Anyone else prep their classrooms for the new year in OmniGraffle?
Anyone else prep their classrooms for the new year in OmniGraffle?
Though we spent the first two episodes of this semester discussing tools to manage email, there is a better way! In this week’s episode, Robby and Craig discuss tools that can take you beyond email to better collaborate and communicate with your teams at school.
In our nerdiest episode yet, we do a deep dive into our most used iOS app, Drafts 5. We share how we use this app in the classroom, and how it can save you time and mental energy.
Airtable Drafts Action - Scroll Down to the readme area for instructions on where to download the Airtable template and how to install this action.
This week, Robby and I published episode 3 of The Class Nerd Podcast. While I’m really pleased with the quality of what we have produced so far, I’m definitely still very new to talking regularly on a microphone. I’m still learning what I need to have written down in an outline, how to manage time (we were originally aiming for a 60 minute show and settled on half of that), and more.
As I’ve listened back to episode 3, I feel like I didn’t do my beloved Bear justice. Some of this is due to Bear having features Robby mentioned in his Evernote section and I didn’t want to rehash, but I should have at least acknowledged them. Some of it is just me getting excited while talking and forgetting.
Today I wanted to share a little more about what has really drawn me to Bear, even though it does have a few shortcomings.
We have mentioned markdown a few times over the course of the podcast, and in next week’s episode we’ll actually be diving deeper. But since it’s one of the most important features of Bear for me, I wanted to explain just a bit more about it.
Markdown is a language for writing that allows you to include formatting in plain text. You can create links, lists (both bulleted and numbered), bold, italics, and more just by surrounding your text by a few characters. This is by far the most convenient way for me to write on a computer. I use it for writing texts for my students to read in the classroom, for writing on this blog, for emails, and more.
If you have an app that works with markdown, it will likely preview the formatting live in the app and allow you to export the writing in a way that hides the extra characters, but leaves the formatting.
Here is a note being written in Bear with the jpg export next to it. You can see that the jpg doesn’t have any of the extra characters around it.
Having a note taking app that works with Markdown is incredibly useful. Often I want my notes to have a hierarchy, and being able to just type as many # as I need for different levels of heading saves me so much time.
My notes also frequently have URLs and lists. Quick markdown input saves me time on these as well.
If you want to learn more about markdown, you can check out these resources:
In our notes episode, Robby talked about Evernote’s ability to clip the content of webpages and save them as notes. I used to do this constantly back when I used Evernote. I mostly saved interesting articles I thought I would want to read again.
The thing is, I almost never read them again and they began to clutter up my searches making it more difficult for me to find information I actually needed.
Still, this can occasionally be a handy tool, and Bear offers it as well through its share extension.
If I view a website in Safari on my iPad and want to save its contents, I can tap the share button, then Bear’s icon in the share sheet. This will let me save a link to the website, a link with a title, or the full text of the website. In my testing, while Bear doesn’t get the text extraction right 100% of the time, it is still very useful and at least as reliable as Evernote.
I mentioned Bear’s ability to work with apps like Drafts passively in the episode (next week’s episode is all about Drafts, so get excited). However, I wanted to share in more detail how I’m using these features.
Drafts is by far the fastest and easiest way to get text into an iOS device. Either through Siri, the Apple Watch complication, or just opening the app up and starting to type, most things I type on my devices go through Drafts.
Currently in Bear, I have a note with a list going of things I need to discuss next time I meet with my new 3rd grade team. When I think of another item to add to the list, instead of opening Bear, searching for the list, entering typing mode, then typing, I have created a simple action in Drafts to help me out.
When an idea comes to me, I’ll write it down (or dictate it) in Drafts. At that point, I may just leave it be until I have time to process it later. Whether I decide to process immediately or later, all I have to do is tap one button in Drafts, and it magically adds a bullet and appends it to that particular note in Bear.
You can create even more powerful automations with Drafts (or Workflow) and Bear, but I’ll save some of that for next week’s episode.
After moving from Apple Notes to Bear, the biggest thing I miss is handwriting support. Yes, Bear does allow you to hand write in notes, but it is far more limited than Apple’s app.
The way I’m currently getting around this is by either handwriting the notes in GoodNotes, or sketchnoting in Linea Sketch, then exporting to Bear. Is this a complete hack? Absolutely. Should Bear make handwriting more of a priority? Yes. But do all of the other benefits of Bear make it worthwhile for me to use this hack? 100%.
If you want to use Linea for drawing, I use this workflow to convert the jpg to a PDF for storage in Bear.
No app is perfect, but Bear works so well what I need it to do that I’m willing to overlook shortcomings. It genuinely brings me joy to use, and makes me more productive in my classroom and at home. If you’re looking for a note taking app, I highly recommend it.
If you’ve been enjoying some of the nerdier conversations on The Class Nerd Podcast, the new Automators podcast by David Sparks and Rosemary Orchard looks like it’s going to be a great next step for diving deeper into automation. I can think of no two people I trust more to make automation accessible and useful.
Go ahead and subscribe now, and episode 1 will release on Friday.
In the weeks since Apple’s WWDC keynote presentation, I’ve been reflecting on what the announcements mean for Apple in the future and for me as a teacher and user of their products.
For those of you who don’t follow Apple announcements as closely as I do, Apple announced the latest versions of operating systems for their four big platforms: iOS 12, macOS Mojave, watchOS 5, and tvOS 12.
While it does seem like Apple slowed feature development a bit to focus on performance, there are several announcements that have me truly excited about Apple’s present and future.
My personal favorite announcement out of WWDC was Siri Shortcuts.
Shortcuts is a blanket name for 2 different facets of iOS 12. The first is a new way for app developers to allow users to ask Siri to do tasks they do often inside of their apps. For example, developers can place a button in their apps to teach Siri to play a particular podcast or order your favorite coffee. Not only can a user ask to do these things, but through machine learning, Siri will begin to understand your habits and offer suggestions of shortcuts for you. Do you play the same podcast every Wednesday on your commute home? Siri could suggest that on your lock screen or the Siri watch face at that time. This is a huge step forward for how people use their iOS devices because they devices will be able to do more and more for them
Shortcuts is also the new name of my beloved Workflow. If you don’t know, Workflow is an amazing app for automation on iOS that came out in 2014 and was purchased by Apple in 2017. It allowed for apps to quickly send information back and forth. A basic example is using Maps data to determine your ETA home, then texting that ETA to your spouse. In the classroom, I used this for everything from reminding me to email a parent at the end of the school day (with a button to start that email in the task) to creating lesson plan templates.
It seems that what Apple was doing with the Workflow team was building Siri Shortcuts and updating to a new Shortcuts app.
As I think about what Apple has done here, I realize it’s something only they could do. First, Workflow is an app that could only happen on iOS. The richness of Apple’s app ecosystem, and the existence of apps like Drafts, Bear, Ulysses, MindNode, and others necessitated a way to connect those apps together. Then for Apple to purchase that software and integrate it deeply into the system shows a deep commitment to automation and pro software. I’m very excited for the future of iOS.
The other announcement out of WWDC that has me hopeful is what the rumor mill leading up to the conference referred to as “Project Marzipan.” This was a framework to allow developers to easily port their iOS apps to the Mac.
While I only work from iOS now, the potential of a more seamless experience between macOS and iOS is having me reconsider my setup. While this feature isn’t going to be released until next year, it has me more excited about the potential of all Apple platforms than ever before.
I know this post sounds super Apple fanboy, but in a world of doom and gloom, having things to be excited about is important. The fact that the platform I love is continuing to grow in ways which will make my job easier is huge. I’m excited to see what the next few years hold.
In this episode, Craig and Robby finish their discussion of email by sharing some 3rd Party apps you can use to help you manage your mail.
Though it was teased last week with a preview episode, Robby Burns and I are excited to officially launch The Class Nerd Podcast today.
Robby and I are both teachers who are passionate about our jobs, but also about not making our jobs our lives. We both work hard to make teaching as efficient and effective as possible so we have time to spend with our families and on other things we care about. A lot of this increased efficiency has come out of our love of Apple devices, and we have both tried to share our workflows with the greater education community through blogs, and in Robby’s case, a book. This podcast is meant to be another resource for teachers.
Semester 1 of The Class Nerd Podcast will be 10 weekly episodes around 25-30 minutes in length. Hopefully this is conducive to the busy lifestyles of teachers, and can be some easy summer PD.
If you’re not a teacher, but still want to get more out of your Apple Devices, we hope this is a useful resource as well.
Robby and I are really proud and excited, and hope you enjoy The Class Nerd Podcast.
Listen to Episode 1 now:
In the first official episode of The Class Nerd Podcast, Craig and Robby discuss Apple’s default mail app on iOS and macOS, and how they use it to manage their email.
This is a great tweet thread by Fraser Speirs on the shortcomings on the BYOD movement in edtech.
I’m pleasantly surprised by Apple’s iWork updates today for iOS. They didn’t wait until the new new OSes drop to add decent features that all seem like they will be helpful for students and teachers alike.
As an Enneagram 3, summer can be a weird time since I don’t sit still well. I need to keep working. Though I’m getting better at relaxing, I do have some important things on my summer to-do list.
First, instead of teaching in a self contained 2nd grade classroom, next year I’ll be teaching 3rd grade math and science. While this is will be great for planning purposes during the year, I have a lot of prep work to do this summer. Several of my workflows will need to change due to the decreased amount of subjects and increased number of students I’m teaching. I’ll also be teaching different material for the first time in my teaching career.
Here are the systems I’m going to be looking at over the summer:
As I spend time with each of these areas, I’ll be sharing here on the blog what my plan will be for the fall. Hopefully my plans will be useful for you as your prepare for a new school year.
This should be required listening for all educators.
The biggest deal about all of this is that it’s supported all the way back to the original iPad Air of which my school has quite a few.
I have officially started the process of moving my blog, The Class Nerd, from Squarespace to Micro.blog. I have struggled with squarespace for a long time as an iOS only user, and as Micro.blog has matured as a platform, it has become more and more powerful. That, combined with the ability for me to post content directly to Micro.blog from Drafts 5, has let me to moving.
I currently have @theclassnerd set up here on Micro.blog, and I have just moved the domain over.
If you are subscribed to The Class Nerd via RSS, you’ll need to use the new feed (or JSON feed). If you follow me on Micro.blog and want to continue to see my posts about education technology, you should follow @theclassnerd. All posts via The Class Nerd will also go to The Class Nerd twitter account.
CraigMcClellan.com will continue as my personal blog covering everything from Apple to foster care to Star Wars. All posts about how I get my work done as a teacher using iOS will be on The Class Nerd. Follow along even if you’re not a teacher though. Hopefully it’s still useful.
I have a lot of stuff planned for The Class Nerd in the next few weeks, and having it hosted here on Micro.blog enables a lot of that. I’m excited for what the future holds.
In David Allen's book, "Getting Things Done," his 5 steps to organizing your life are as follows:
We (1) capture what has our attention; (2) clarify what each item means and what to do about it; (3) organize the results, which presents the options we (4) reflect on, which we then choose to (5) engage with.
Since version 3, Drafts has been a primary workspace for steps 1-3. It has been a tried and true capture tool that has powerful tools to organize those captured thoughts after they have been clarified. Drafts's inbox was used to store text with a badge on the app icon declaring how many drafts I needed to process. I would always try to get that number down to 0 every day. Nothing stayed in Drafts or was worked on extensively there. It was where text started, but never where it was completed.
With last month's release of Drafts 5, I have added steps 4 and 5 of Allen's system to Drafts's workload.
The two new features of version 5 that have added the most utility for me are tags and workspaces. While tags are self explanatory, workspaces are essentially saved searches allowing you to filter drafts by tags and search terms. This lets you see the drafts you need only when you need to see them.
Workspaces, along with Drafts 5's new, even more powerful scripting capabilities have allowed me to organize drafts, focus on only what I'm interested in focusing on at that moment, and still easily get the text out of Drafts for final publishing or usage.
Since workspaces are a new concept, I thought I would share what I have created so far:
My first workspace, Process, filters all untagged drafts. It is My first workspace, Process, filters all untagged drafts. It isessentially my Drafts 4 style inbox. Whether it’s an idea for a blog post, a task for Things, an email I need to send to a parents, or anything else, this workspace shouldn’t have drafts in it for very long.
I also have Drafts's badge settings correlate with this workspace with another new feature of Drafts 5. You can select what tags (if any) are included in the app's badge, and I currently have this set to "untagged." This helps me to remember to come back to this workspace and process my drafts.
Micro Posts and The Class Nerd are for all things blogging. Unfinished drafts or ideas stay in the inbox, but tagged so they don't show up as needing to be processed. If I have time to write, I sit down and open one of these workspaces, pick an idea, and start working.
Next, Newsletter is where I create my weekly newsletter for the parents of my students. I collect topics for the next newsletter throughout the week, then run a script to combine these individual drafts into one big newsletter every Monday, and finally convert the markdown to rich text and send the email to parents.
The way I notate that blog posts, newsletters, or scripts are finished or posted is I simply archive the draft. They still maintain their tags, and I can view them in the archives of that workspace, but don't have to apply any more tags or anything different to them.
This has become a really convenient way to organize my work, and I'll hopefully be incorporating more down the road. Actually having organization is allowing me to use Drafts as my daily driver for all things text related instead of having separate apps for separate purposes.
Drafts 5 is available on the App Store as a free download with a $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year subscription to unlock pro features like workspaces.
If you're interested in learning more about automation and how to use technology to be more efficient, Rosemary Orchard has just launched Automation Orchard. While Automation Orchard does have a blog of its own, it is also an aggregation of links to posts around the internet about automation on Apple Technology.
This is a great idea, and I instantly subscribed to the site. I recommend you do the same.
Things helps me do my job while not making my job my life.
I wrote those words in December after just having switched to using Things 3 as my task manager from Todoist. It was also right before my school’s winter break, so I hadn’t fully put Things through the ringer of a lot of school work. So, 4 months later, I wanted to do a check-in on how Things is treating me.
First, let me say how much I have loved using Things. It’s easily the best task manager I’ve tried for how my brain works. While I’ve been tempted to sign up for the beta of Omnifocus 3, every time I look at it, I realize it would be a step in the wrong direction for my productivity. Things meets my needs well, and the new shiny isn’t going to
What I initially loved about Things still holds true. I love its design. I love the Today View and how it integrates with my calendar. I love how tasks marked for today simply roll over to the next day and don’t turn red and make you panic if you don’t complete them. Things helps me stay on top of everything I’m managing as a teacher without making me stressed.
I had some people ask me when I first started using Things how I had it set up. I was still in the process of figuring that out at the time, but after a few months I’ve settled into a workflow that I like, so I thought I would share that.
Things 3 has different levels of structure for your tasks. There are areas which can hold projects which can hold headings which can hold tasks. Almost all of these can also have tags as well.
I have 4 different areas in Things: Work, Personal, Worship and Arts (I help serve as a leader in my church’s Worship and Arts ministry), and The Class Nerd. Each of those can have projects, and some even have projects that are constantly updated with new tasks as old ones are checked off.
For example, in work I have an Admin project that is always active. This will have repeating tasks I need to complete in it as well as headings for grading and planning. Anything outside of Admin will have its own project created.
I only use one tag, “Important.” This only gets busted out if I have a lot of tasks that need doing in one day, but some are a higher priority than others. I’ll tag those tasks, and then filter my today view to only show those tasks. It can make me feel less stressed on busy days.
One of my favorite features of Things 3 is its Siri and Apple Watch integration. Many other task managers only allow you to add tasks via Siri on the phone, but Things 3 allows you to do so on the watch as well. If I remember something I need to do today, I raise my wrist and say, “Hey Siri, in Things, remind me to do such and such today.” Done. This also works great on my HomePod.
The Apple Watch app is also really nice. I leave the complication on most of my watch faces, and will often check something off my list quickly after completing it.
The thing I missed most when I started using Things was the ability to easily send tasks from other apps. With version 3.4, which was released a couple months ago, powerful automation features were added. I can now write scripts to easily send tasks from Drafts 5, create whole projects immediately using Workflow, or open instantly to particular views from Launcher. This has made the usefulness of Things increase dramatically.
For example, I have an Add to Admin script that asks me for a heading and due date, then sends the task to my Admin project for work.
I’ve also made a Drafts action that will create a new Draft with a blog post idea here, then send a link to that Draft into Things so when I’m looking at the list of posts I want to write, I can open that draft with one tap. I’m hoping to think of more ways to string multiple steps and apps together for the classroom the way this action does.
Even with other task managers being released or new versions being updated regularly, I think it’s going to take a lot to get me out of Things 3 at this point. I’m still sold on the simplicity and elegant design that doesn’t stress me out, but the power features I need to make sure I don’t forget to get anything done that I need to.