"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." --John Dewey

The "Apple" Key

Hello fellow Mac users.  This page contains tips for using your Apple computer like a pro, and saving time and energy in the process.  Practice a shortcut or two each week, and before you know it you'll be the neighborhood Mac expert.  One word of caution, though.  Back in the old days Apple computers actually had an apple shape on the Command key of every keyboard, and as a result, I've developed the bad habit of referring to the Command key as the Apple key.  So, if I should slip and provide a keyboard shortcut that includes the "Apple key," please just shake your head, utter a quiet "tsk, tsk" for the old dog who's having trouble learning new tricks, and substitute Command.  (I guess that's more than just one word of caution.  Sorry.)

Let's start with some basic, but very useful keyboard shortcuts.

  • After highlighting text, holding the Command key and pressing C will copy the selected text to your computer's clipboard.  The text that was copied will still be in place.
  • Command-X is the shortcut to cut text.  This will remove what was highlighted from your document, but keep a copy of it on your clipboard.  
  • Command-V is the combination to paste the last text that was copied.  Be sure to position your cursor in the spot you want the text before pasting.
  • When you experience that "oh, no" moment (like we all occasionally do), Command-Z is the combination for undo.
These key combinations are often used together, and if you notice the position of the Z, X, C and V keys on your keyboard, you'll see that someone had a thinking cap on when he or she designed these handy shortcuts.

Blue Light Special #2:

Do you use a projector in your classroom to show your students web pages or documents from your computer?  Often, the text that you want your students to see, even when projected, is too small for them to read.  When that happens, try this keyboard trick:  
  • while holding the Command key, press the plus/equal key, and the text on your screen will become larger and easier to read.  
  • You can then press Command and minus to reduce the text size, or 
  • go to the View menu, and scroll to Actual Size to return your screen to the default.

Blue Light Special #3:

We've all seen it:  the "rainbow wheel", "pinwheel of misfortune", "marble of doom", "spinning rainbow disk", "spinning wheel of death" . . . a sure sign of trouble.  Apple apparently calls the familiar icon "the spinning wait cursor," and while simply waiting sometimes works, more often the situation requires more action than just waiting.  The key combination Option + Command + Escape will bring up the Force Quit screen.  All running applications will appear on the screen, and the troublesome one will likely say "not responding."  Force quitting and restarting the application usually does the trick.   

Blue Light Special #4

Have you ever found yourself on one of those amazing webpages that have links to hundreds of other awesome sounding sites?  Very often, as soon as you click on one of those links, you are taken to the new site, and your page of links is now history.  Now you're stuck using the back button, or your history menu to get back to the original page, and quite possibly finding yourself doing a little online cha-cha just trying to get a glimpse of all of those potentially wonderful resources.  

Next time, try this.  Hold down the Command key when you click on the link.  The new page will open in a new tab, adjacent to your original page.  Now going back is as easy as clicking on the original tab.

You can also use the keyboard shortcut Command + T to open a new tab any time you want to keep your present screen open, and start a new page at the same time.  Prefer a whole new window?  Use Command + N.

Blue Light Special #5

You may not find a million uses for it on a daily basis, but your Option key can certainly come in handy more often than you might think.  Using the Option key in combination with letter keys will give you some characters that you might otherwise struggle to get into your word-precessing documents. Here are just a few examples.

  • Option + V will give you a check mark (√).
  • Option + P is useful on Pi Day (π).
  • Option + 8 can be used as a bullet point (•) in programs that don't provide that option.
  • Option + 0 will give you a degree symbol (º).
  • Option + 4 will give you ¢ instead of $.
  • Option + ? will give you ÷ instead of /.
  • Get the tilde in mañana by typing [m, a, (Option+N, n), a, n, a].
  • Get the accent in Tomás by typing [T, o, m, (Option+e, a), s].
  • Option + 1 will give you ¡ instead of !.
  • Option + Shift + ? will give you ¿ instead of ?.
Cool right?  When you have some time, be sure to explore other Options!

Blue Light Special #6

It's been said that good things come in small packages.  It's true of birthday presents, and it's true of your Mac too.  That tiny, little magnifying glass in the far upper right corner of your screen is a mighty powerful tool that has come to be one of my very favorite shortcuts.

The magnifier is officially called the Spotlight Tool, and it can be used to find documents, applications, emails, calendar events and much more.  Just start typing the text for which you're searching, and immediately the spotlight tool will bring up a list of items on your Mac containing your text.

In addition to quickly and easily finding files and applications, your Spotlight tool is a handy calculator. Just type in the problem, and before you even get to the equal sign, the answer is displayed.
Type Shift + 6 for the ^ symbol, and your spotlight can calculate problems using exponents (^2 is used for squaring, ^3 for cubing, . . . ).

And, if all of that wasn't enough, this tool is also a dictionary in disguise.  Type in an unfamiliar word, and you will see its definition in the list that is generated by the Spotlight.

Here's a handy bonus shortcut:  hold Command and press the spacebar to instantly open the Spotlight search area!

Blue Light Special #7

Let's suppose you open a Finder window to take a look at the items you have cluttering your desktop, and find that there are several files you no longer need.  You could drag them, one by one into the trash, but if you're a pack-rat like I am, that could take a while.  Here, however, is a shortcut to make quick work of your desktop house-cleaning.  Select the first file by clicking on it, and then hold down the Command key, and continue clicking on the files you want to remove.  Now, you can drag them all at once, or even quicker, hold down the Control key and choose Move to Trash from the new drop-down menu.  Need to move several files that appear consecutively in the list?  Select the first file, then hold the Shift key and select the last file.  The first, last and every file in between is now selected and ready to move.  Ahhh . . . if only every mess was that easy to put in the trash.

Blue Light Special #8

There are several keyboard shortcuts that will allow you to take a picture of your computer screen (otherwise known as a screenshot).  I'm sure you'll find that remembering how to do at least one of the following will frequently come in pretty handy.

  • Command + Shift + 3 (use the numbers from the top of your keyboard, not the number pad at the right):  This will take a screenshot of your entire computer screen (menus and all) and save it to your desktop. [Hold Control at the same time, and the screen shot is saved not to the desktop, but to the clipboard, ready to be pasted into a document.]
  • Command + Shift + 4:  This will turn your mouse arrow into "crosshairs" which you can then use to select the area of your screen you wish to be in the screenshot.  Click and drag from corner to corner to select the area of your screen, and as soon as you let go of the mouse, the picture is saved to your desktop.  (This one is, by far, my favorite screenshot combination.)  [Hold Control at the same time, and the screen shot is saved to the clipboard, ready to be pasted into a document.]
  • Command + Shift + 4 + Space:  Now you can click on a window and a screenshot of the entire window is saved to the desktop.

Blue Light Special #9

How many times have you found yourself scanning a web page full of text for a particular keyword or phrase?  Or searched a spreadsheet for a particular name or date?  It probably didn't take long before your eyes began to blur, and you found yourself thinking, "there must be an easier way."  Luckily, there is an easy way to find what you're looking for, and it begins in the Edit menu.

Go to the Edit menu of your browser or spreadsheet/word processing program, scroll down to the Find command, and then right to the Find . . . command again.  A search bar will open at the top of your screen, where you can type the word or phrase for which you are searching.  Each occurrence of that word or phrase on the page or document will be highlighted, and you can scroll through them using the arrow keys on your keyboard.  You will be amazed at how much time this quick trick can save.   

Blue Light Special #10

Okay, so this isn't really necessary, but it is nice to know.  The folders on your Desktop or hard drive that are, by default, boring blue, can be customized with an image of your choice.  This will brighten up your work space, with very little effort.

Find an image you would like to use for a particular folder, and copy it.  Now Control-click on the folder, and choose Get Info from the drop-down menu to see in image like the one below.  Click on the folder image in the upper-left corner of the Info screen, and Control-V to paste your image in place of the folder.  That's it!  Bye, bye boring blue!

Blue Light Special #11

Have you become a master of the screenshot?  It's easy to do, I know.  I rely on "Shift+Apple+4" for some reason or another, almost on a daily basis.  As a result, however, my desktop is virtually always cluttered with a random collections of clipped text boxes and pictures, many of which have outlived their usefulness.  Before dragging anything to the Trash, though, I like to make sure the item is, indeed, something with which I can part without regret, and here's how I can take one last "quick look."

With the document or file selected (by a single click), simply press the space bar of your keyboard to open your Mac's "quick look" function.  You'll get a close up view of the item, without waiting for any applications to open.  Then, with quick look engaged, you can zoom in even closer by holding down the Option key and clicking on your document (or Shift+Option to zoom out).  

Go on.  Try this for yourself.  Take a quick look at the things cluttering your desktop, and do some Mac-cleaning before starting the new year.

Blue Light Special #12

The Dock at the bottom of your screen is a handy tool for quickly launching applications.  Unfortunately, it occasionally gets in the way when trying to access a link at the very bottom of a web page, for example.  Never fear!  There are several things you can do to alleviate or avoid the problem.

First, go to the black Apple logo in the far upper left-hand corner of your screen.  When you click on the Apple, you will see a menu that includes Dock as one of your choices.  You'll see that with a simple click of your mouse you can move the dock to either the left or right side of your screen.  Be aware, though, that positioning it on the right side may then interfere with your ability to scroll up or down on your page.  Notice that you can also turn hiding on or off as well as magnification from this menu.

Once you have your Dock where you prefer, by pressing and folding the left mouse button on an application icon, you will get an additional menu, that will allow you to open your most frequented applications automatically when you log in. Pretty handy to have your browser open automatically if the first thing you do each day is check your email.

Finally, if your Dock is just plain too big or too small, you can make it just right by clicking on the separator bar near the end of the Dock opposite the Finder icon.  When your mouse hovers over the separator bar it will become a double sided arrow.  By gently moving your mouse up or down you can resize the Dock until you get it the perfect size.

Blue Light Special #13

Okay, math teachers, this one is for you.
When you're teaching about inequalities, the greater than and less than signs are easy to type on the worksheet or test.  Have you found yourself, though, putting the "or equal to" line on the printed sheet with pen because you can't find a way to do it on your keyboard?  Well, put your pen away.  You can type the ≤ and ≥ signs by holding the Option key when typing < or >.  You can also get a ÷ by holding Option while typing /.  And what about Pi, you ask?  You guessed it--Option p will give you π.