Make Better Resources (Part 1: Speed Up)

A good quality resource is hard to find. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I think all of us have at some point gone on a seemingly endless scavenger hunt online, only to settle for the crappy resource we started with, or a shrug and a flick through the text book. It’s getting easier. Blogs like resourceaholic and Don Steward are real gold mines, and new ones are cropping up all the time. What I want to focus on here though is how you can create a great resource yourself easily and quickly. This post will be in three parts. This is part one: the “quicker” bit. Part two will be about resource quality, and part three will be about creativity.

Step 1 : Learn to Touch Type.
This is a no brainer. The faster you can type, the quicker you produce a document. I know people who take hours to produce something that should take ten to fifteen minutes. What an enormous waste of your time, and yet another huge contributor to this idea of teachers spending all their time planning. Learning to touch type can take just a few weeks. This is a relatively small investment that will pay you back for the rest of your career. It’ll also pay dividends in your personal life too – because you’ll have more of one!  Where do you start?

typing2

I’d go to typeonline.co.uk  Do the exercises, work up to the typing tests, and log your results over time. Practice every day, and don’t be deterred by the fact that you’ll probably slow down before you speed up. Invest and you could be typing at 70, 80 or even 90+ words a minute. If you have more than two months left of your teaching career, you’d be pretty foolish not to get your typing speed sorted out.

Step 2: Get to Grips with Picture Formatting in Word

DO THIS BIT NOW:
Change your default settings for pasting and inserting images to either ‘Square’ or ‘In Front Of Text’ (I prefer the latter). That’ll stop Word screwing around with your text when you put an image into a document. It’ll also stop you throwing your laptop out of the window as you try and get everything aligned. You find this nugget in the Word / Preferences / Edit menu (Mac). It should be pretty similar in Windows. Old versions will be something like Tools / Options.

*Edit: Word 2013 for Windows : File / Options / Advanced

editing defaultediting 2

OK so now you can (or will be able to soon) type up a nice worksheet in a matter of minutes, and throw images into the document exactly where you want them to go… instantly.

Step 3: The Equation Editor

When Microsoft finally decided to include the Equation Editor a few years ago (probably more years than I care to admit), maths teachers around the known universe rejoiced. The world got a little better, and somewhere far far away a little kitten probably had to die to keep the balance.

WORTH IT

Worksheets involving square roots, fractions, division and indices used to be the stuff of nightmares. No more. Behold!

equation editor

(sadly online blogs haven’t quite caught up yet. No I’m not installing the widgets.)

Remember you can still alter fonts and, crucially, font sizes in equation editor. Fractions and indices can get pretty damn small if you’re not careful. You can also alter the equation editor default settings in the same area as you just did the pictures (Word / Preferences / Equation Editor) to stop it resizing fractions.

Consider using columns too, to squeeze more into a worksheet.

Step 4: Those Pesky Graphs

Once upon a time there was nothing worse than the daunting task of creating a worksheet around a topic that involved axes, or general plotting of any kind. Armed with only a blank piece of paper, a ruler and a fine liner, one would kiss one’s wife and children goodnight on a Friday at 3pm, and disappear into the backroom until Sunday evening.

Well no more damnit. The Internet kindly invented* Desmos and, the quicker/cruder GraphSketch. Technology also invented screen grab / crop tools for the super lazy.

You can adjust axes, add labels, functions, bananas. They’re amazing.

banana graph

*Note: Everything on the Internet was, by default, invented by The Internet. This is not up for debate.

Step 5: Become the Triangle Master

Last tip for today: Creating shapes. Less cool than throwing shapes…

big-lebowski

Creating shapes in a worksheet can be a real pain in the backside. Trying to get nice neat little circly bits on the vertices to squeeze a tiny angle measurement into is the devil. My advice is to avoid doing that. Just place a text box (no background, no border) and write the angle in plain text into the corner of the shape. You can create a super quick degree symbol by just ‘superscripting’ an O. Like soo

superscript

The triangle options are pretty lousy, but you can create other types, or pretty much any shape at all using the handy freeform tool, which will automatically turn your dots into a shape when you come back to the first dot.

freeform

Don’t forget to change your shape to black outline, no fill.

Finally, once you have your pesky angles / lengths and your shape all made, don’t forget to GROUP them, otherwise moving it around will be … terrible. To group them, select each component individually, whilst holding SHIFT (to multiple select), then right click, grouping / group

group

Obviously there’s other software you can use to make worksheets, some of it maths specific, but it costs (more) money. And the chances are, on your work laptop, this is all you’ve got.

Any tips and tricks to add? Please do so in the comments.

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6 thoughts on “Make Better Resources (Part 1: Speed Up)

  1. In Word it is simple to copy a picture from anywhere to the clipboard, and just paste it into your Word document.
    I tried to find default settings for picture layout, and failed. Just click the picture, go to “format picture” and choose “layout” .
    Without a picture editor it is simple to paste the clipboard pic into Paint, crop it or select your bit, copy to clipboard and then as above.

  2. The reason you’re running into problems using Word is that Microsoft Word was never designed for making the kinds of documents you’re describing. Word is great if you’re writing a letter or a novel but it baffles me why so many teachers use it to make worksheets when the natural choice for such a task is clearly Microsoft Publisher. It’s so much easier to get everything set out exactly where you want it and you can easily save the file as a pdf too at the end if you want to.
    Also, I find that quicker than a superscript O is to hold down Alt and press 0176 (you have to use the keypad on the right of your keyboard). To get ² use Alt 0178 and try Alt 0179 for ³.

    • Thanks for the tips. I’ve never used Publisher to make worksheets. I’m trying to show how you can optimise Word or PowerPoint for what you want. I doubt many teachers are overly familiar with Publisher. Perhaps that needs addressing?

      • I was lucky enough to be taught how to use Publisher in my IT lessons at school. It’s easy to use. When you make a new document you have a blank slate. It doesn’t assume that you want the whole page to be just text like Word does. You insert text boxes only in the places where you want text and then the rest of the page is left for word arts, clip arts and images you have copied in. Once you get familiar with it you’ll never go back.

  3. You can time save a number of common mathematical operations if you enable them in the math autocorrect of the proofing menu. Typing \int for example just gives you the integration symbol. There is even a \binomial although it’s a mess compared to the built in function. The list is in the proofing menu.

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