Use 3D Touch on iPhone 6s to Save Anything to PDF

3D Touch on the iPhone 6s has become increasingly useful since its launch last year. It makes lots of things easier (selecting text using 3D touch on the keyboard is a great example) but there are now some things you can do with it, that you can’t actually achieve at all without it (at least not without jumping through hoops).

For example, let’s say you are reading an email in Apple’s Mail app, you can easily save it as a PDF using 3D touch.  The process is really simple – though not at all obvious to the uninitiated. Choose to print the email but when the phone shows you a preview of the document with some printing options, 3D-press on the preview image and it peaks and pops open as a PDF, with a share button that lets you save it wherever you want – Dropbox, Evernote, Notes, Pages, anywhere.

without this 3D Touch trick, there is no easy way to save an email from Mail to another app at all!

This works in any app that allows printing but I’m using Mail as an example because for some reason Mail doesn’t even have a share button, so without this 3D Touch trick, there is no easy way to save an email from Mail to another app at all!  To my knowledge, Apple has not even documented this feature. (I can’t imagine why).finp6s




Cut exam correction time in half

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If you are a VCE teacher in the throes of preparing your students for the final exam, I don’t need to tell you how much time you are spending marking practice exams this week.  What I do need to tell you is that if you are marking multiple choice questions manually you’re not spending your time; you are wasting it.

ZipGrade is an app that lets you point your iPhone at a multiple-choice answer sheet, and ding! Correction done! It highlights incorrect answers, calculates the overall score and lets you export the data both as a PDF to hand back to students, and as a CSV (Excel) file for your own records.

It’s blindingly fast. A class-worth of papers will be marked in under a minute!

I’m no a fan of multiple choice tests. But as long as we are working in a system that requires us to use them, I’d prefer to see teachers spend their valuable time on something more creative than grading papers!

Student in a Flipped Class? Cut homework time in half using this tip!

Most of us read much faster than talking speed yet still comprehend what we read. In the same way, it’s possible to listen much faster than your teacher can speak. But many of us have never thought about that, because in real life, we only hear words as they are uttered. (In the classroom, the speed your teacher can move her mouth is holding you back!)

But If your teacher makes screencasts, videos, or audio podcasts, try playing them at double speed. You’ll be amazed to find that you can comprehend what you are listening to just fine. In fact, after listening for a while, you’ll discover that it starts to sound surprisingly normal. After listening at double speed, if I slow a podcast down to “normal” speed, it sounds comically slow!

So how do you do it?

With an audio podcast it’s easy. Almost all podcast players have the option to adjust playback speed. My favourite is Overcast. To my ears it does the best job of speeding up voice while preserving clarity. Plus it has some really innovative features like “Smart Speed” which reduces the length of the pauses between words; shortening the total listening time, without speeding up the words themselves. Brilliant!

Swift Player

For videos or screencasts on your iPhone or iPad, try Swift Player. It lets you speed up any video on your device, or online (YouTube, Vimeo, etc).

A USB Thumb-Drive for Both iPad and Computer

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 1.30.49 pmIf you work with 25 iPad wielding students in a classroom, then you already know that sharing large video files between iPads or between iPads and computers comes with some friction.

Sure,there’s a festival of ways to transfer content from a student’s iPad to your computer or vice-versa, or from a student’s iPad to another student’s iPad.  (AirDrop, Dropbox, Instashare, PhotoTransfer WiFi, Email, just to name a few) but each has it’s limitations – especially if your school’s Wi-Fi is flakey or the internet is slow.

A Mobi My iStick in your pocket is a pretty neat solution. When you plug the iStick into your computer it behaves just as any USB thumb-drive would – because it is a USB thumb-drive.  But slide the slider over, and at the other end is an Apple-approved lightning jack that fits into the lighting port on a student’s iPad.  It’s the first USB thumb-drive that works with an iPad and it lets you copy files directly between iOS devices (whether or not they are your own) and computers, without needing Wi-Fi, bluetooth or an internet connection.

What’s Good:

Copying files to the device from a computer is as simple as can be.  Transferring those files to an iOS device is just as straightforward. When you plug the iStick into your iOS device, a pop-up message asks to use the iStick. You click Agree. The iStick app opens, you select the “iStick” tab and you can see all the files on the iStick, open them, move them to the camera roll etc.  You can even play movies on the iPad screen, directly from the iStick without first copying them to the iPad (Super if you are running out of storage space on your iPad!).

What’s Not:

On the iOS side, things are not quite as simple as they are on the computer. You need to install the (free) iStick app on every iOS device that you want to use the iStick with. Working with Photos and movies is straightforward enough.  Within the iStick app you see a “Photo Library” folder. That shows you all the Photos and Videos on your iPad, which you can then easily copy to your iStick.  For other documents, however, the process is clumsy and slow. You need to first open the document in the app that created it (say, Pages) then choose “Open in” and select iStick.  Then you need to open the iStick app (on the iPad),  select “iPad” (or “iPhone”), navigate to the inbox folder, select the file and chose to move it to the Documents folder (still within the “iPad” tab of the iStick app on the iPad).  THEN (if you haven’t given up by now) you insert the iStick USB thumb drive, navigate to the Documents folder in the iStick app, and choose to move the file from there to the iStick. Once you have done that, it’s simple to drag it off onto your computer as you would with any USB thumb drive, but the process of moving documents to the iStick is horrendous!

My advice:

  • If you want to shift large videos or photos between devices quickly and avoid doing this over Wi-Fi – this is a great solution.  It would allow your students to create movie projects on their individual iPads, and then you could pass the iStick around and they could all copy their finished product to it.
  • If you want to increase the storage space on your iPad – because perhaps you have a model with only 16GB – again this is a great solution because you can store movies on the iStick and still play them from there without first having to copy them back to the iPad.  If you were to move the videos off your iPad any other way (Eg. upload them to Dropbox) you would then have to re-download them before watching them!
  • If you are travelling, and want a way to back up the photos and movies you are taking – or to transfer them from your iPhone to your iPad in the absence of Wi-Fi – it’s great!
  • But if you were hoping to use the iStick to conveniently shuttle all kinds of miscellaneous files – PDFs, text documents etc – between iOS devices like you are accustomed to doing with USB thumb-drives and computers … forget it!  Sure, you can move files that way. (It’s not that it doesn’t work, per sé) – but the process is so graceless that you’d be better off attaching your files to a self-addressed email!

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Three Solutions for Combining Videos from Multiple iPads

Who’d have thought it could be so difficult?

A couple of weeks ago I ran an iPad workshop for teachers.  One of the participants, Judith, raised an interesting problem that stumped me.  I promised to find her a solution.  This blog post represents the fulfilment of that promise.

The Problem

Judith wanted to be able to have several students record video on their own iPads, then copy those separate videos to one student’s iPad and there, combine into a single file in iMovie.  That doesn’t sound like it would be too hard, now, does it?

The problem it turns out is that you can’t get a video into iMovie unless it is in the iPad’s camera roll.  Getting a video into the cameral roll is (stunningly) problematic.  Copying it into iMovie via iTunes’ File Sharing window on a computer doesn’t work. Neither does emailing it from one iPad to another.  You can of course send the video to an iPad via email, Dropbox, GoodReader, Documents, File Storage or any one of a number of other apps – but this doesn’t get it into the camera roll – which means you can watch the video in the app that contains it – but it doesn’t show up in iMovie.

I spent several hours on Google and Apple’s support forums, etc.  That got me nowhere.

Twitter got me further.  In fact a number of my tweeps were very helpful and offered suggestions that worked.   Many of these, however did require the use of a computer as an intermediary between the two iPads.   I was really looking for a way for two students equipped with iPads only, to share their videos.

Since then, I have done a bit more experimentation myself (and purchased numerous apps).  Out of all that, I present what I consider the best three solutions.  Each works well and each has advantages and disadvantages.

1. BOX

(Kudos to Heather Bailie @hebailie for this)   This was the first solution suggested that worked! is very like DropBox. Students can upload their videos to their free Box accounts via the Box app and share them with each other.  They can then download each others’ videos to their own box account and then in Box there is an option to save the video to the photo roll on the iPad (this option is not available in DropBox and others).  Once it is there on the camera roll it will be visible within iMovie.

Advantage:  It’s free.

Disadvantage: The video data is uploaded and downloaded via the internet, which makes the process slow and since videos tend to be large files, this will also be an issue for the bandwidth-impaired.


Mr. Barlow @mrbarlow suggested a stirling solution which is to use the Apple iPad camera connection kit.  For $35 this stupidly overpriced little piece of plastic lets you connect a Digital camera to your iPad and transfer your photos to your iPad’s camera roll.   The nifty thing Mr Barlow pointed out is that this also works between two iPads.  In other words, you can connect one iPad to another and transfer the photos and videos from the camera roll of the first to that of the second.  That works very well, and is very fast.


Advantages:  It’s fast.  It works simply, without installing anything or setting anything up.

Disadvantages:  You have to buy the connector for $35.  Only one pair of students can use it at a time.  It’s so diminutive an item that you are likely to lose it.  If some of your students have iPad 3 and some have iPad 4 or iPad mini you will also need to buy a lightning to 30-pin adaptor (another $35) – bringing the total cost to $70.

3. Photo Transfer WiFi

Just this week Simplex Solutions released an awesome new app – Photo Transfer WiFi that is exactly what I was looking for! This really nice universal app is just $2.99.  Once the app is installed and open on two iPads, they see each other, once their passwords are shared, the two can simply send photos and videos to each others’ camera rolls.  It’s a thing of beauty and simplicity.   Unlike using the Box solution, it doesn’t send the files through the internet – so it’s much faster.  And unlike the Apple Camera Connector Kit, several groups can be doing this at the same time.


Advantages:  It’s fast.  It doesn’t use the internet, just WiFi.  It’s got a very intuitive interface (unlike many other apps I tried).  It’s affordable.

Disadvantages: There really are none – except that it’s not free.  But this developer deserves every cent he earns.

If you have another solution, I’d sure love to hear about it.  Please share it in the comments below.

Wonderful! System-wide iPad text expansion

“Frankly, I don’t know how I managed to overlook the power of this for so long!”

The Problem: Some characters cannot be typed on the iPad Keyboard!

I love the iPad for many reasons, but typing on it is like trying to pick up watermelon seeds. The biggest (not the only) issue I have with the iPad keyboard, is that there are some characters that you simply cannot type! It’s crazy! Try typing a © symbol, or a greek character like µ, and you simply can’t do it. Nor can you type subscripts. That’s right – NO SUBSCRIPTS! (can you sense my eyelid twitching?). As a biology teacher, I need to type subscripts!  (Apple, do you realise how hard it is to write about biochemistry when you can’t even type “H₂O”?!)  In my previous post, I discussed one work-around, using the Cymbol app, and that’s handy for one-off instances when you need to type something unusual.  But this is a MUCH better tip – especially for characters you need to type often.

The Solution: System-wide text expansion using Shortcuts

In my previous post, I mentioned TextExpander, which works well in the handful of apps that have incorporated it’s SDK.  In all others one needs to copy, switch apps and paste – a pretty clumsy workflow.  A much more elegant solution as I have discovered is using Shortcuts. Frankly, I don’t know how I managed to overlook the power of this for so long!

This doesn’t even require you to download an app!  iOS comes with a built-in customisable Shortcuts option in the Settings app (look in Settings > General > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Add New Shortcut). The most obvious use for this (and what it was intended for) is setting short abbreviations for longer messages.  If you are the sort who is often running late you can create a shortcut “omw” that when typed into a text message will expand to “I’m on my way” (So that you don’t make yourself even later, typing out the full message on the virtual keyboard, then editing it because it was changed to something ridiculous by autocorrect).   BUT, and here is what I’m excited about,  that expanded Phrase in Shortcuts can be anything you’d like it to be.  It can be a whole essay or just a single Greek character!

Simply go to the Shortcuts section in Preferences, and type (or paste) the character or expanded text you want to appear into the “Phrase” field.  Then type your desired abbreviation into the Shortcut field.  Tap ‘Save’. That’s it.Untitled-14.jpg

For example, if I want to be able to type C₆H₁₂O₆, I paste that chemical formula into the “Phrase” field, and then type the shortcut “gglucose” into the Shortcut field. (see image). Strangely, even though you can’t type these things on an iPad, if you copy and paste them, subscripts, superscripts and special characters are maintained and work just fine. The trick here, is to create all the “Phrases” on your computer, then email them to yourself, open the email on your iPad and copy and paste them into the “Phrase” field of each Shortcut.

I make my Shortcuts a description of the result I want, with a double letter to begin with: “gglucose”, “ccarbondioxide”, “ccopyright”, “mmicroL”. Then when I want “5 µL”, I simply type “5 mmicroL”. This text expansion works system-wide, and is synced accross all my iOS devices automatically via iCloud.

If you are a science teacher, this is cause for rejoicing!  But for everyone else, it’s also useful for common replies you make to emails or other oft-typed tidbits of information. If, for example, I get an invitation to a school for a date on which I already have a booking, I type “ddateclash” and it expands to:

Thank you for the invitation.  I would have loved to present at your college.  Unfortunately I do not have that date available due to a prior booking. I do hope that your Professional Learning day is a great success, regardless.
Sincerely, Andrew

If someone emails to ask me for a photo of myself, I can reply with “pphotoofme” and it expands to – the download link for a head and shoulders photo of me in my dropbox public folder.

What a time saver!  The half hour I invested in creating my shortcuts, will be paid back to me with interest before the month’s end.