Make PDFs Interactive with Kami

Last week, my students began reading excerpts from The Sixth Extinction to complement our Environmental Unit. I shared the PDF version because our library only had a few copies of the book. When my students asked me how I wanted them to annotate the text, I said they could make annotative notes in digital notebooks since I wasn’t aware of a free tool that would allow them to easily annotate a PDF. Then one of those magical moments happened in class when a student becomes the expert and shares a tool I’ve never heard of.

My student, Derek, said, “Hey, Tucker, have you ever used Kami?” I said that I had not heard of it. I immediately paused the class and Derek shared this awesome Google Chrome Extension! Kami makes annotating PDFs super simple.


Kami allows the user to:

  • highlight
  • strikethrough
  • underline
  • comment
  • add text
  • draw
  • add shapes

Even though Kami saves annotations every minute, some students immediately close their Chromebooks when they are finished reading and annotating, so it’s possible they might lose the last couple of notes they made if they don’t click the “save now” button. I’d encourage you to remind your students to do this.

Kami + Google Classroom

The best part of Kami is how seamlessly it works with Google Classroom. A teacher can find a PDF they want students to actively read and share that PDF via Google Classroom. When creating your assignment, select the option to “Make a copy for each student.”


If students have already added Kami as a Chrome Extension, then they will be asked if they want to open the PDF you’ve shared with Kami. As soon as it’s opened using Kami, your students will have access to all of the features listed above and you will be able to see their annotations when you click into their assignments in Google Classroom!

As students annotate the PDF, any collaborator on the document can respond to the questions and comments posted on that PDF creating the opportunity for an ongoing conversation about the text.

It’s so important in this digital age when so many students consume text online that they learn how to transfer their pen and paper annotation strategies to the online space. Kami is another fantastic tool for supporting active reading online.

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Wunderlist: Helping Students Stay Organized

I work with teenagers so organization (or the lack thereof) is always an issue. In a blended learning model where online and offline tasks are blended together, students frequently struggle to keep track of everything. In an effort to support my organizationally challenged students, I regularly introduce strategies and technology tools that I hope will help. Enter: Wunderlist!

Wunderlist is a free app that allows the user to:

  • compile and share “to do” lists
  • create folders
  • set reminders and due dates
  • make notes
  • use hashtags to organize information

When I mentioned that I used Wunderlist and found it really helpful, one of my students, Abbey, said she also used it and loved it. She volunteered to design a station to guide her peers through using Wunderlist. Click on the image below to view her slide deck.

If you have favorite strategies and/or tech tools to help students stay organized, please share them!

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Disengaged Teachers: A Problem We Need to Solve

I frequently hear about high numbers of students who are not engaged in their learning, but I hear less about teachers who are not engaged in their work. However, a Gallup Poll found that 57% of teachers report that they are “not engaged” at work, with an additional 13% reporting that they are “actively disengaged.” This is alarming. How can we expect students to be engaged in their learning if their own teachers are not engaged?

As I consider what is causing teachers to be disengaged, I’m reminded of Daniel Pink’s Drive in which he explores human motivation. This book was a game changer for me as an educator. It challenged me to really think about what motivates my students and how to keep them interested and engaged in their learning. Pink identified three essential elements that drive human motivation:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

When I think about these three elements in the context of teaching, it becomes less shocking that so many teachers are unengaged.


Autonomy is the ability and desire to direct our own lives. It is the freedom and independence to make decisions and govern oneself. Yet, how many teachers feel autonomous in the current climate of standardization?

Many teachers are mandated to use a specific curriculum and follow rigid pacing guides that leave little time or space for autonomy and creativity. Teachers are creative beings; however, as soon as the ability to create is stripped away, many teachers lose the passion that led them into this profession.

I know if I was asked to teach a canned curriculum, like so many teachers are forced to do, I would no longer be in this profession. My favorite part of teaching is designing curriculum. It allows me to draw on my own passions and think outside the box to engage even my most reluctant learners. I’ve been fortunate to work on a campus where I have such a high degree of autonomy. I’m respected as a professional and given the space to draw on my own expertise and passions to design dynamic learning experiences for my students.



Mastery, as defined by Pink, is the desire to get better and better at something that matters to us. The art of teaching should matter to every educator, so it blows my mind when I see teachers who do not aggressively pursue their own learning. We are teaching in a time of unprecedented change. Technology is radically impacting the way students learn and, as a result, teachers are expected to adapt their teaching to engage a new era of students.

I’ve often said that

the best teachers are the best learners.Click To Tweet When I lead professional development, I can always spot the teachers who I would love to have if I was a student. They ask questions, experiment with new ideas, ask for more resources, and grab every opportunity to learn. On the flip side, I’ve worked with plenty of teachers who spend more time checking their email than engaging with new teaching techniques during professional development. During conversations, they focus on all of the “buts” or all of the reasons they cannot do something, instead of using the time to be creative problem solvers.

It’s heartbreaking to watch teachers actively choose not to engage in professional development, especially since my #1 goal as a trainer is to engage them. My trainings are hands-on and practice-based, which makes it even more obvious when a teacher is choosing not to engage. I want to scream, “This is time that’s been given to you so you can learn something new. Use it!” So, the question is, how to do we get teachers to want to continue learning?

I believe the only way to inspire teachers to want to continue learning is if a school culture celebrates learning at all levels. This can be achieved by building a robust professional learning infrastructure that provides ongoing support for teachers in the forms of coaching and PLCs (professional learning communities), instead of trying to cram learning into a handful of professional development days each year.



Pink defines purpose as “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.” That definition screams teaching. Most of us enter this profession because we are committed to teaching and inspiring a new generation. However, this clarity of purpose can be easily clouded by years of feeling unsuccessful in our mission to teach and inspire. It’s understandable that this feeling of purpose may have waned for many educators.

The key to maintaining a clarity of purpose is to connect with other educators who are passionate and inspired. On the days when I leave my classroom feeling disillusioned or frustrated, I find solace in my own personal learning network on Twitter. It’s crucial that teachers find a space where they can connect with other inspired and inspiring educators to maintain a clear purpose. We all have tough days when we wonder, “Why did I enter this profession? What was I thinking?” On those days, we need a reminder about WHY we do this incredibly hard job. Building a network of educators who can serve to remind you of the why is key.

I know from experience that my level of excitement and engagement transfers directly to my students. When they see me giddy about something, they are immediately curious about it too. On the flip side, if I’m not excited or passionate about something, my students will be the first ones to pick up on that. Since one unengaged or actively disengaged teacher has contact with 150+ students, the effects of that disengagement can be catastrophic for those students.

Schools must focus on reigniting teacher passion and re-engaging those teachers who have become disengaged. If we cannot do that, we will continue to see the numbers of disengaged students skyrocket.

I welcome thoughts, insights, strategies, and suggestions for how we can help to motivate and re-engage teachers!

Posted in Learning | 19 Comments