Looking for nonfiction texts to use with your class? Then you should check out Newsela.  On Newsela, you can search for articles on a wide variety of topics, including art, geography, US and world history, science, and math.  These articles are available to teachers for free (there is a paid Pro version that includes additional features).

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Bibliographic information is easily found at the beginning of the article to help students cite their sources using date and author. Photos in each article are sourced and captioned, so students can see what that documentation looks in an authentic writing piece. I can use this to help my students as they write more evidence-based pieces and highlight the importance of citing their sources, whether text or image.

There are also opinion pieces that relate to current events that students are interested in. You can find pro/con articles in this section, written by two different authors.  These will be great mentor texts for when my students are learning to write their own evidence-based opinion writing pieces.

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One amazing feature of Newsela is that you can adjust the reading level on each article to fit the reading needs of each of your students.

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Each article also has a short quiz and writing prompt to support your students’ understanding of the content.

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Text sets are another great feature, as the Newsela staff has organized some articles around specific themes in all of the content areas and Spanish-language articles.

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You can bookmark text sets that you want to reference later or share with your students.

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Since my first unit is on human rights, I am excited to look at articles about civil rights in the past and present, including current events. You can also create your own text sets using the articles available on the Newsela website.

I am looking forward to using Newsela to support my students in their research and nonfiction reading skills. Since I use a lot of inquiry in the classroom, I see myself using Newsela to  provide texts for my students as they learn about the content that is intriguing to them within each unit. Also, I plan on using Newsela to introduce background information to students, so they have a general understanding of each unit before they delve more deeply into the areas that interest them.

I am discovering new things on Newsela every time I log in. Today, I learned that there are transcripts to famous speeches throughout history, including Woodrow Wilson, Sojourner Truth, and Steve Jobs.

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There are also biographies, primary source documents, and myths and legends for you to use with your students.

There are some even newer updates, courtesy of the Newsela Blog: Max6 and Power Words. Max6 are articles designed for elementary school teachers, where the highest reading level is 6th grade. Power Words highlight important and Tier 2 vocabulary words that students need to know, including a definition and a pronunciation button so students can hear what the word sounds like.

There are so many great features to Newsela, and I am sure that you will find more when you get on to discover it yourself. I hope this is a useful tool for both you and your students as you get into nonfiction texts together.




My Storybook

Are you looking for a way for your students to create beautiful books on their own? Then My Storybook is a good website for you! This is a student-friendly, easy-to-use, drag-and-drop website that allows students to publish their writing and share it easily with authentic audiences via email or social media.

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Students can also print their stories to keep or put into a portfolio. There is a $5 fee for downloading the ebook, but it is an option if you, your students, or their families are interested.

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But before they can publish their stories, students have to create them! There are four tools for students to use: items, draw, text, and scene.

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“Items” include clip art and cartoons to add to your story. You can also upload your own images, including drawings, photos, or images from the internet. There is some variety in the available items, but not a lot; it’s good that there is an option for students to do their own illustrations and upload them into their book.

“Draw” allows students to draw directly in their books, using a variety of tools and colors. If students don’t want to upload their own images, this is a great option.

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“Text” is where students can type up their stories. There are limited options for text customization, but font, size, and color should be enough for most students.

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Finally, “Scene” gives students options for backgrounds on their pages. Students can pick a different color scene for each page or no scene. Students can draw and add text and items on top of scenes.

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I didn’t use this with my whole class last year, but I did make it an option for students on their homework projects. I had one student use it, and she said that it was fun and easy to use. I would like to increase my students’ opportunities for typing their writing and sharing it with authentic audiences; My Storybook does both of those for me, so I plan on using it more this year.

Students need a login to save their work. You could have students use their own email addresses, if they have them, or you can have students login using a shared email. Since my school doesn’t provide email addresses, I created a Gmail account for my class to use on websites like this, and it worked really well last year. This website is good for any age student, though it is geared more toward elementary-aged students.

Check out the product I created as an exemplar for the Million Dollar Project.Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 4.21.48 PM

Want to see what using My Storybook looks like in real time? Check out my screencast of My Storybook.

Punctuation Rules!

Now that I have recovered from my ISTE experience, I am starting to go through some of the amazing resources that I learned about while I was there. One that jumped out at me is a Curriculum Pathways resource called Punctuation Rules!. You need a login to access Curriculum Pathways’s tools, but it is free.

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I love grammar, but I have a hard time teaching it in a way that is interesting for students, especially since they usually have a wide range of skills when it comes to understanding and using grammar in their reading and writing. Punctuation Rules! is one tool that I think could help me target students’ individual grammar needs.

Once you launch the resource, you can see all of the punctuation marks that you can learn about. You can jump to a resource by clicking on it. It will take you to the menu where you can look through the different uses of that form of punctuation.Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 5.14.56 PM

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Once you select a usage, you have three options: learn, practice, and quiz.

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The “Learn” tab has a short video outlining definitions, examples, and common traps associated with that specific usage.

The “Practice” tab provides sentences where students practice using the form of punctuation. There are choices or write-ins for each question, so there is an opportunity for students to control some of the practice.

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Once you pick your sentence, you drag the punctuation mark where it needs to go in the sentence. There are sentences where you don’t need the punctuation mark at all, so you have to be paying attention. You check your work after each sentence to see if you are on the right track.

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The “Quiz” tab provides sentences that allow students to assess their understanding of the usage, including any “traps” that they talked about in the video.  You check all of your answers at the end, when you get a handy PDF with your name, usage, and results to share with others.Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 4.56.57 PM

The definitions are not “dumbed-down” for younger students, so there is a helpful glossary that students can open up at any time if the video uses a term that they are unfamiliar with.

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This resource is marked K-8, and I feel like it will be perfect for my 5th graders, but some of the language can be tricky. I think it’s good for students to use the proper terminology, so I like that the glossary is there as a scaffold while they are learning.

I am excited to use this resource as part of my writing workshop this year. My students need to learn about more advanced forms of punctuation, and this resource provides them with short practice opportunities that they could reference again at home if they need to. We could also do it as a whole-class or small-group activity, but I envision myself using this more on a individual basis, if students are struggling with incorporating more advanced punctuation or need additional practice with more familiar punctuation (like commas).

Top Ten Day 4 ISTE 2017

Last day of ISTE 2017.  Here are my final thoughts:

1. Crowds. There were definitely fewer people at the closing keynote than there were yesterday at the random Tuesday keynote. I guess a lot of people had to jet out of there, literally. Hooray for being local, y’all.

2. Music. Still digging this live music at the keynotes. Three for three on high school-aged artists from Austin. Quick recap: Tianna Girls, Charlie Belle, and Grace London. Makes waiting for the keynote to start much more fun.

Grace London

Made on Canva.

3. Serendipity. I started talking with a computer science teacher in North Carolina and it turns out that we had been to several of the same sessions throughout this conference. Great minds think alike.

4. Fatigue. While this has been an amazing learning experience, I am ready for ISTE to be over. I am overflowing with new apps, cool tools, and learning that I can’t wait to take back into the classroom. But I am tired.

5. Social media in the classroom. I went to another session that talked about the importance of using social media in the classroom, modeling it for students, connecting with them, and creating a respectful and responsible community of learners. This session was about Snapchat. I can see how this would be very popular with high school students, but I am curious as to how it would work with elementary students.IMG_51856. Global collaboration. My class next year will likely be very small. Because of this, I am nervous that we will create a sort of “echo chamber”, without a wide variety of voices, perspectives, and opinions. Today, I learned about several tools that should provide us with some collaboration opportunities: Flipgrid, Recap, and PenPal Schools.

7. Sketchnotes. You have probably seen some of these floating around the internet. If not, just Google it; the images will blow you away. Anyway, today I learned how to do my own sketchnotes and use them in the classroom. I like the visual nature of them; I can think of some students that probably would’ve paid better attention were they taking sketchnotes. Here are my first two humble attempts:

8. Rental car shenanigans. My husband and I just downsized to one car, so I rented a car for ISTE. Enterprise closed at 6. I left San Antonio at 4:05; that should’ve been plenty of time. Car returned: 5:55. Whew.

9. Closing keynote. The woman who started Girls Who Code spoke to us, and it was both uplifting and depressing. Depressing that there are so many coding opportunities and so few women in computer science fields, and uplifting because there are people working to get young women interested in these lucrative, in-demand fields.img_1673.jpg10. Reflection. I wasn’t sure how much I would really enjoy ISTE. I loved the math conference I went to, but I am very passionate about math instruction, while edtech is more of a personal hobby. I thought there might not be much I would be interested in (HA…with over 1,000 sessions, how could there not be!?!). Well, it was amazing. I learned so much, and I am excited about a lot of the things I learned. Now it’s time to prioritize what I am going to do first when school starts up in the fall. And it’s time to start budgeting for ISTE 2018 in Chicago.Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 8.00.32 PM

11. Bonus: Yesterday, I talked about people with excessive name tag decorations. Today, I secured a couple of photos so you can see the madness for yourself. 🙂 IMG_5206IMG_5200

Top Ten Day 3 ISTE 2017

Whew. These days are long and action-packed. Here’s my top ten for day 3.

1. Keynote. Wow. The keynote today was awesome. We had a student panel. We compared student growth to cilantro that grows wherever it wants. We compared teachers and wizards. We learned about single stories and untold stories. Amazing. IMG_1626IMG_16312. Talking to exhibitors. I think their favorite sentence might be, “Tell me more about your product.” Their eyes light up, their voices pick up, and they look like Christmas has come early. They must be exhausted by the end of the day, all that enthusiasm.

3. Tidbits. Today was my day for learning little things. I didn’t do as many “sit and get” sessions, but I did a lot of poster sessions and short 20-minute bursts. Like how to search more effectively on Google.IMG_16544. Buncee. Never heard of it before, but it looks like something my students would love to use for presentations. It helps that the person I talked to was also a fifth grade teacher. Holla!

5. Newsela. I’d never heard of it before this conference, but it looks like a good nonfiction resource, especially now that they have US history and thematic units for my students to use during research. Score!IMG_5145

6. KidBlog. Started by a teacher, it’s a safe place for students to blog and share their writing with a wider audience. I ever got a picture with the CEO!IMG_51737. Tired feet. I clearly did more walking today as my feet hurt more than they did yesterday. Just a little more walking to do…

8. Clever session names. I did a session called Under the Sheets with Sheets, which I just thought was so funny. Bonus: I learned lots of cool tricks to try with Google Sheets.IMG_5146

9. WriteSteps. It’s fun to talk to educators about products they are passionate about, especially if they created them. This looks like a good resource for writing instruction. I’ll have to check out the free unit they are sending me.IMG_5136 10. Name tag accessories. You can get these tags to attach underneath your name tag. I have zero. Most people have 3ish. I saw a couple of people today with 20. 20! Clearly I have a lot of catching up to do tomorrow.

Last day and last top ten tomorrow!

Top Ten Day 2 ISTE 17

Another day, another top ten of ISTE 2017.

1. More student presentations. I was really impressed by the student presentations yesterday at ISTE Ignite, and I was happy to see more of them today at the poster sessions. I also saw a lot of regular teachers like me. Since I am a novice conference attendee, I tend to think that only researchers or professors or super teachers can present at conferences. While I know that logically this is not the case, it’s still nice to see regular teachers being given a space to share the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms every day.

2. New things to try with my students. Today, I learned about podcasting, which I am excited to try with my students as I love podcasts.IMG_1593

3. Swag! While I spend most of my time at the Expo trying not to make eye contact with the over 3,600 vendors that I don’t care about, it is definitely worth my while to stop at the ones I do care about. Shout out to IPEVO for hooking me up with my very own document camera!IMG_1603

4. The Expo. While we’re on the topic of the Expo, there are so many pleasant surprises there. I can’t seem to find any of the vendors that I want to visit, but I always stumble upon undiscovered gems that I am so glad I did find. Like the Global Oneness Project, which will be amazing for my globally-minded, IB-learning students.FullSizeRender

5. Powerful presentations. There is always one presentation that causes a monumental shift in my thinking as a teacher. Today, it was the presentation on rubrics. Why are rubrics so vague? Why can’t students use them to improve? I am really excited about changing my rubrics to make them more student-friendly and skill-based.IMG_5129

6. Taking breaks. With so many presentations, attendees, and exhibitors, ISTE can be very overwhelming. I found that taking breaks during the day made me a lot less brain-tired. I brought along a handy non-tech-related book to keep me company (because being continually surrounded by 20,000 strangers is surprisingly lonely).517oaelnrcl-_sx402_bo1204203200_

7. Ponderings. Thinking about how to model good social media usage for my students if I don’t use social media in the classroom with my students.IMG_5115

8. Fun new apps! Like Newsela for reading and vocabulary practice.IMG_1617

9. Google. I love going to “tool” sessions where I leave with new tools under my teacher belt. Today, I learned about the autoCrat add-on to Google Sheets and Google Arts and Culture. Hooray for virtual field trips and high-def artwork.


Fun things to do with autoCrat.

10. The Expo, part 2. From all my wanderings throughout the Expo, the vendors I saw could pretty much be placed into one of three categories:

  1. Hardware that is meant to protect expensive devices from grubby, droppy hands
  2. Super amazing tech security that will protect everything in the district from scary things like viruses
  3. Other (things teachers actually want to use)

Plenty  more fun to be had tomorrow!

(Featured image created on Canva.)

Top Ten Day 1 ISTE 2017

After my first successful professional conference experience at NCTM this year (check out my exploits here, here, and here), I decided to come to ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education)’s conference in San Antonio.  There were several reasons why I wanted to come for the first time to ISTE: 1) I learned so much at NCTM’s Annual Meeting this year, and I was eager to learn more about edtech, a personal interest of mine; 2) I was very envious of everyone’s tweets about the conference last year; 3) I am already very familiar with San Antonio’s convention center, since NCTM was in the same place; and 4) San Antonio is close enough to my home in Austin that I don’t need to fly.

My first day of ISTE top ten, in no particular order:

1. Live music. I was into the jazz duo in the lobby of the convention center and the girl band from Austin. Shout out to the Tiarra Girls. img_1583.jpg

2. New books. Well, just one new book.  I find that reading is a nice way to take a break from all the tech-ness of this conference. IMG_5108

3. Fan girling. I feel pretty good about myself when I recognize someone that a presenter references. In this case, Jennifer Gonzalez and the Cult of Pedagogy being awesome, as usual.IMG_1569

4. Student presenters. One of the coolest parts of ISTE Ignite (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide, lots of information in a short period of time, whew) was the student presenters! One student was an entrepreneur who founded Studio1ne. Another student talked about different apps and websites that he uses, that maybe we might want to use with or introduce to our students:

We also heard from a student (@steamnerds) who was “too young” to join his school’s robotics team, so he started his own. Rock on, Generation Z! (Learned about them in another adult-led Ignite talk).

5. 90 minutes to wait for a session?!? No way, Apple. I don’t care how great your presentations are, that is too much time standing in line and not enough time checking out all the other cool sessions. I will never know what I missed anyway.

6. Good questions. A good thing to keep in mind, as edtech can be pretty overwhelming, and there can be a pretty big feeling of FOMO.IMG_1578

7. Innovation ≠ Technology (necessarily). A good thing to keep in mind at an edtech conference. Just because you use technology does not mean that it is innovative.IMG_1567

8. Radiolab. New fan of this guy right here: Jad Abumrad. Great thoughts about productive struggle and how to work through difficult things to make greatness, or something closer to greatness each time. I like the model he made for Radiolab. I think it also works for education.IMG_1589

9. The Gap. The difference between knowing you can do high-quality work and actually producing it. So good for students–and their teachers–to keep in mind during the learning process.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

10. Size matters. ISTE 2017 is huge! Over 21,000 exhibitors and attendees. All 50 states and over 70 countries represented. Over 8,000 different schools and organizations represented. Maps and “Ask Me” helpers everywhere. People everywhere. Oh. My. Gosh. This thing is so big.

I hope tomorrow is just as thought-provoking!


I first learned about Trello at an International Baccalaureate (IB) workshop on integrating technology into the classroom, and I started using it about 2 weeks ago in the classroom.  I am very excited about how easy it is to use and how quickly my students have grown accustomed to it.  It has made organization of group work so much easier to manage for both me and my students.  I would describe Trello as an organizational and collaboration tool.  My husband, a software engineer, uses Trello at work to keep track of on-going projects, and he would describe it differently, but it is mostly a place for you to make lists and add information under that list.  This information, called “cards”, can be notes, attachments, videos, or images.

I decided to use Trello during my current unit on conflict to help us all keep track of what we need to accomplish.  I was tired to having all of the information myself and was ready to give my students more practice with self-paced learning.  With Trello, each group can move through the unit at his or her own pace, and they have all of the information that they need, when they need it. I put information on Trello, and the students log in and see what they have to accomplish before moving on to the next topic.  I created a Gmail account for my class to use this year, and they log in using that group Gmail address.  While I control the content that goes on the site, my students have access to all of the material.

I have four groups of students, each one learning about one major, historical U.S. conflict: Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, and WWII.  Each group has a Trello board.  This is what the main dashboard looks like, with my four current boards:


When you click on one of the boards, you will see their lists.  These lists are what each group needs to accomplish within a certain track.  In the IB program, we call each track a “line of inquiry”.  They can move through their list at their own pace, and I can see where everyone is and what else they still have to accomplish.  This is what the boards looked like at the beginning of the unit:


For my Revolutionary War group, they have several primary source documents to look at as they synthesize the causes of the Revolutionary War.  They have documents, an image, a voice recording, and a video to watch before they complete the formative assessment.  When you click on one of the cards, more information pops up.  You can see a variety of cards below:


As the students complete each task, they archive it, so it disappears from the main board.  It’s still there to access if they need to go back and look at it for any reason, but it is no longer on their main page.  They can now move on to the next task.


At this point in the unit, every group is finished with their primary resources and is ready to move on to the formative assessment.  Everyone’s board now looks like this:


I started using Trello on a bit of a whim, but I am confident that I will continue to use it in my classroom.  It is so easy to use, and the students are using a collaboration tool that is being used out “in the real world”.  While I control the content now, in the future, I see my students adding in their own cards and content as they create more of their own units.  This will be very helpful not only for the group, but also for me, as I can see what each group is doing, how their pacing is going, and what I can do to support them as they move through the unit.  I would highly recommend using Trello if you use consistent group work or if you have several projects going on at once, whether group or individual.  It is easy for you and your students to use, and it makes group work management much more manageable.


I love Plickers!  It was one of the first edtech tools that I started using, so I can’t believe I haven’t written about it yet.  In a nutshell, Plickers is an interactive, multiple choice questioning tool.  You can use it in so many different ways.  I actually just discovered a new way to use it just before Thanksgiving Break.

I was introduced to Plickers by Laura Candler, and it is really the gateway to more advanced edtech tools.  It is a tool that allows you to use technology with your students, but you only need one device: your phone or iPad.  All the students need are a card that looks like this: 13171316394_0a03a2547d_b

You can print the cards here or you can order them on Amazon here.  I ordered them on Amazon because they weren’t very expensive ($20 for a set of 40 cards), and since they are laminated, I knew they would last longer.  You can laminate the ones you print out, but you have to use a matte lamination sheet because the regular ones reflect light and it’s harder for your camera to pick up.

How to use Plickers:

You write a question and post it on the Plickers website.  You create a class and assign each question to that class, so you can use this with small groups or multiple classes if you teach more than one class.


Each card is tied to one student, so when they see the question, they can answer it by holding up A, B, C, or D (you do this by holding the letter you want on top–in the above card, the student is showing answer choice B).  This is what the students see on the board.  This is called “Live View”:screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-9-29-11-am

You can see how each student responds right on your device.  Students can see when you have their answer, but they can’t see what each individual says (My students like to be the first ones to get the checkmarks next to their names).  If you want, you can show the bar graph of answers from the class as a whole.


A relatively new feature is the “scoresheet” page on the Plickers website.  Here you can see how each student responded to a range of questions.  The scoresheet makes it so easy to keep and organize data on your students’ progress.


I have used Plickers to collect information on students’ background knowledge in science, grammar practice, identifying author’s purpose, math review games; I can and have used it in every subject.  I recently used it to create an interactive rubric for my students; they graded themselves using their Plickers card.  So easy, and I have all of their information in one place to reference later.

My students also love Plickers.  My 2nd and 5th graders both think of it as a game; my 2nd graders last year begged to practice grammar using Plickers.  Shocking, I know.  My 5th graders get excited every time I pull out the cards.  That kind of student engagement is so nice to see as a teacher, and it requires very little time and few materials.

I highly recommend using Plickers if you haven’t already.  It is so easy to use, and it is fun!  If you still have questions, I recommend joining Laura Candler’s Plickers Facebook group.  I am a member of the K-5 group; there is also a group for secondary teachers.  You can post questions to the group and teachers with experience using Plickers will help you out.  It has been a great place to get ideas about how to use Plickers more effectively and to help troubleshoot any problems you might be having.


This year, I am doing something a little different for homework.  Since I teach at an IB school, we have 6-week transdisciplinary units that address a wide range of content, skills, and knowledge.  For homework, I have created 5-week, open-ended assignments that allow students to dive deeper into something we are learning about in the classroom.

Our current unit is about economics, and one of our main topics is budgeting.  For homework, I found an assignment online called The Million Dollar Project.  In this project, students have $1,000,000 to spend; there are certain things they have to buy (house, car), but there is also leeway for them to buy things they want.  Students have to keep track of their spending in a budget.  I thought this would be a fun and engaging way for students to practice budgeting, and it would allow them to realize the real costs of things and figure out their purchasing priorities.  I reworked it a little to fit my own needs, and my students have loved it!

I like to give my students choices with their homework (The Million Dollar Project was one of three choices for this unit’s homework, but every student chose to do it), including how they present their information.  I offer paper-and-pencil options as well as tech-based options because I know some students are more comfortable with technology than others (I work at an affluent private school, so access to technology is not an issue).  Since my school is relatively new, we don’t have a lot of technology resources, so I like to introduce new tech tools to my students through their homework assignments.  Usually enough students use the tools on their homework that they can teach their classmates about it if we use the tool in class.

One of the presentation choices for the Million Dollar Project was to make a brochure.  I was looking for a tech-based option, and I discovered Canva.  Canva is a design platform that allows users to make presentations, posters, brochures, cards, letters, social media posts, resumes, and certificates (to name a few).  There are templates you can use or you can create your own.  The site requires a login, but there are free and paid accounts (I have the free account).  It is easy to use, and the final product looks very professional.

In an effort to “eat my own dogfood” (a phrase that I learned from one of my favorite podcasters, Jennifer Gonzalez), I made my own Million Dollar Project brochure.  Here is what one of the pages looks like:


You can see the entire project here: how-i-would-spend-one-million-dollars.

I like Canva because it has all of the features that I want–I can upload pictures, choose my own font, move things around on the product–and the final product looks beautiful.  I also like how many different things you can make on their site; as a teacher, I like finding sites that do many things because then I can use them in many different situations.

I can see students using this site to make really polished-looking products for projects, both at home and at school.  They could make visual representations of vocabulary words.  They could make an infographic to share content knowledge they have learned.  They could make a presentation without having to use PowerPoint (!).  They could make a poster about a person they studied (without having to store huge posters in the classroom!).  They could make an advertisement for an invention or business they created.  There are so many different ways students could use Canva.  Unfortunately, it does require a login, so students will need email addresses (and parental permission if your students are under the age of 13).  This is part of the reason why I introduce these tools for homework, so families can talk about what online tools they are comfortable having their children use.  I always log on and play around on the site before recommending it to my students, and this site is a keeper for all of your project needs.

Want a tutorial on how to use Canva? Check out my video tutorial to watch me walk my students (and you) through using Canva.