Author Archives: ying

September 19: Middle Grade Book Talks

The book shopping overflowed into Monday this week, with 7th and 8th grade students getting the gift of selecting their own book of choice. Instead of the usual 5-10 minutes I’ve given students at the end of the period to look for a book, I opted to extend the browsing period to 20 minutes, much to the agreement and delight of students.

To start, I created a Pinterest board to highlight some of the titles I’d be sharing, then printed out and read reviews from several different websites of the books I haven’t read. On Friday, I chatted with the lovely Steve at Vroman’s and asked for his recommendations and then skimmed through the books I hadn’t read to a) see if the review matched the writing of the book and b) see if there was that hook that engages any reader: me or the students alike. Over the weekend (nursing what I can only hope is a sore throat and nothing more), I sat and read. And read.

What did I recommend?

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
Students in the past have recommended Anderson’s Sidekicked, so when I heard he would be at nErDcampMI and that he had a new book out, I had to give it a try. On a week long trip in Seattle, I sat and read his book on the Link light rail, chuckling to myself and looking like a crazy person (albeit one that really enjoyed her book).

Ms. Bixby

Reading in Seattle with a Piroshky!

A heartwarming story, Ms. Bixby’s last day shows the length that three sixth grade students will go to in attempts to recreate the Perfect Day of a teacher that’s one of The Good Ones: the teacher who makes school enjoyable, the ones you want to go back to and say hi to.

Anderson sported a very lovely tee that I wanted for my own when autographing the book, and he wrote that the students need to watch out for the toilet sharks. Shamelessly, I used that as a hook to get them to read the book. “But Ms. Lin, what’s a toilet shark?”

“Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.”

Frawsome shirt Mr. Anderson!

Frawsome shirt Mr. Anderson!

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper
Another title from my voyages at nErDcampMI, I likened this book to David Shannon’s A Bad Case of Stripes, only when things are said about the central character Elyse, words pop up on her arms stating exactly that. When young, Elyse sees words like “cute” or “adorable” on her arm, but navigating through sixth grade, things get a little tricky. She comes to find that often, it’s not so much what others say about her, but what she thinks of herself too.

Not surprisingly, students dove for this book when set free to shop (I had to jump aside!) and it’s one that will appeal to many going through life as a middle schooler.

Loving vs. Virginia: A documentary novel of the landmark civil rights case by Patricia Hruby Powell (Jan. 31, 2017)
In the small, close knit community of Caroline County, Virginia, two teens meet, fall in love and challenge the law forbidding interracial marriage in the 1950s.

Told in gentle verse that alternates between the perspectives of Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, readers come to see how their love develops and become witness to the many challenges against their relationship. Strangers scowl and make comments when they’re together on a date. The sheriff follows Richard’s car as he drives home keeping a close eye on him and who he’s with. Interspersed with the verse are documents detailing the headlines during the civil rights era, a heightened call for justice and equality for all.

I told students I read this book because it reflects my life. My brother married his wife who is from the Netherlands and my sister married her husband who is from England. It is hard to imagine that their marriage would be considered illegal had not the laws been overturned — the most recent in 2000, which is not too long ago. Windows and mirrors. It’s important for readers to find books that reflect their worlds.


Bro & Claire


Tim & Sis

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
A book soon to become a major motion picture (directed by Steven Spielberg!)  this is one that adults and teens alike can share — especially if both are fans of the 1980s and video games.

The year is 2044 and the world is bleak. Resources have been depleted and living life is simply rough. The one saving grace is OASIS, a virtual world created by James Halliday who, upon his death, sets forth a challenge to users of OASIS: find the hidden easter eggs within OASIS and you get to take over my multi-million dollar empire.

Written with the utmost attention to detail, this is  a book steeped in reality with a great mix of science fiction. Referencing an array of old school video games and movies of the 80s, I found myself fact checking details and diving deeper into the world of gaming and films of my past.

The first video game easter egg. Truth.

The first video game easter egg. Truth.

One caveat: the novel is fraught with profanity but a mature reader will focus on the story arc which is fast paced and riveting.

Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs
A perfect tie in to the movie that’s just been released, this series of short stories may capture the attention of even the most reluctant reader. Continuing with the theme of the strange and peculiar, Ransom Riggs presents 10 stories that are utterly splendid to read.

Short stories find you, or do you find them?

Short stories find you, or do you find them?

Short stories have always held a spot in my heart. In the summer during my last year in high school, I chanced upon a series called, Best American Short Stories and fell in love. For the next 5 years, I proceeded to read each and every issue I could find. Having read them,  I attempted a story writing class in college where we discussed the mechanics of writing and how, often writing a shorter story was even more difficult than writing a longer one (microfiction!). Butler, Prolux, Jin, Diaz, Schoemperlin, Wolitzer, Moore, Jones…my library of the future will need a sizable shelf to contain this series.

The Reader by Traci Chee
In a world where reading is unheard of, Sefia has a book, the only clue to her missing aunt, the same item that led to the death of her parents. What is the rectangular item? What power does it contain?

A debut book that’s the first in a series, astute readers will notice the smudged sentences, ink stains blotting out words and the message cleverly hidden within the page numbers of the book.

Personally, I was fascinated by the premise: a world where reading is forbidden….now that would be terrible.

September 12-16: Book Shopping

So what are we going to focus on in the library this week?

Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to take part in nErDcampMI, where during day two of the un-conference, I was granted the gift of sitting in a session for over an hour to do nothing but simply read. It was something of a revelation when I discovered: I’ve been in this profession for close to ten years and this was the first time I had a chance to not only chose what I wanted to read but was also given the time to read.

While I strongly agree with other librarians that it’s important that kids read for pleasure, I’ve become more aware of how I need to give students the time to browse and select books they find interesting. Often, when engaged in reading with lower school students, or book talks with middle school students, I’ll share snippets about books I’ve come across and am passionate about — but it’s just ME doing the sharing and I’ll allot at most 5-10 minutes for students to look for a book.

That’s really not a whole lot of time to carefully select a book that we expect a child to invest a good week or two with, when you think about it.

I was introduced to Carter Higgins at a CAIS conference a few years ago and Pernille Ripp recently as part of nErDcampMI. Both have opened my eyes to how I want to change my approach in sharing the joy of reading with students.

To circle back to the question in paragraph one: this week, we’ll be discussing how you judge a book by its cover. As much as we claim we should not do it, there are certain ways that books are designed to draw your attention. I’m curious as to what students pick up on (colors? fonts?) and what they feel draws them into a story.

We’ll be, to borrow a phrase, going book shopping.

On reflecting on the upcoming week, I’ll be merging two of the worlds I’m passionate about: books and design. I’m excited to share how a certain color can evoke a certain mood, how illustrators work to give hints about what may occur in a book, how sometimes, a cover is incredibly deceptive and how you may gravitate towards a book precisely because of the illustrations on the cover.

For our kindergarden students, this is a significant first step in a long road ahead for not just developing book selection skills, but associating the printed word with a positive or negative response.

Cover. Color. Fonts. What’s shown in illustrations (or what’s not shown). How the illustrations are drawn. What the illustrations evoke and suggest.

We’ll be taking our time to explore this week, and I’m so looking forward to it.


Sample covers (images forthcoming):

Grades K-2
• Fiction/Non-Fiction
“Cats” and words describing how each look
•Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
•Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin
•Ballet Cat by Bob Shea
•Cat in the Hat by Seuss
•Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault
•Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner
•Chester by Melanie Watt
•Mr. Wuffles by avid Wiesner

Grades 3-4
Judging a book by a cover as related to individuals — My Teacher is a Vampire by Mary Amato and Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

•Ada Twist Scientist (review)
•Marisol McDonlad Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown
•Round is a Mooncake by Jenny Thong
•Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look
•Maddie’s Fridge by Lois Brandt
•The Hundred Dresses byEleanor Estes

Middle School
Cover design color, content, fonts

•Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
•My Life with the Lincolns by Gail Brandeis
•Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
•These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
•Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (old vs. movie version)


Books read during our first week back at school

There were so many wonderful books that I read over the summer and was eager to share with students. Below is a short list of the titles that really captured and engaged them on their first week back at school.

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex


Not only do we have to get ready for school, but imagine if a school came to life and had to understand what it’s like to begin that very important first day of school.

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña


The winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal, this is a wonderful book to share about the power of positivity,  diversity, and treating everyone with kindness.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

Ada Marie is endlessly curious and wants to learn more about the world around her. A great tie-in for our new D-Lab and all the creations soon to be undertaken, students recognized characters from Beaty’s other titles (Ida Peck, architect. Rosie Revere, engineer).

Dear Dragon by Josh Funk
dragonBack in the days when people wrote letters and mailed them out by hand, there was something known as “pen pals.” In this book, our pen pals write to each other in rhyme AND discover something unusual about each other.

How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett

Written when a student asked the author how a book was made, this book provides a great in-depth look at the book creation process (idea, collaboration, printing, shipping, reading) and has students separate fact from fiction.

Pink is For Blobfish by Jess Keating


A wonderful non-fiction title that shows a world of PINK animals, you’ll be amazed at some of the creatures that sport pink in nature.


And cue your respective song of choice: In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry. Summertime, the classic by the Sundays. Island in the Sun, Weezer.

Couldn’t resist that last one for old time’s sake. Way back in the day some friends and I went to a concert of theirs when they were labeled as Goat Punishment, oh that takes me back.

Yes it is summertime, three entire months where I’m not obliged to wake up at 5 am and have to eat like Pavolv, conditioned to the bell schedule. Time where I can make a meal like this and actually savor it:

The luxury of enjoying lunch.

The luxury of enjoying lunch.

That’s penne pasta, cottage cheese and a mixture of veggies for you there, seasoned with some pepper. Mmmm…

You’ll be able to tell that I like food when you see the tremendously BIG bowl that’s needed for me to consume this. Slowly, now, remember….

In addition to the hefty pyramid of books I’m reading over the summer, I also take the time to look over cookbooks. NetGalley comes to my rescue again, as the only thing I’m spattering when attempting recipes is my phone screen.

I’ve come across some wonderful cookbooks, some with recipes that are easy, some with recipes that take a little more time. It’s worth a look through if you haven’t tried it and for a foodie, it’s a good way to mix up your culinary repertoire.

Back in the day — before NetGalley and Blue Apron— my sis and I’d watch cooking shows over the weekend, and whatever was being made we’d list the ingredients, then head to the grocery store to round up the items and attempt a meal. Alton Brown was a favorite. As was America’s Test Kitchen. The latter had a rather authentic Asian Chicken Noodle recipe that we made for the family and everyone loved.

When I mention being on a school schedule and having the summer free to do as I please, lots of folks are envious and ask what I do with my time. Reading. Eating. Looking for recipes that’ll keep me happily fed when I’m back on the clock come August.

DIY Paint Night

Where has the time gone? It is warm, fabulous May and I’ve been busy for the last few months running around between house sitting, re-decorating, attending a bachelorette party of a good high school friend and trying to get ready for her upcoming wedding.

The good news is: the Twin Sis is on her way back for the wedding too — which means we’re really going to celebrate…more on that soon.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about creativity. For those that don’t know, my dad is something of a Jack of all trades. He wrote a popular song that’s played often on Mother’s Day in Taiwan, was very into art and photography as a student when he came to the US, and is the creative genius behind the handmade Disney lamps shown below  (which the Twin Sis and I diligently toiled under for all our school work grades K-8.)

Disney Lamps

Twin Sis and I with hand made Disney lamps by dad.

Dad’s had up and down issues with his health over the years, including a year long stint in the hospital from what was to be a simple procedure, a benign tumor on his spine, and most lately, triple bypass heart surgery.

He’s doing fine now, thankfully, and as a means to help him recover and de-stress, I thought what would be better than for him to tap into his love of art and drawing as before?

Enter DIY Paint Night.

My initial introduction into Paint Night occurred on campus as part of one of our back to school sessions. All faculty and staff were all taken into the Performing Arts Center, told to sit in front of a blank white canvas and an instructor showed us the finished piece of art we’d master by the end of the day.

Many of us thought: No. Possible. Way.

Not having done much drawing since my elementary school years, it was completely daunting to pick up the brush and make the first move. There’s something about committing to the first stroke on the blank canvas and knowing you’d have to see the piece of art to completion.

A lot of folks had the same thoughts in mind, “What if I mess up?” But the funny thing about art is, you can’t make a mistake and even if you do, so what? Who’s to say it won’t become a masterpiece (to borrow the words of a coworker)?

My second foray into Paint Night was during the aforementioned bachelorette weekend and sitting Zen like and hearing the paint brush scritch across the canvas, I thought: how hard would it be to do this when the Gang all gathered for when the Sis came back? And: wouldn’t it be amazing to get dad painting and drawing again?

And so, DIY Paint Night was born.

After perusing Pinterest to see if there was anyone who’d attempted their own DIY Paint Night (a few, mostly for kids), I went to seek the advice of the art teacher on campus. Her recommendation was: start small.  A look through the local art store resulted in my purchasing square canvases that were 6×6 along with a handful of brush sets and tubes of paint. Of course, I then had to follow up with buying some books on how to paint and then gear up and sit down to actually practice.


Try One


Attempting perspective



Books Supplies

Books and supplies


All set to paint!

Though drawing wasn’t my forte — I was depending on dad to guide us with his know how— I wanted to be able to answer questions about mixing colors, brush types and any other fears that would require a gentle nudge to, “just do it.” Turns out, there’s a lot you can learn about art online.

On the big get together day, the Gang rose to the challenge. After a few quick initial sketches, one and all leapt into painting.

Initial sketches

Initial sketches

Amanda visiting from Taiwan!

Amanda visiting from Taiwan!

Judy and Mom painting indoors.

Judy & Mom @ work.

Jeffrey hard at work on Deadpool.

Jeffrey detailing Deadpool.

It’s amazing how once you get started, you take to it and just focus. Despite initial reservations and self doubts, “Can I do this? But I don’t know how to draw…” I think, deep down we all want to express our creativity. Considering the recent rise of coloring books for adults, maybe there’s something to be said about tapping into our younger days when expressing ourselves through crayon, color pencils, or paint was allowed. Somehow along the way, we gave it up for other things: focusing on school, basketball or tennis or work.

As the saying goes, pursuing art (or writing) rarely pays the bills.

Which is why I so admire authors and illustrators for their dedication to creating. It takes guts and courage to keep at their craft given how likely we are to venture away from it as we grow older and the challenges against the practicality of art, increases.

If there’s anything I learned in planning DIY Paint Night, it’s to every so often, try doing something creative again. Because the results? Masterpieces, one and all.

Masterpiece Ma-Chen Ying

Unfortunately, dad did not join in on Paint Night but opted to stick with the iPad. I’m not giving up on him and his creativity. There’s still a blank canvas or two left and plenty of paint. Plus, my notes for when the Gang gets together includes other ideas like, gardening, cooking, or writing…

For those that want the nitty gritty details for hosting your own DIY Paint Night, below is what I gathered for a group of 20, mostly from Blick Art Store. I’m very thankful for the helpful salesperson taking the time to listen to me as I explained my vision. In all, the supplies purchased, borrowed or on hand rounded out to be $7.50 per person, major savings from what you’d pay at a regular Paint Night!

6 brush set (6) @ $10
7 paint tubes @ $6 (primary blue, magenta, yellow, red, black, bright white, medium green)
20 6×6 canvases @ $2.25 (discounted when you buy in bulk)
$150 (with educator discount)

Borrowed/had on hand:
Book stands from Demco to hold the canvas (though many opted to lay them on the table)
Aprons borrowed from Book Fair stash
Plastic cups and mason jars to rinse brushes
Paper plates to act as paint palette

Another reason I went with the 6×6 size was, in the midst of redecorating, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a blank white wall that was in sore need of some decoration. There’s plenty of room on the wall for more art, possibly in different sizes, and it encourages more artwork for future get togethers. Notice the blank spots to the right and left of the center canvas. One’s for dad and the other’s for the Twin Sis’ Tim.

Sis and the art displayed!

Sis and the art displayed!

Smore walkthrough

Smore is now the preferred platform on our campus to share information across the levels to faculty, staff, parents and students alike.

As a newbie to Smore, I looked through some of their featured flyers to get a feel for what’s possible, before launching in to play and explore a little more in depth.

To be honest, Smore is, I feel, a simpler and more limiting program by virtue of the fact that it only concentrates on the creation of newsletters and flyers.

Upon signing up and logging in, users are asked to identify what they are promoting and given seven options for templates (including one to start from a blank page):


Smore’s start options has considerably fewer options

For my purposes, I selected a news bulletin and the screen changed to the following:


As a designer of the newsletter/flyer I could now click through to make changes to any number of things: the headline/title, a subheadline, additional text. I could also change (in the right hand column) the color, background and fonts.

Here’s where I find the greatest difference between Canva and Smore. Whereas Canva strives to help users become better designers, Smore seems to do the deliberate opposite.

The options for fonts, backgrounds and colors make it so that newsletter/flyer designer can change everything that detracts from the most important item on the page: the content.

Having worked with students on traditional papers, presentations and the like, sometimes giving an excess of options leads to a) wasted time and effort on selecting the fonts, backgrounds and colors that likely lead to b) a jumbled mess.

No bueno from a design standpoint.

However, there is a redeeming option of selecting a “minimal” design — which in essence wipes out all traces of backgrounds to your standard, go to white (or some form of light pastel).


Yawn. At least it’s readable, right?

My word of design caution when using Smore: Focus on your content, please. Make it readable and don’t try to “jazz” up your page with extraneous things just because you can.

Respect your reader.

If I’m being too hard on Smore, I will say there are some benefits to using it that I simply do not see with Canva. For example, Smore encourages you to add more stuff to your flyer and with one click, you have a set and targeted area where your content lives. (Canva employs a more haphazard method where YOU need to move said element to your desired location).


Additional newsletter elements.


…but adding photos can be misleading due to the placeholder image

Mostly, the spaces where you can add elements are arranged horizontally across the screen and as I plodded my way through creating my newsletter/flyer, I encountered additional obstacles that made the program less and less appealing.

The first was when I attempted to add two photos using the picture>photo album option. In the preview above, there is a placeholder image that rests on the page in the far right column.

It is a misleading image, because the image disappears when you go “live.” Nonetheless, it took me a few extra minutes to figure that out. I was looking for a way to remove the image, to no avail, thinking I had to rework my design and a simple note mentioning that it was merely a placeholder would’ve helped.

The next thing I found frustrating was the process of inserting photos. Doing so with Smore requires that you have an image that can be dragged from your desktop. In this day and age where images flourish on the web, I was disappointed there wasn’t an option to link to an image via url. Not having to save files onto the desktop makes me ecstatic as I save precious memory on my desktop. Having an option to link to image url would’ve also been nice.

Other morsels of frustration included the inability to change the alignment of text (or font size), buttons that didn’t look like buttons, embedded links that do not allow you to edit what’s shown, and my inability to preview certain features like the ones for event and payment—without having to first upgrade.


Buttons? Looks more like a banner. Can’t edit the width or shape.


Can embed a link. Can’t change what appears if the link is text based. But great for videos.


Event option shown, but not available w/o an upgrade.

Smore must be doing something right, as reviews for it are high amongst users and my brief look through the featured flyers shows some have garnered over 1000 + views.

Is there something that I’m not seeing?

Notwithstanding my above criticisms of Smore, I believe the reason why it’s so popular is because it uses the grid system (with columns and rows) to help present information in a formulaic fashion. Content is contained vertically or horizontally, eyes follow the larger items to other elements neatly organized in rows or columns. For a newsletter/flyer it works because it’s utilizing one of the oldest design principles.


Grids = structure.

What has me intrigued with Smore are some of the backend functions and what they have “coming soon” in the pipeline.

Understanding that not everything is meant to be live or for all the world to see, Smore offers unique privacy options that you can adjust for all manner of things:


Note the custom domain and Google Analytics options on the bottom right. For the advanced user—possibly one who envisions directing users to their Smore page on a frequent basis—you can customize the domain so it reads something like rather than the automatically generated url.

Plus, you can even insert your Google Analytics code to easily track and monitor who is visiting your page, when, using what browser, redirected or linked from which website.

To note, there is a built in analytics function within Smore that tracks how many folks have viewed your newsletter/flyer. Alas, I was not able to preview what it looks like, but if I’m not mistaken, I’d guess it’s structured much like Google Analytics.

Also: a word here about analytics. I find it intriguing to take something used in the business world and apply it to education. NPR recently did a segment showing how analytics improved contact with students that would otherwise get left out/behind. The example was from a community college, but I can’t help and think, how does/can it apply to schools in general?

Other pluses: Smore provides a wealth of sharing functionality which segues nicely into our ever digital world. You can send your creation via email or social media, and as ever there’s the option to print and embed:


Sharing options galore. If only I can permanently remove the Promoter pop up…

Finally, a feature I noticed dimmed out, but listed as “coming soon” was one for payment — it leads me to think about storefronts, small business, e-commerce. Perhaps, in the school setting, built in fundraising or purchasable  “wish lists” from classrooms?


Payment: bottom right

It’d be interesting to see how that feature plays out, what types of payments are allowed: credit, PayPal, bitcoin, ???.

I’ve been creating newsletters/flyers since the 90s so the buzz for Smore had me more than perplexed. Does Smore help design and present information in visually appealing way? Yes. Does Smore make it easy to disseminate that information across multiple platforms? Yes.

Have I used it to create a final, finished newsletter that I would want to share? No.

If the minor limitations that I noted can be fixed, I’d be close to joining the bandwagon. For now, I’m waiting to see what develops with their payments feature and giving them a little more time to tidy up a few flaws.

Canva vs. Smore. Which is better, next time.


Tips on hosting an author

It’s getting grueling with design stuff at work and to bring the fun back into my world, I needed to remind myself why I love to do what I do:

Design + library = <3

As you may or may not know, I’ve been exploring different online design programs of late, and this comes on the eve of our school hosting two amazing authors on campus this year.

Each and every time an author agrees to come visit, I am so thrilled, excited, thankful and grateful. I know that not all schools have this opportunity and that we are able to get more than one author each and every year simply amazes me.

And so, I thought I’d put together this little infographic:

tips on hosting an author (2)


Canva walkthrough

In my previous post, I gave the background for wanting to explore the similarities and differences between Canva and Smore and in this post, I’ll be getting to the nitty gritty specifics.

I’m always on the lookout for good great tech tools and one of the things I’ve noticed is there’s a high likelihood of you needing to sign up first before being able to try out the said tool.

What I’ve noticed from my experience with (web) design is, a lot of times you get a visual or several screenshots of how an item you want to install works. This includes a quick look at the backend of how you as the coder/designer would get it to function and also shows what potential viewers will see, once the item is installed.

It’s too bad when new tech companies write up their selling points on how cool their product is, they often hold back on showcasing specifics. I get it, they don’t give away the farm, but a little detail can often go a long way for those with inquiring minds.

Anyhow, off the soapbox. I first heard of Canva back in May 2015 when I read about a yearbook teacher being frustrated with teaching design. There were foundational specifics that she noticed many of her students were overlooking and she wanted to reinforce them while at the same time, help people learn how to design better.

Enter Canva.

At first glance, Canva is all light tones and pastels, giving you the look of being simple and serene, but do not let that fool you. Since I first read about them in May, they’ve been working non-stop: they’ve increased productivity on iPads, created a work version for those looking to share consistent logos among team members. They even designed a holiday line of graphics for use during Halloween.

The types of things one can design on Canva are endless: from basic letter sized documents, to social media posts, banners or graphics, wallpapers, postcards, et. al. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you have the the option to create custom dimensions for your project.

SocialMedia1 SM-Events4 Documents2 Blogging3 Ads-Help5





What’s more, the powers at be at Canva put together a Design School Blog that is filled with ridiculously great content on color choices, fonts, samples of great design and more. If you work with students and need a refresher, look here for valuable, sharable information.

So let’s say you want to create a simple 8.5×11 document. When you select that choice, you’re taken to a screen where there are six options given to you in a column off to the left: search, layouts, text, background, upload, zoom. (WordPress users, it looks quite similar to the dashboard once you log in). To the right is your blank page and depending on the options you pick, you’re given different choices.

Canva Main Screen

Canva’s main screen setup.

Have I mentioned the endless variety that is offered with Canva? It. Is. Amazing.

Search Text Backgrounds Upload

If the choices offered aren’t enough, you have two options: you can purchase an item for use for a nominal fee ($1) or you can upload your own items as desired. I opted for the latter route when I tried Canva at the end of the school year to make a few flyers: one announced our summer reading program, another provided a quick at a glance to our online databases, with links to them. The third simply promoted our school’s subscription to OverDrive. The results:


Summer Reading Infographic


Database flyer w/hyperlinks


Flyer introducing OverDrive

I found Canva to be simple to use and intuitive. It’s one of those online programs that gives you WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) design. As with most new tools though, there are a few limitations. You can’t alter the colors or fills of all images. In some cases where pull down menus are offered, my smaller laptop screen could not get to those options without pausing to drag the vertical slider for viewing the screen down — an annoying extra step when you’re in mid design.


Hit or miss with changing fill and line colors.


Option for hyperlinks.


Option for transparency.

Screen shot 2015-10-31 at 4.59.37 PM

Smaller screens = blocked drop down menus.

Indeed, Canva seemed to work best on robust computers with lots of speed. If you’re on a slower, non-flash enabled computer you may run into glitches and be prepared to have some patience to get all items on the screen positioned exactly where you want them.

Minor hiccups aside, Canva is a good tool to introduce to those who are time and design challenged. I find myself using it to create library related announcements and flyers when I’m without my design tool of choice (Adobe InDesign). As well, when a document stares at me with a plain blank background, I know Canva will give me some texture and variety with a few quick clicks of a mouse.

For next time, I’ll look at the school promoted


Communication Options

In spite of the rocky start to the year, the days and months have flown by; so much so that I’m stunned to find: it’s already November.

November is a month where my worlds intersect. The first deadline for yearbook occurs in the second week and the annual week long event that is the Book Fair follows close on its heels.

I find myself very much entrenched in the design world, a world that has little in common with my assigned roles and duties and yet, design is something that I hold near and dear. Case in point: I’m taking photos and uploading them, doing layout for the yearbook cover and pages while also putting together the twelve page master booklet that goes out to all families that keeps them appraised of all Book Fair events and happenings.

There’s a part of me that loves this time of the month. And there’s a part of me that hates this time of the month for reasons I won’t go into.

Regardless, for quite some time now (a little over 8 years, I think) I’ve been a staunch supporter of WordPress. For those that are not familiar with WordPress, it’s a Content Management System (CMS) that basically allows you to create a website. As a user, you can write daily, weekly or monthly “posts” that are set up as like a blog.

I’ve used it for personal and business purposes and have always believed it is a great vehicle for disseminating information.

For instance, is where I post my musings on all things happening in my working world and it has a section where I can post about the upcoming book fair. Should I want, I can even create a new section on all things yearbook.

So, where am I going with this post?

Well. Our school has been exploring various vehicles for improving communication, both internally and externally. We have our own portal and something new that we’re trying this year is that each grade level is responsible for putting out a newsletter via

According to their website, “Smore makes it easy to design beautiful and effective online flyers and newsletters.”

In late May last year, before school let out, I heard about a company called that helped users “easily create beautiful designs and documents.”

Going back to my mention of how I hold design near and dear to me and coupled with my knowledge that a) teachers aren’t really those that have a great amount of time on their hands b) don’t really have access to the best design tools, I’m curious to see which is the better tool smore or canva?

And how does WordPress fit into the puzzle?

For next week, we’ll explore a little of each.

How to videos

How to log onto email using any browser:

How to access the library catalog and search our titles:

Apologies if you can’t view on your phone: they are both flash videos. If you know of a work around, please share.

Originally, this post was created sometime around 2009 (that’s a rough guesstimate), when I first discovered Jing for screencasting and wrote a little something to share.

Ah-ha! My research abilities show that sometime was actually closer around July 17, 2009 as the post I wrote can be viewed courtesy of the WayBack Machine. Want to read?

Thanks for archiving stuff!