily be resized or moved anywhere on the page. 

I know this may not sound any easier than Notability, but I have about ten students with iPads this year who also found Notability difficult to use. I had them use the Adobe Reader app, and they like it much more. Again, they aren’t doing anything fancy, just adding text to my science handouts.

PDF Expert ($9.99 but was on sale this week for $4.99)

I sent an email recently about Readdle having a sale for many of their apps. One of their apps, PDF Expert, is my absolute favorite app for editing PDFs. It has a lot of advanced features that justify the price.
File Management: 
Like Adobe Reader, files are saved in your “Documents”, and you can create folders and subfolders. Files can be sorted by name, date, and size. PDF Expert has some pretty cool syncing features as well. ou can add servers that give you access to documents in Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and more. There is also a two-way syncing feature so whatever changes you make in the app can be saved to your cloud storage account.  

Press down on a word, and you have the same options as Adobe Reader, plus the option to leave a sticky note with your highlight. Once you highlight, strikeout, or underline, you can then change the color (lots of options) but not the opacity of your mark. 
Adding notes: 
Press down on an empty spot to have the same features as Adobe Reader. Additional options include a “stamp”, image, or sound note. The stamp is digital stamp feature such as “Approved” or “Completed” which could come in handy for grading. The image note lets you add a picture using the iPad camera or Photo Library. The sound note is my favorite feature. Notability also has an audio feature at the top of the note, but PDF Expert creates an audio file anywhere on the page. How could this be handy? Imagine you have a student who is allowed to take tests orally, but with 30 kids in a class you just don’t have time to sit down with them. You could have them take the test on an iPad and record their answers orally by leaving an audio note for each question. It also includes an impressive suite of drawing tools that includes lines, arrows, and shapes. You can also change the pen color, thickness, and opacity.   

Other features:
Another cool feature in PDF Expert is the ability to have multiple tabs open for different documents. This makes it much easier and quicker to go back and forth between documents.

I know $10 is a lot to shell out for an app, but it really is worth it. Obviously, the district is not going to pay for all students to have this so I envision this being used by teachers while students use Notability or Adobe Reader. If you would like to experiment with it on my iPad, just let me know!


Adobe Reader: Getting Started Guide

PDF Expert Guide

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Scan a document on our copiers!

Need to create a PDF of a document you have?  Looking to save a digital copy of some paper?  You can do this on our new copiers (in the main office, the copy room, or room 404) – all you need is a flash drive!

Here’s how to do it:

First off, place your document on the copier, as if you were making copies.

Next, select “scan” on the top menu.

 Select the middle button on the menu that pops up – it says “File / USB.”

 Next, make sure you have a USB flash drive.  You’ll be storing any PDFs or images you create on it.  When facing the copier, the USB connector is on the right side, near the top front corner.  Just insert the flash into the slot.

 A message should now come up, saying “Found USB Device.”  On the next menu, select the USB Media option.

On this same menu, you can select to save it as a picture (TIFF) or PDF file.

Click File Name to change the name of the file.

The last column, Multi / Single has a very specific function:
[MULTI]—Press this button to store your scan as a multiple page file. When you scan several pages, the
equipment stores all the pages as a single file.
[SINGLE]—Press this button to store your scan as a single file for each page. When you scan several pages, the equipment stores each page as a separate file.

Once you’re set with the options, click OK.

This brings you back to the main menu.  Click “scan” and you’re all set!

If this menu comes up, you can put a new sheet on the scanner and then hit continue, or select “Job Finish” when the last page is done.

That’s it — remove your flash drive, and you can now store your PDFs / images wherever you need them!

For additional documentation, go here: 


Derek & Jeremy