On the frontlines – teaching students; teaching teachers. A source for EdTech tips, tricks, and solutions.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Productivity with Keyboard Shortcuts (Mac OSX)

A couple months ago, I was at a conference where I was presenting with a bunch of friends. One night as we were putting some final touches on one of our sessions, my friend Chris, was basically in awe at how I was working on my Macbook.  To paraphrase his awe: "I sold Apple computers at the Apple store and I didn't even know you could do that."

Since that night, if the question comes up about a keyboard shortcut for something, I'm their go to person.

Here are some of the keyboard shortcuts that I use on a regular basis to keep the work flow smooth. Many of these will transfer over to Windows or Chromebooks by using the Control button instead of Command (⌘).

Google Chrome:

Command(⌘)-L - Take control and highlight all text in the Omnibox (address bar)
  • Great for quickly going to new addresses or starting new searches without clicking on the mouse
Command(⌘)-T - Open a new tab in Chrome
  • Extension of this, hold command as you click a link to open the link in a new tab
⌘-Shift-T - Open the previously closed tab
  • This also will continue working for a while as it will keep opening previously closed tabs
⌘-`(~) - Switch between open windows of a program
  • This is great for running multiple user accounts in Chrome and quickly switching between the user windows
⌘-D - Bookmark the address that you are currently viewing

⌘-Number Keys - Go to that number tab open in the window (1-9)

⌘-opt-shift-v - Paste and match destination formatting
  • Great for pasting into Google Docs from another site where the font is different

Bonus Google Chrome:

Some individual Chrome extensions allow the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to launch an extension or perform a function.  Example: with Evernote WebClipper, pressing `(~) will launch the web clipper extension.

Mac OSx

⌘-Spacebar - Go to Spotlight Search bar 
  • Once again, launch an application by doing the shortcut and starting to type the application name and press enter...no cursor or mouse clicking.
⌘-shift-3 - Take a screenshot of the whole screen

⌘-shift-4 - Take a screenshot after cropping/capturing a certain area

⌘-shift-4 then Spacebar - Take a screenshot of a certain window (the cursor turns into a camera)
  • Even more options for this as well: Click on a menu option in the window, do the shortcut, and take a picture of just the drop down menu
⌘-Tab - Switch between open application on your computer - continuously press the tab button while holding down the ⌘ button and you can keep moving through your applications

⌘-option-Esc - Force Quit - if an application has stopped responding, hit the shortcut and select the app to close

This is the bulk of them for now, but I have some good shortcuts for using the trackpad on a MacBook Pro or Magic Trackpad and some reminders of the shortcuts in Google Apps. 

Shift Button Magic: Drawings

The Secret of the Shift Button:

In Google Drawings, you can resize a shape, text box, or image fairly easily. Just use the points on the outside of the bounding box to resize the object in whatever way you want.  However, if you'd like to keep the item in scale, you can press the shift button while resizing with the corner points. This also works across into Docs and Slides when you are working with text boxes. 

Also, if you are rather OCD like myself, you hate drawing a line and noticing that it isn't quite parallel or perpendicular to the grid.  The shift button also allows you to draw lines that will always give you perfectly parallel line. 

Simply start drawing your line, and hold the shift button as you finish your line. You will notice that the line will only go straight across, not up or down just a little.  This will also work to resize a line, or if you drew a non-parallel line, you can hold shift and adjust it as well. 

Now let's say that you are trying to find the exact same angle every time. As you are holding the shift button and moving a line, it will automatically move in 15 degree increments. You can see my example below (I am holding down the shift button the whole time as I move the line):

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Use Drawing as Button on Site

The beauty of Google Sites is that it works seamlessly with the apps in Drive. However, when you insert a drawing, that's all you do: insert a drawing. If you want to add the functionality of linking to another page, then this is the post for you.

The best thing about using Drawings to make buttons for a site is that you can make the buttons in whatever shape, color, doodle, etc. that you want.

Something to keep in mind:  we are going to be making the drawings into .png files, so the checkered background will remain transparent, but it will save as whatever size the canvas is. If you'd like to change the size of the canvas, in the lower right hand corner of the canvas, you'll see some lines that you can drag the canvas to a size you'd like.

When I inserted these buttons on to my Google Site, I kept the canvas at the default size because I felt that it added some spacing in between the buttons that helped it not look too busy.

I am going to demonstrate using the button that I created in my previous blog post about adding shadows. And if you would like to see my finished buttons and site layout, go to www.teacherubow.com

Saving the Drawing as .png

Once you have your button created in Drawings, you need to download it as a .png file:

Once you have the .png file downloaded, now you can work on inserting into your site.

Insert button onto Site

To insert it onto your site, you first need to edit the page you are on (Click the pencil in sites, or keyboard shortcut - e)

From there you you have three options for when you insert an image:
  • Click insert image and upload
  • Click insert image and provide URL 
  • Click on drive, and choose an image in your drive. 
    • If you choose an image from your drive, you'll need to make sure that the sharing permissions are set so people can view the image, otherwise it will not show up on your site. 

Design and Sizing of Button

Now here comes the part where you decide how you want things to look. For my site, I had about 7 of the same size buttons that I wanted to link to other things.  If you are going to add more buttons, you'd probably want to change the size. But this is all up to you. 

Just click on the icon, make it a size that you'd like, and position it where you would like.

Creating an Active button with a link

Now you need to direct the button to whatever link you would like. When you click on the image, there is a button for you to change the link. That is where you need to be to redirect when a person clicks the button.

Since this button says email me, we'll create a link to send an email using the command: mailto:insertemail@gmail.com

Don't forget to save your changes in Sites. Unlike Docs, Slides, and Sheets, your changes are not automatically saved. 

Shadows in Google Drawings

Create a Shadow in Drawings

I was recently trying to create some buttons/icons for my Google Site, when I came across a stumbling block. How can I create a little definition for my icons with a shadow?

Here is a very simple way to add a drop shadow to a shape in Google Drawings:

  1. Create the shape and choose a fill color. 
  2. Copy the shape (Ctrl-c/Cmnd-c)
  3. Paste the shape (Ctrl-v/Cmnd-v)
  4. Change color of the pasted shape to your desired shadow color
  5. Re-order to place it behind the shape
  6. Move the shadow shape to the left/right & top/bottom of the shape to create desired shadow
  7. Add any words or illustrations that you want for your buttons
  8. Voila! You have a shadow. 

Here's an image from my site with the buttons I created using this technique in Google Drawings:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Animated Gif Tutorials

Gif vs Jif

by:GisilulubellCC BY-SA 3.0
You may hear gif pronounced a couple different ways (although the creator tells us the secret), but the bottom line is that it can really be a fantastic tool to create multimedia tutorials or add some flair to your docs, blogs, sites, and more.

The beauty of this file format is that they act as photo files so you can basically add a video without sound into something when that tool only allows the embedding of photos

How I use the tool: I make a screencast that is highlighting a step for a tutorial then embed it in a Google Doc that I am sharing with other teachers or at a conference.

I'm going to cover two different tools that you can use to create a .gif file:

  • LICEcap (for Windows & Mac)
  • TechSmith Snagit extension (Chromebooks, Windows, & Mac)

You can see in my first blog post here, that I used the .gif file to show the trick of the Contra Code, but you wouldn't have been able to see that unless you did it on your own, or if I recorded a video, uploaded it, then linked or embedded it in the post. But that would be silly for a 10 second video. LICEcap and Snagit allow for easier screencasts for short snippets of videos.

Here's an example of a tutorial that I created using animated .gifs in the section (all with LICEcap).


After downloading LICEcap for Windows or Mac OSx, you can start creating .gif files quickly. When you open the program, you'll notice a window that seems to be overlaid over any windows on your screen

From this overlay, you can resize to capture a small window or section of the screen, or you can keep it full screen. When you change the size, your .gif will be the size of the window you created. 

You'll notice in the lower right hand corner the Record button. Hit that to bring up the options for creating your .gif. 

Once you select save, your screen starts recording.  You may pause your screen recording by pressing pause in the lower right, or with the keyboard shortcut: CTRL+ALT+P. You will need to select stop in the lower right hand corner to stop your recording. Once you select stop, your .gif is saved to whatever location you chose.

Now you can embed the .gif in a Google Doc, Slide, Form, or blog or site.  

TechSmith Snagit (App and Extension)

You need to have both the App and Extension installed in your Chrome browser in order to create a .gif.  Also, with the Snagit Extension, you can only turn a screencast into a .gif if it is shorter than 20 seconds.  

To Get Started, select the Snagit Extension > Then select Desktop under the video camera

After you select desktop, Snagit will ask what screen would you like to record. Here you can choose an open window/tab or the whole screen. 

Once you select share, it will start recording your video. Remember, if you want a .gif, keep it to less than 20 seconds. Then select Stop sharing on the bottom of your screen. 

After you stop sharing, you will get a pop-up window from TechSmith that gives you some options as well as a link back to your library of all of your screen captures and screencasts.  

Now remember, since Snagit is a Drive App, it integrates with your drive and creates a folder for you that houses all of your files. 

The Verdict:

I didn't really plan on comparing the two, but I realize that it would be beneficial to you.  


  • Pros: Very simple, less clicking, no real time limit to screencast, resizable, ability to add a title slide to your .gif, ability to not loop.
  • Cons: Platform specific to Windows & Mac, 

TechSmith Snagit:

  • Pros: Works with Chromebooks, integrates with Drive, automatically a screen-recording with audio, works within Chrome (no extra software needed)
  • Cons: Time limit to create .gifs, a 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Geeky Trick in Docs

**Update 9/13/14 - I tried this again this last week, and it wasn't working. I will continue testing it out and see if this easter egg is gone**

I couldn't think of a better way to get EdTech Vanguard off the ground than to show you a nice little easter egg  inside Google Docs.

Now, I grew up in the 80's and 90's, so if you're around my age and/or played the original Nintendo, this will bring back some memories. I never had a Nintendo and could only play it at a friend's house, but you bet that I had this code memorized...the infamous Konami Code - or "get 30 lives" in Contra.

It's great that the developers and coders at Google Docs are geeky enough to include this little nugget inside Google Docs.

**Disclaimer: This serves no purpose in an educational setting other than messing with students who choose to go to the bathroom during your class :)**

**Update 8/2/14: Check out this blog for a possible use to teaching Leonardo da Vinci's mirror writing**

Take a look at how it looks in Google Docs. I will blow up the font size so you can see the cursor:

So if you follow the code in the image above, and then it Enter, you'll get a reverse Docs view.  This only impacts the individual's screen and doesn't change anything on a collaborator's screen.

To get back into the normal view, just retype the code and hit enter, and voila, you are back to normal.