Tips for Using an iPad with an External Keyboard: Shortcuts & More

Up until this week, I rarely used an external keyboard with my iPad. The on-screen keyboard was fine for what I needed to do and unlike a lot of people, I really have no problem typing on the screen. I can’t type as fast as I can on a standard keyboard, but I can type fast enough to churn out emails and blog posts with no real concerns. This week, however, I decided to try something a little different. I resolved to use the iPad as my only device for a week.

On a “normal” week I would spend my time switching between a MacBook, a Surface Pro 4, and my iPad for the tasks that I need to get done. However, I happened to read an article entitled, Stop Using A Laptop in 2017; It’s Time To Use A Tablet. In it, the author made a case that desktop operating systems are less relevant than they used to be, so that got me thinking. Could I use an iPad, and only an iPad, for a week? No reason why not, right?! The challenge was on, and I took a Bluetooth keyboard along for the ride.

External Keyboards for iPads

There are lots of Bluetooth keyboards available for the iPad, and by lots I mean LOTS. Some are better than others, but in theory just about any Bluetooth keyboard will work with an iPad. I have been using one at work for about four years now when I dock my MacBook Pro or Surface Pro 4 and connect it to a monitor. The one I like best is the Logitech K811. It has 3 easy-switch Bluetooth buttons that you can use to quickly move between multiple devices. With one tap you can use it to type on your iPad, press a button and you are typing on your phone, press another button and you can start typing on your laptop. It has backlit keys, good key travel and chiclet key spacing that suits the way I type.

I use my iPad with a simple tablet desktop stand because I like the convenience of being able to quickly switch between using the iPad with an external keyboard and using it without one. There are some great iPad keyboard cases available, but I know for a fact I won’t use a keyboard all the time so I if I don’t have to wrestle with sliding the iPad in and out of a keyboard case, I won’t. The stand lets me pick it up and go whenever I want. It also lets me choose whatever case I want to use, and to switch out my case when I feel like I need a new one.

If the K811 is too rich for your blood and you don’t really need the backlit keys, try the Logitech K380. It is less than half the price and also supports multiple devices. My wife loves a number keypad, (she won’t buy a laptop without one). If you are the same way, you might prefer the Logitech K780. It has an integrated phone and tablet stand and includes a battery that will last up to two years on a single charge! Other keyboards are available, but of late I am somewhat partial to Logitech, purely based on previous experiences.

iPad Keyboard Shortcuts for External Keyboards

One of the nice things that Apple introduced in iOS 9 was a range of keyboard shortcuts that are designed to speed up your productivity on an iPad. Like all keybaord shortcuts, these are only good if you remember what they are. However, if you only remember one iPad shortcut for external keyboards, remember this one. Hold down the Command (Cmd) key. When you hold down the Cmd key on an external keyboard connected to an iPad you get a cheat sheet of the keyboard shortcuts that are available to you at any given time. This list will vary depending on what app you are using, but it is an insanely useful idea and perfect for when you are still learning which ones you will actually use.


Some of the ones worth committing to memory are the ones you reveal if you hold down the Cmd key on the home screen. These are universal keyboard shortcuts that work in basically all iPad apps and they are perfect for navigating your way around the iPad. They include:

  • Cmd + H = Return to your Home screen
  • Cmd + Space = Activate a Spotlight search
  • Cmd + Shift + 3 = Take a Screenshot
  • Cmd + Tab = Use the App switcher

Other useful shortcuts are ones that you may be familiar with from using an Mac. For instance, copy, cut and paste is the same on both devices, (Cmd + C, Cmd + X, Cmd + V), and the same goes for things like Bold, Italic and Underline. In text editors you can tap where you want the cursor to go, hold down shift and use the arrow keys to select text. You can also move around your text with things like Cmd + right arrow or Cmd + up arrow, and use the spacebar to scroll in Safari.


I have actually enjoyed using an iPad keyboard more than I thought. In the past I pretty much dismissed them as unncessary, (and in some ways they still are), but the recent improvements that Apple have made to iOS make them a much more compelling choice for if you have a lot of typing to do. So, if you haven’t tried one recently, give it a go. You might just surprise yourself with how useful an iPad keyboard can be.

Note: In case you were wondering, this blog post was created entirely on an iPad! Also, some of the links in this post are affiliate links to online stores. If you purchase anything at one of these stores after clicking a link, I will receive a small credit, at no cost to you, in order to help fund the development of this blog.


Try ReadWorks Digital for Comprehension Skills

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Are you looking for ways to test student comprehension skills online? If so, ReadWorks Digital could be just what you are looking for. This nonprofit company offers a completely free service for teachers that is aimed at making your students more successful readers. They have a library of lexiled, grade level texts that covers both fiction and nonfiction writing, and each selection is paired with a vocabulary work bank and formative assessment questions. Some texts even include text to speech audio. Here’s how it works.

Getting Started With ReadWorks Digital

Teachers can register for free accounts at and then set up the classes that they need. You have a choice of whether you want students to sign in with their Google accounts, or whether you want to create accounts for them. Students go to and enter the class code to register for your class. A default password is given to students when they log in without a Google account. Students can change their passwords to something more memorable, but the teacher can reset passwords at any time too. See the video below for more information.

Searching for Articles

There are a number of ways to find the text that you are looking for. Simply click Find Articles at the top of the page to get started and look to the filters on the left hand sidebar to narrow your results. Articles can be sorted by grade level or lexile level, according to your needs. You can also choose to search for texts that include audio or StepReads. A StepRead is a less complex version of the original article, and allows all your students to be reading the same content, but with some students accessing it at a reading level that is more appropriate to their reading level. (If you are familiar with Newsela, you will know how this works). You can also sort texts by fiction and nonfiction.

Across the top of the search screen you will also see the ability to sort by subject. For instance, you can filter by Social Studies, and then drill down further to articles on Civics and Government. You can do the same with Science and Literature texts. You can also filter by specific reading skills to meet the standards you are assessing. Skills like author’s purpose, fact and opinion, or sequencing can be chosen from this subset. There are also special collections from famous museums. See the video below for more information.

Assigning an Article

When you find the article you want, you can assign it to students by clicking the blue Assign button in the top right-hand corner. You can assign an article to the whole class or to select students. This is also the stage where you choose to include the audio version and/or the StepRead version. You can also choose a start date. This is the date that the article will appear on the student dashboard when they log in. See the video below for more information.

Grading Student Work

All assigned articles come with a set of reading comprehension questions. Once they are answered by students, you can return to your teacher dashboard and click on any assigned article to see the student data. Some questions will ask for a typed answer, so these will need graded manually. The same applies for questions that ask students to draw a picture or complete a task outside of the ReadWorks website. See the video below for more information.


For a free service, ReadWorks Digital has a lot to offer teachers. It’s growing bank of digital texts are engaging and informative. It is a clean, well organized website that even includes Teaching Tips for Teachers who are interested in using their resources with students. There are no mobile apps for ReadWorks Digital, but the website works perfectly well on Macs, PCs, Chromebooks and iPads so I would encourage you to check it out and see how well it could work for your students.

The Apple Adapter Classroom Gear Guide

Check out this great post from my sister site The Edtech Gear Guide…

The Edtech Gear Guide


If you use an Apple device, you are probably increasingly used to using dongles, adapters or whatever else you want to call them. They give you the functionality that Apple doesn’t natively include because of design constraints or a forward thinking approach to new technologies. However, there are dozens of Apple adapters available, and it can be hard to know which ones are the right ones for a given situation. This edtech gear guide was written to help remedy that problem.

The adapters below are ordered by price (from low to high) and include a number of likely scenarios for when you would want to use each one. Official Apple adapters will usually work best and these can be purchased in a number of different places, but third-party versions are available too. The list below is not an exhaustive list, but it does include the most commonly used dongles and adapters…

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5 Alternative Uses for a Classroom Podcast Station

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Sometimes it’s hard to justify the expense of new technology at school, but if it can be used in multiple ways, the added value almost sells itself. So, if you are looking to add a podcast station to your classroom, here are some quick ideas for what else it can be used for when you are not podcasting.

1. Fluency Practice

Elementary students will work on reading fluency at pretty much every grade level. With a podcast station, students can record themselves and listen back to what they read in order to hear themselves and listen to the areas that they think they need to improve on. The teacher also gets a record of each student that they can use to share with parents or peers. Older students who are in speech or are practicing an oral presentation can use the podcasting station in much the same way.

2. Listening Comprehension

A good way to meet some of those speaking and listening standards is to practice some listening comprehension. This is particularly useful when you consider that many state standardized tests already have this component. This station could be part of a blended rotation and need not require multiple computers if you have something like this 5-way headphone splitter that allows up to five students to listen to the same audio at once. Websites like ListenWise already cater to this demand, while others have already noted that Listening to Podcasts Helps Kids Improve Reading Skills.

3. Video Creation

A podcast station is basically a collection of computers, microphones and headphones. Coincidentally, this is often what you would have if you were putting together a video station. Teachers can use the very same equipment to make videos for flipped classroom lessons. Students can use the computers to edit video and the microphones to add professional sounding voice-overs.

4. Audio Responses

I think it is always good to give students options over how best to submit assignments. That is one of the reasons why I like SeeSaw so much. Text, audio, video and more can be used as a way to showcase learning. Your podcast station is a perfect place for students to leave audio responses to question prompts and another way to reinforce those speaking and listening standards. What if you had a question of the day for your elementary students to answer each time they came to school, or the option for older students to record an video response in Recap?

5. Skype Station

Another great use of your microphones (and headphones) could be for video conferencing. Whether you are playing Mystery Skype or taking a virtual field trip, the technology you put in your podcast station could easily be repurposed for the duration of these activities. There are many Skype in the Classroom ideas that are available to teachers, so your microphones and computers will go to good use here.


Curious as to what you might need to create your own podcast station? Take a look at the Podcast Classroom Gear Guide on my sister site, The Edtech Gear Guide.

Getting Creative With iPads in K-12 Classrooms

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My iPad is a bit of a mess right now. Too many apps are in need of a folder for some kind of organization. As I began that process today, I noticed that I have an abundance of apps that were designed for creative purposes. I wasn’t surprised that I had all these apps, (they are absolutely my favorite type of apps), but I was surprised at how many new ones I have added this year. So, I thought I would take some time to share the ones that mean the most to me and to group them in some kind of order that might make sense on my home screen.

Feel free to add your own suggestions to the comments at the end because you can never have too many creative apps! These are not the only creative apps on my iPad, (that would be a very long list), but it is a good chunk of them. (Note: this post contains iTunes affiliate links).

Creative Video Apps

Creative Photo Apps

  • Pic Collage Kids – a safe, fun, collage app that is very versatile
  • Annotate – Handy editing tools like crop, draw, arrows, text, emoji and blur
  • Photoshop Lightroom – the mobile version of Adobe’s Lightroom editor
  • Photoshop Mix – cut out, combine & blend pictures to create multilayered images
  • Photoshop Express – fast, powerful, and advanced editing now with collages
  • Pixelmator – a powerful, full-featured, layer-based image editor
  • Superimpose – create superimposed or juxtaposed photos on your iPad
  • Snapseed – a complete and professional photo editor developed by Google

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Introducing The Edtech Gear Guide

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Today I am excited to announce the launch of a new website that I’ve been working on. It’s called The Edtech Gear Guide. It was created to help answer the emails, tweets and face-to-face questions I get about what technology hardware is best for a variety of classroom projects. Everyone wants free options to enhance teaching and learning with technology, I completely understand that, but there are some things are worth paying for to get the results you want. In essence, this is the mantra of The Edtech Gear Guide. If it can be done for free, here’s how to do it. Otherwise, here’s the gear you need.

So, what can you expect to find on this new site? Recently, I wrote a couple of posts that proved to be quite popular – What to Buy For a Green Screen Classroom and Build Your Own Google Expeditions Kit. These posts were a little different from others that I have written because they were basically a list of technology things that you could beg, borrow or buy to accomplish a task. I got some great feedback on these from educators who were looking for ideas and inspiration like this, so it got me thinking that there are many more topics that could be approached in this way.

I’m still in the process of adding new articles to The Edtech Gear Guide but I would love for you to drop by and take a look. Questions, comments and ideas are more than welcome, and if you like what you see I would love it if you would share this project with others.

You can visit The Edtech Gear Guide at


What to Buy for a Green Screen Classroom

Green Screen Buying Guide(1).pngAre you ready to do green screen in your classroom? This short guide walks you through the basics of what you need to buy, borrow, or build in order to do just that. I get asked what to buy on a regular basis and although you don’t need to spend a lot of money, (you might not need to spend any), there are definitely a few essentials that you will want to take a look at in order to get the best results. So, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite green screen apps, tools and technology…

NOTE: This post has been updated and moved to The Edtech Gear Guide, a brand new website for educators who use technology to enhance teaching and learning. Please follow this link to view the full article and get the latest recommendations for using green screen in your classroom.