My New Favorite Digital Tools

Lately I have explored new-to-me digital tools for graphic design.  Canva, Freepik, and Typorama are definitely worth sharing.

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Canva is a web- and app-based design tool that uses a drag-and-drop feature to make graphic design possible for rookies.

Tip: Go to and navigate through the free templates.  My favorite: Infographics.

Some of my Canva creations…

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Freepik is a website with free vector art, illustrations, photos, and more.  Using the freemium business model, Freepik allows for free use of the majority of its resources (as long as you credit the author).

Vector art is created from polygons to represent images in graphics.

Tip: You can edit vector files from Freepik by using Adobe Illustrator.  Generally, there are two layers in the AI file: the background layer and the main layer (called ‘objects’).  The main layer is where you can edit the text or other graphic features in the image.

One of my Freepik creations (edited with Adobe Illustrator)…

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Typorama is a typography generator App that is super user-friendly.

Tip: You can use images from your camera roll as backgrounds, so save some of your favorites from Pixabay or Freepik to use with Typorama.

Some of my Typorama creations…

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UbD, Rekenreks, and Number Bead Strings

This week I had the opportunity to spend time with two amazing groups of elementary educators, K-2 and 3-5.  Teamed with our Director of Science, Linda Cook, we devoted the first three hours of our time together to dive into the Understanding by Design model, including a focus on backward design and constructivist learning.  Throughout the professional learning, I created sketch notes on chart paper.  The final product…

UbD Sketchnotes

We also modeled formative assessment strategies by embeding them within the experience.  Again, I took sketch notes.  The final product…

formative assessment sketch notes

Our goal is to provide curriculum documents that include Stage 1 (transfer goals, organized standards, enduring understandings, essential questions, and knowledge and skills) and Stage 2 (performance assessments, other evidence, and formative and summative assessments) content.  We are making great progress in this undertaking and our new hires were relieved to learn they may focus their design time on Stage 3 (planning learning experiences).

The second half of the professional learning concentrated on content.  The focus for mathematics was on the developmental progression of learning math and the numeracy continuum.

The mission of the Coppell ISD mathematics program is to provide opportunities for learners to reason, collaborate and think flexibly by applying critical thinking skills and problem solving strategies in meaningful and relevant situations in order to prepare for a lifetime of successful problem solving.

Utilizing rekenreks, the educators explored Number Talks.  I shared What to Do with a Rekenrek, by Diana Saylak.  This multi-touch book in the iBooks Store includes 21 activities for educators from subitizing to fractions.

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We watched videos of elementary children using rekenreks to model mathematics.  Listening to learners’ thinking paints such a clear picture of where they are on the continuum.  I beamed with pride as my new educators pointed out pivotal moments like – when the children used counting on rather than counting up and when there was evidence of subitizing a structured set.   In one video clip a child arrived at an incorrect answer and one of my educators added, “if she would have answered that on a worksheet, I would have just counted it wrong – I would not know why. But, I can see there exactly what happened.”  Yes.  That’s it.  That makes me proud.

Then the educators had an opportunity to build a number bead string and we practiced formulating questions appropriate for lower and upper primary learners as well as discussed possibilities of using the bead strings as take home activities or a make-and-take during meet-the-teacher.


Materials needed per string:

  • 1 yard of #95 paracord
  • 60 red pony beads (or 50 for kindergarten learners)
  • 60 white pony beads (or 50 for kindergarten learners)

After cutting the paracord, either burn the end slightly or use tape to prevent fraying.  Then, string the beads in sets of 10, alternating red and white sets.  Allow a small amount of movement of the beads (an inch or so), then tie double knots on each end of the paracord.


Example Questions/Skills for Bead Strings:

  • Counting forward/backward by one
  • Skip counting by 2, 5, and 10 (Skip counting with sets of objects supports learners’ conceptual understanding – for example, skip counting by ten means adding ten objects each time.)
  • Greater than/less than (Use two bead strings and a clothes pin on each to identify a certain bead, then lay the bead strings side by side to compare the numbers.)
  • If each bead is worth…(Assign each bead a value of 2, 5, or 10 and ask, If each bead is worth ___, then what is this certain bead worth?)
  • Fractional values (Insert a black bead as a decimal point between any white and red sets and assign each bead a value of 1/10.  Then, identify the value of a certain bead.)

Planning for a few precious hours with new hires is challenging.  Prioritizing what content in what format for their first experience in our district is not taken lightly.  The wide range of needs exhibited by these educators are carefully considered and I am confident time spent seeing the forest (big picture mission and goals) as well as the trees (details of curriculum documents and implementation of strategies to support the numeracy continuum) were well worth it.

The anticipation of the start of school each year is so difficult to describe – it is exhausting and exciting at the same time!  I am looking forward to another great year!