Reinventing Curriculum

Finally, A Free, Easy-to-Use Tool to Mark-Up PDF Worksheets!

Worksheets. Textbooks. Textbooks. Worksheets. Arguably the two most iconic items in K-12. (Ok, Ok: blackboards are also icons of K-12 but only for the baby boomers. Smilely face goes here) Interestingly, textbooks are disappearing. Well, to be more accurate, textbook publishers are disappearing. But, for better or worse, still today, many shelves in K-12 classrooms support rows and rows of textbooks some 10-15 years old. But, textbooks are most assuredly on the way out because personalized learning is most assuredly on the way in. One-size-fits-all is no longer acceptable in K-12.

"Student-centered learning" is the new buzzword. ISTE the largest K-12 teacher organization in the world, has made “student-centered learning” a standard:

  • "Student-centered learning moves students from passive receivers of information to active participants in their own discovery process. What students learn, how they learn it and how their learning is assessed are all driven by each individual student’s needs and abilities."

We can see Seymour smiling. What was once totally contentious in the K-12 world – students as “active participants in their own discovery process” is now an ISTE standard. Things do change! And for the better! ("Seymour who?"  Please download and read Mindstorms by Seymour Papert ASAP. That little book will make a big change your life.)

But, back in the K-12 classroom, worksheets are alive and well, thank you! Veteran teachers can open up their cabinets and pull out a worksheet for any and all occasions. A teacher meticulously plans out a lesson for the one day in that week that she can bring her children to the computer lab and it is that day that the Internet decides to be flaky. What is a teacher to do? Hand out a worksheet on sight words!

All your carefully prepared, tried-and-true paper worksheets can now be used on the computing devices in your 1-to-1 classrooms! Collabrify’s PDFPal is a free, browser-based app that is truly easy-to-use — and free! Read all about PDFPal in today’s blogpost!

And for those not-so-veteran teachers, a search for "worksheets" on TeacherPayTeacher turns up 931,817 items. Yup, worksheets are alive and well!

(Caveat: Today’s blog post is based on CN & ES's experiences in K-5 classrooms in, oh, about 10+ states. While in the text above we have been saying "K-12," in what follows we will say K-5 to more accurately reflect our personal experiences. We welcome comments from teachers in grades 6-12. Are our comments reflective of your experiences?)

Question: As 1-to-1 becomes the new normal and with solid Chromebooks available for $150 on school "technology purchasing" lists what are teachers to do with all those worksheets – those carefully prepared, tried-and-true pieces of paper?

Answer: Scan those effective worksheets into your computer. Then have your students use Collabrify’s PDFPal on their computing devices (iPads, Android tablets, Chromebooks, laptops, desktops, etc.) to access a worksheet and answer the worksheets’ questions. It truly is that simple!  Oh, did we mention that Collabrify’s PDFPal is free?

Following the advice of the amazing Ms. Julie Andrews: "Let’s start at the very beginning - A very good place to start.

  • You will be asked to sign in with a Google/GMAIL address. (The plan is to free our software from the GMAIL requirement early in the new year. Thank you for your patience!)
  • Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox with PDFPal. Unlike some other browsers, those three follow the HTML5 standards promulgated by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
  • And, here comes the really good news: PDFPal has only four mark-up tools:
    • Pen: Used to draw a line, e.g., circle an answer, underline a word, draw a picture
    • Text: Used to type text anywhere onto/into a PDF, e.g., type a word in response to a question
    • Highlight Marker: Drag the highlight marker across text in order to create a 1/4inch high, pinkish-violet translucent highlight.
    • Eraser: Delete the lines, letters or highlights made by the above three tools. 

Now, PDFPal is one of the apps in the Collabrify Productivity App Suite, and as such shares two suite-wide tools:

  • Undo/Redo (lower right corner): These two handy tools are standard operations in the Collabrify Productivity Tool Suite.
  • Add Collaborator (upper right corner, tap on the three dots): PDFPal, like the other apps in the Collabrify Productivity Suite, supports synchronous collaboration, i.e., two or more students can work together in a PDF document, in real time, each on his/her own computing device. The number in the upper right corner of the window shows the number of students working in that document. (The Collabrify Suite makes use of Google API’s to realize the relatively seamless collaboration functionality; thank you, Google.)

Figure 1a is a worksheet that serves as an exit ticket in a math lesson for 3rd graders. Notice the use of the text tool, the drawing tool and the highlighting tool. (As ES, who is a world-class math-a-phobe, filled out the worksheet, he made liberal use of the eraser.)

(Note: The exit ticket activity is taken from an EngageNY Math unit for 3rd grade that has been "Roadmap-ized," i.e., three Michigan teachers (Monique Coulman, Puja Mullins, Dawn Michalak) have converted the paper-and-pencil, EngageNY Math curricula for grade 3, to digital lessons that can be enacted in 1-to-1 classrooms. Want to use these digital lessons in your 1-to-1 math class? Send us an email, please!)

A PDF file can support more than a "practice" worksheet. Ms. Monique Coulman, 3rd grade teacher at Haas Elementary in Genesee County, MI, has her students using PDFPal to mark-up a picture to answer the following question:

  • "Would this place look different after 1 year, 10 years, and 1,000,000 years? Predict changes you think may occur in different time periods.Write those changes or show them on the photo. You will be working to predict changes to a system for your final artifact in this unit."

See Figure 1b. The instructional activity is part of a science unit for 4th grade that is aligned with the Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Want to use these digital, NGSS-aligned curricula in your 1-to-1 science classroom? Send us an email, please! FYI: We have NGSS-aligned Roadmap curricula for grades 3, 4, and 5.

Try PDFPal! Load a PDF into PDFPal and mark it up! See for yourself It truly is that simple! Finally, an easy-to-use app for marking up PDFs!

The undergrads at the University of Michigan who created PDFPal deserve a major shout out: David Cao, Nikolas Hill, Alexander Hunt, Austin Klopfer, Josh Meyer, Joh Reeves, Jonathan Ye thank you for your productive efforts!