Masthead header

Category Archives: Workflow

File Naming Conventions

I’m back! It’s been a while, but in my defense, in this last year I became pregnant, was a waddling zombie as soon as I was off the clock, and now have a beautiful baby that keeps me busy 🙂 I’m currently on maternity leave from work, and while I’m definitely enjoying the time with my little one (and happy to dodge the stress that accompanies the first week of school), I do miss being in the classroom.

I thought I’d get my feet wet with what is an easy-to-write but (in my opinion) incredibly important post: How to name your files. Yes, it may seem like a boring topic (unless you’re an organization junkie, like me), but if you invest the little bit of time it takes to give your files meaningful names up front, you’ll have less of a headache when you open your course directories the next school year. One of the things I’m most proud of from last school year are all the comments I received from my students that lauded my organization of Google Drive, and many of them specifically praised my file naming convention since it made organizing their notes very easy.

I wrote an earlier post on how to organize your files in Google Drive and load them into Notability if you want to check out how my students receive their notes and worksheets in my semi-paperless classroom. My students deal with around 20 files in an individual unit, which could lead to a lot of fruitless searching and tears come finals week. Good file naming practices eliminate that nightmare. Here’s a screenshot of a typical unit in Notability:

A typical snapshot of a unit in Notability.

A typical snapshot of a unit in Notability.

Students typically receive 3 types of files in my classroom – homework (video notes), in-class notes, and worksheets – and notice that it’s very clear in the above screenshot what type of note the file contains and which unit it belongs to, in addition to the filename. My convention is:


So if I were to create a worksheet about Absolute Value Equations in Unit 01 on our 3rd day of the unit, I would name the file Worksheet_Alg2Unit01Day03_AbsValueEqns. You want to put the assignment type first so that Notability/Drive groups all the worksheets together, all the notes together, and all the homework together, which helps give you and your students direction when scrolling through a long list of filenames. (Tip – the default setting in Notability is to list files by date, not by name, so make sure your students adjust that setting accordingly). I also use this convention for my unit calendars, which are then super easy to pull up from the search bar since there are only 10 of them – I don’t have to navigate through all my directories to open one!

If you have another way of organizing your files, please leave a note in the comments! And good luck to all the teachers on their first day of school 🙂

Let’s race! Engage your students with Socrative

Socrative is one of my students’ favorite new classroom apps, mostly because of its Space Race game. Socrative is both free and web-based, so you can run it on any system. Its Space Race activity displays a set of rocket ships on the overhead projector screen, while the students compete with other teams by answering a set of questions. As they get a problem right right, their rocket moves ahead. Again, you’d think there was a monetary prize for the winner as your classroom dissolves into shouts and cheers, but pride will do that to you 😉

You can also assign quizzes and exit tickets on Socrative, and because the Socrative interface is incredibly intuitive, I welcome you to dive in and just play with it. If you’d like a tutorial, you’ll also find that in the set of videos below (and if you have never seen Socrative in action, I do recommend watching the second video!), but what I’d really like to emphasize in this post is the Space Race set-up.

Socrative Space Race

The first time I ran Space Race, it worked beautifully, and then the next section dissolved into complete chaos, as I’m sure you’ve experienced with new activities (Physics, anyone?). So whether you’re tech savvy or not, I strongly recommend reading these pointers that I learned the hard way.

  • Socrative requires you to enter how many teams will be playing before you start. Before you launch the game, make sure that only one person from each team is logged into Socrative, and confirm that each team realizes who their point person is. If more people log in than there are teams, the rocket assignment gets totally messed up. Once each team is logged in properly, then hit “Start Activity”.
  • DO NOT let the students choose a rocket color. Let Socrative auto-assign that for you. If not, fights will break out. Seriously.
  • Make sure that the students have a team name picked before you start the game. This is completely irrelevant, but Socrative always makes you enter your name before you start an activity for data collecting purposes. If the teams don’t pick a name, they spend time arguing over this one screen, which slows them down and annoys them later when they’re behind.
  • After you end the game, don’t forget that you have the option to receive the teams’ scores and a list of problems they got right/wrong. This is very handy as you can check if there are questions that the entire classed missed that you should review.

Other things to keep in mind in terms of competition:

  • Remind the students that it’s not who finishes first – it’s who finishes the most problems correctly first. A lot of them will stop when they think they have no chance of winning… but then maybe the first team done actually gets two wrong, so other teams still could win.
  • Some teams believe they have no chance of winning from the beginning, and think they should just quit. If that attitude manifests itself, I have each student submit their work for the problems on a piece of paper after the game. This not only forces them to do the work, but it helps them get back into a good mindset. In fact, once some of those teams actually start working, they do really well!

The videos below will walk you through setting up a Quiz or Space Race, and then launching a race/quiz. It may take some time setting up, but I promise your students will love it 😀

Click here to access Socrative User Guide (with tutorials) as a pdf

Lastly, thanks to my coworker Suzanne for introducing me to Socrative 🙂

Notability – Notetaking Features

Gah! This post took waaayyyy longer than I intended – recording videos is harder than I thought!

So, with that introduction, I hope you enjoy the overview of all Notability’s powerful features 🙂 So as not to overwhelm you, I broke up this post into five videos outlining Notability’s more advanced notebook tools:

  1. Handwriting – Demonstrates how to keep your handwritten notes tidy. And math teachers, pay special attention to the Zoom tool. Creating solutions sheets will take half the time with this as well as the ability to export them immediately to the web 😀
  2. Typing – Gives a few good rules of thumb when typing your notes, keeping in mind to not use Notability like a word processing program.
  3. Web Clips – Walks you through Notability’s web-browser so students can bookmark all their web-based activities in the same notebook they’re using to take lecture notes.
  4. Pages – Shows you how to organize and filter your notebook to find notes more easily.
  5. Recording – My favorite FAVORITE feature. Seriously, if you are a math student, it will change your life.

But first, below is a screenshot that points out (literally) the basic menu options, which are all very intuitive. (It also includes a photo of my dog because there was too much whitespace, and Notability lets you add media, so why not?)


Without further ado, please enjoy the latest additions to my YouTube channel!

Get organized in Notability

If I were to suggest one (free) note-taking app for my class next year, it would be Notability. Although I’m totally in love with Evernote for my own personal use, I think Notability is ideal for classroom use. In one screen, it allows you to take typed notes and handwritten notes, with several formatting options. In addition, you can take notes on PDFs, Powerpoints, photos, images from the web, etc. You can even layer voice recordings over your notes so a student can explain concepts verbally as well as visually. It’s a great way to incorporate several different learning styles in one document.

Before I show off Notability’s great features, I figured we should establish the most important thing: a solid classroom workflow. My school is going 1:1 this year, and I’m hoping to start off on the right foot. Here’s how I’m envisioning the students note-taking routine in my class:

  • Students organize their Notability folders by class and unit.
  • I organize my student notes on Google Drive by class, unit, and section.
  • Students have access a public folder on my Google Drive to download notes for each unit.
  • Students open or create a new file for each section or day.
  • Files (notes) are either saved to their Notability or uploaded back to their Google Drive (their preference).
Let’s look at getting that set up! The first video will show you how to set up your Google Drive to share files with your students. The second will walk you through getting your students organized in Notability. If you have further questions, leave a note in the comments below.
How to set up your Google Drive for sharing with your students:

How to organize your files in Notability:

July 2, 2014 - 6:52 pm

Tara Komar - Nicole, you rock. I’m just now trying to figure out how to get everything organized for my classes, so this is great. Still can’t deal with the new LMS, Canvas, though–too much new stuff to process. Thanks for this.

August 11, 2015 - 8:33 am

File Naming Conventions » - […] I wrote an earlier post on how to organize your files in Google Drive and load them into Notability if you want to check out how my students receive their notes and worksheets in my semi-paperless classroom. My students deal with around 20 files in an individual unit, which could lead to a lot of fruitless searching and tears come finals week. Good file naming practices eliminate that nightmare. Here’s a screenshot of a typical unit in Notability: […]

How I learned to love Google Drive

I started using Google Drive when it was just Google Docs, and it was just… okay. If you had the same experience, you might have stopped using it for a few years and kept praying that Office would eventually be free. Google has made many changes since then, and this year I’ve been really impressed with their interface updates and come to very much appreciate the ability to collaborate. I finally have a system down so that uploading, accessing, and sharing files is now a breeze. Below are a few tips that have made my transition from my desktop to the cloud a seamless experience.


The Drive homepage

You can drag and drop!
You probably have created folders to organize your files in, but I find that sometimes I forget to save documents in the proper folder. All you have to do is drag that file from its current location to where you want it to be. Of course, that’s not all – you can also drag files and folders from your Desktop into Google Drive directly for upload! You might be thinking, “Uh, duh” but it seriously blew my mind the first time I did it. (I think it’s because that feature doesn’t generally exist on other websites.) Anyway, Drag and Drop saves you a lot of time and headache.


You can either drop files into the navigation window in either the sidebar or main screen.

When in doubt, right-click
Again, I may be a ding-bat, but I didn’t realize a useful menu would actually come up! When I first started using Drive, I would open the file itself to access the “Share”, “Move to”, and “Rename” options. I would have saved a bunch of time if I just tried right-clicking instead. Well, you live and you learn 😛


Right clicking magic.

Use the Search bar
Seriously – if you get in the habit of using that thing when you can’t find something in any Google product, you will save yourself a lot of time (at this rate, all the time you’ve saved may add up to an episode of Sherlock!). And if you really REALLY can’t remember what you named a file, Google not only searches by filename but also by words contained in the file. In the example here, Google will pull up any file that contains the word “math”. Best of all, if you know what kind of file it was or can narrow it down by any other criteria, click on the right drop-down arrow in the Search bar and select what category the file falls under. (And even more fancy search operators can be found here.)


Dear Google, thanks for making searching a thing. Love, me.

Change the color of your folders
This simple thing has made reading my Drive so much easier. Assigning adjacent folders different colors really helps me distinguish the file names more easily. Also, I really like all their color choices!


Look at all the pretty colors!

Share entire folders
I used to share individual files with my students, and either email or post links to every single one on my website. One of my coworkers pointed out this trick that is MUCH less time-consuming. Although each of my Unit folders are private, there is a shared “Student Files” folder in each of them, and I post a link to that folder on my website. My students now have access to ALL the files in that folder. If I need to update the folder with a worksheet, solutions, or any other new file my students need access to, I simply drop it in the “Student Files” folder. This means I don’t have to add or update any links on my page, which makes me less crazy 🙂   I also use this feature for sharing club agendas, meeting notes, and lesson plans. Collaboration is really so much simpler now!


Pay attention to Drive’s file naming convention
You have have noticed that “Unit 10” comes after “Unit 1” and before “Unit 2”. If you want your files to be in the proper order, make sure to name them “Unit 01” that way “Unit 10” comes after “Unit 09”.

I hope this makes your transition to Google Drive a smooth one! If you have any tips, please share them in the comment section. And stay tuned for tips on using Drive’s tools – Documents, Presentations, Forms, and Drawings.