Five Essential Keyboard Shortcuts for Coders (and other humans)

Control-Z Keyboard Shortcut Illustrated

Keyboard shortcuts? Why bother?

It used to be fairly safe for a computer science instructor to assume that:

  • Folks who took programming courses were very interested in computers and had already spent a lot of time on a desktop or laptop computer.
  • Folks who spent a lot of time on computers had also spent a lot of time on their keyboards and were likely to be fluent with a core set of keyboard shortcuts.

Neither is true any more. Business students take web development courses simply to get a better understanding of how web sites are put together. Science students now often enroll in Intro CS because it is required for their major. Science is rarely done entirely in test tubes or on bench-tops these days; modeling and simulations are ever more important. Neither group may ever have been interested in computers in their own right.

And, these days, even folks who spend a LOT of time on electronic devices now are not necessarily physical keyboard users. They may well spend most of their time poking and swiping or even, heck, talking to that little box. When they do use a conventional keyboard and mouse, they mostly use menu options accessible via mouse (Edit/Undo, File/Save) rather than keyboard shortcuts.

But, when you are in a coding class, getting your wrist neurons wrapped around a small set of keyboard shortcuts can save you TONS of time and frustration. Sure, the same work can be done with a mouse and the menu options. But not as fast and not as fluently. The less you have to think about when making certain kinds of small changes, the more you can keep the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish in context.

When you’re not in coding class, the keyboard shortcuts can still be big time savers. If you’re a student who is stepping up your writing game to produce multiple short essays a week or a few longer papers a semester, keyboard fluency can make that work go faster. If you are a teacher who has to grade online or a business person who responds to a lot of emails, the faster and more accurately you can copy/paste, undo, and save, the faster you can cut through the administrivia of your day and get on to other tasks.

So, in order from most important to least, these are my nominations for the five essential keyboard shortcuts all modern humans should know. Mac users note: on your keyboard, substitute the Cmd (command) key for the Ctrl (control) key.

#1: Ctrl-Z — Undo

If you’re like me, you make a lot of small mistakes and/or change your mind a lot as you type. Having the Undo command literally at your fingertips can save time, your mouse shoulder, and sometimes, for coders, your whole day if you can use it to transform mysteriously now-broken code back into the previous was-working code.

For coders: Note that you can use Ctrl-Z not just once but repeatedly. If you had code that was working, then made changes in several places and now have code that won’t run at all, take a few minutes to scan back through your many changes and see if you can spot the problem. But don’t waste time on this step. If you can’t identify the defect after a thorough scan of your new/modified code, Ctrl-Z your way back to greatness (i.e., working code), then, slowly, carefully work your way forward again, testing as often as you can. Feel like undoing lots of changes is too slow for you? A) Test more often, you’ll have less code to fix. B) Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.

For other humans: Undo is not only great for fixing your own writing. It should be your number one weapon in the ongoing battle against the increasingly over-zealous auto-corrects and auto-formats of your mail and word processing programs. Want a hyphen at the start of a line and it keeps getting turned into a bullet point? A backspace deletes too much. Ctrl-Z undoes just the auto-formatting and leaves your hyphen where you put it. Working on an employee manual and keep seeing the HSA you type get auto-corrected to HAS? Ctrl-Z is a quick fix. (But if you have a problem like this consistently, know that you can change the auto-correct dictionary for just about any product.)

#2: Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V — Copy/Paste

Just about everyone knows the mouse/menu options for copy/paste. Master the keyboard shortcuts. Seriously. Speed of execution goes WAY up.

For those of you who don’t: Simply highlight the text you want to copy. Hit Ctrl-C. Move your cursor to the location where you want the copy to go. Hit Ctrl-V. If you haven’t ever tried it, open a document editor right now and give it a go. Seriously. We’ll wait here for you till you come back.

#3: Ctrl-X/Ctrl-V — Cut/Paste

Ctrl-X, Cut, is the under-appreciated sibling of Ctrl-C. In coding, particularly when you are trying to fine-tune some almost-working code, you more often want to move some code than make another copy of it. If you use Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V, you have to remember to go back and delete the old copy. If you CUT the code, rather than copying it, you know you’ll end up with it in only one place. Afraid of being interrupted in the middle of the operation and losing something? See Ctrl-Z above.

#4: Ctrl-F — Find

Perhaps you are scanning through code to remind yourself of a variable name. Or you find yourself scrolling up and down through a long web page or Word doc to find that one critical sentence you know has to be there. STOP. Don’t scroll, Find. There are very few text-based products any more (and that includes web browsers and pdf readers) that don’t respond to a Ctrl-F by putting up a search box to help you find a word or phrase. No, it’s not a Google search tool. You have to type the word(s) exactly to find them. But compared to scrolling, Find can save your time and your eyes.

#5: Ctrl-A — Select All

Ctrl-A is usually used as a precursor to Ctrl-C. You want to copy all the text out of a doc or a source code file. You can place your cursor at the top and scroll down to the bottom, highlighting as you go. Or you can simply Ctrl-A to select all the text. Be warned, though, this is the one keyboard shortcut that works significantly less well on browser pages. You may end up selecting text you did not want out of menus and nav bars.

#6: Ctrl-S — Save!

Google docs and the auto-save features in many other online tools have made all of us less vigilant about saving compulsively. But, coders, your online code editor is probably configured to wait for you to explicitly Save a file. And, other humans, if you still use the desktop versions of Excel and Word, don’t be in the habit of waiting till you hit the Close button and being prompted to Save. Save early, save often, save tears.

Yeah, sure, my top five list has six entries. Consider 6 just a bit of lagniappe waiting for anyone who got all the way to the end.

How to Make an Oppia Exploration (Ed Tech Reviews)

Welcome graphic from

What is Oppia? Find out about in my previous post, Oppia: Opportunity for Progressive Learning or Open-Content Muddle?

Creating the Dimensional Analysis Exploration

As I left off in my last post, I tried out by creating an exploration called “Dimensional Analysis for Chemistry.” In short, while the creation process is a little laborious depending on the complexity of the exploration, I was rather pleased with the content creation tools. In particular, I was impressed by the powerful options for setting the feedback rules for user responses. In my opinion, Oppia may have a place in a teacher’s tool belt–or it can just become a creative hobby. Here’s the good and the…almost good, to consider when you look at Continue reading

Tell Us What You Gotta Cram and We’ll Give It to You Pronto

Let Study Putty Be Your Study Buddy Tonight

It’s a free memorization tool!

If you are a student looking for a new way to memorize the crud you have to cram for class, Study Putty would like to help.

Why do we beat quizzing yourself on that crinkled cheat sheet another twenty-seven times? Why do we top reading the same table in your textbook on endless repeat? (With prospects that thrilling, do I even need to say?) Well, let me tell you. Nay, let me show you. Does your normal way of studying look like this?

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 11.01.46 AM

Demonstrating our “constructive feedback” feature running in Shakespearean English.

Continue reading

15+ Free Games to Memorize the Periodic Table of Elements

Master the Mother of All Charts

Content requests? Or are you interested in developing custom learning tools for your classroom? Contact us!

Where the cool kids go to scrape by on tests.

Periodic table stock in this graphic by Wikipedia user DePeip. CC3.0 Attribution/Share-alike.

Visit our project to use our awesome memorization tools. It’s free and it’s a change of pace from quizzing yourself on that crumpled-up cheat sheet for the twenty billionth time, for the love of Gallium. Click the logo below to go there now! Continue reading

Study Putty: Chemistry Activities for Home and Classroom

“Memorization” is a foul word in education. Students hate doing it. Teachers hate that their students spend so much time trying to cram data into their noggins when the point is really the concept, not the vocab. But this doesn’t change the fact that mastering ‘vocabulary’ — whether it be definitions, abbreviations, symbols, or formulas — is a crucial hurdle students must get over.

“Critical thought, evaluation, and synthesis all sit on the backbone of vocabulary.”
Rachel Watson,
Professional Academic Lecturer, Dept. of Molecular Biology at the University of Wyoming, non-fan of rote memorization, and creator of her own open courseware


Matching names and formulae of common polyatomic ions.

Easing the student’s memorization burden is the idea behind Study Putty, our set of online learning activities currently under development and available for students to use.

Study Putty provides several straightforward ways to memorize information. It’s not a game or a sim, it’s just a variety of memorization activities for fundamental facts prerequisite to mastering important concepts. We are starting with the subject of chemistry and looking to grow into other fields. Our chemistry activities are designed to get the dirty job of memorization done so the student can move on with labs, with class, with life. All of our activities are free to use. Continue reading

Ionic Bonding Explained (Videos)

A Chemical Bond Breakdown by an Internet Chem Guru

Tyler DeWitt might be the Internet’s favorite chemistry teacher–well, after Walter White and Bill Nye the Science Guy. The reason why he’s up there on the list anyway has to do with his point-by-point, easy-to-follow, visually-oriented explanations of the very threshold concepts that students struggle with. The following is the first installment in his video series on ionic bonding. See his channel for the whole series, and for a myriad of other topics.

Continue reading

PhET Provides Interactive Learning for Chemistry

PhET does not stand for Physics Education Technology. Once upon a time it did, but not since they branched out into learning tools for other subjects like chemistry. The PhET team at the University of Colorado in Boulder has long set the standard for online simulations for the sciences.

Their Flash simulations provide learning opportunities both for the chemistry classroom and for the student at home struggling to understand a concept. I picked through their catalogue of free chemistry sims in order to review a selection of what they offer. Continue reading

Sig Fig Rules!–Master Your Significant Digits Here (A Learning Game Contest Example)

[Edit 09.05.13] SigFig is now accessible through our primary chemistry learning web app, Study Putty.

In the preceding weeks we launched our Learning Game Contest, seeking submissions of science/math learning game concepts and offering the prize of a $100 Amazon or iTunes gift card along with the chance of seeing that idea implemented in a playable game. With the intention of demonstrating the sort of concept we’re looking for, and to show how your concept could become a working game, we recently published Sig Fig Rules! online.

If you have ever taken a chemistry course, whether in high school or college, you may remember the lesson on significant digits. If your response to being asked to identify significant and insignificant digits was, like mine, “Discrimination! Who am I to tell a number his existence is insignificant?” you, like me, might have benefited from a learning tool such as this. Continue reading

Comparing Online Textbook Support and Resources: How do four major publishers measure up?

Image Source:

E-book and e-textbook sales, as well as sales of conventional higher-education textbooks, are on the rise due to increased college enrollment. Evaluating the online resources and learning technologies associated with prospective college texts has become an imperative, but sometimes daunting task.

Most textbook publishers have stepped up to the plate by providing a number of digital services, e-texts, and online resources to help the users of their conventional text books.  These are tools for both the educators who teach from and the students who learn from those texts.

Many publisher products target educators short of time for preparation by generating pre-made or customized lesson plans and syllabi, as well as tailoring curriculum and even online texts to instructor’s specifications. Opportunities for hybrid or blended courses abound. Text-specific assessments and interactive learning technology for students are also available for many texts. Several companies are even engineering complete online classes which can be accessed directly by students, employed by instructors or adopted by institutions.

Below is a comparison of the learning technology resources available from the science text publishers Pearson, Wiley, Cengage and McGraw-Hill, followed by a brief summary and highlight of each company’s unique offerings. Continue reading