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Dec 292014

red question(This post is a continuation of our 12 Questions series.  The first three posts can be viewed here, here, and here.)

#10 Is there support for the content and are updates provided?
Content installations often don’t go as planned.  You will have questions as you begin to use new content, and there may be connectivity issues with web-based solutions.  At a minimum, you should expect a basic level of technical support via phone and email.  You should place even more value on content from companies that go beyond the basics to help you integrate the content into classroom instruction or to assist you in locating specific resources via phone, email, and newsletter support.

Updates are a known part of content development, so you should expect updates to your content at least once a year.  If the content is installed locally on your computer, find out if the company provides regular updates.  If so, how do you know when updates are available?  How are those updates delivered, and is there an additional charge?  If the content is web-based, will updates appear automatically?  How often are updates provided?  How will you know what has been updated?  Is there an additional charge?

#11 How is this content delivered, and what program does it require?
Content will be either web-based or installation-based.  Web-based content is delivered online.  This means content can be accessed on any computer with an internet connection via a web browser.  Some advantages include no installation, automatic updates, quick response to technical issues within the content, and easy student/teacher access from any computer anytime.  Installation-based options require installation on your school’s server or on individual computers where the content will be used.  Access to this type of locally hosted content is not dependent on an internet connection.

As with any type of software, basic computer operating requirements should be explored.  Many content providers offer a free trial which should be taken advantage of to test how the content performs on your specific hardware.  Beyond the basics, you should also consider whether the content requires a specific program to operate.  For example, if content is created in SMART Notebook software, that software must be installed on every computer on which you will want to access the content; and if you change IWB software or use multiple brands of IWB software within your building, the content will only be accessible by teachers with access to SMART Notebook.

#12 Is there added value or additional costs?
Choosing the right content is only the first step.  The quality of the professional development will determine the effectiveness of its use with your teachers.  Find out the professional development plans offered by the content provider.  Are there on-demand video and webinar options for teachers who want to get started right away?  Are there user guides for teachers who like a printed reference?  What is the cost for personalized professional development?  Is it conducted via webinar or in person?  Investigate the company’s ability to support your teachers after the initial professional development.  What additional training is available and at what cost?  Does the company have a newsletter or periodic emails to help teachers progress in their knowledge of the content and how to use it most effectively.

The type of professional development is also important.  A content company should offer not only initial professional development to help teachers learn to navigate the program and find appropriate content, but it should also provide training on how to integrate that content into classroom instruction.  Particularly as teachers make the shift to the Common Core, they will need to have professional development on how to integrate digital content into their instruction in ways that are supported by the Common Core.  

Keeping in mind that teachers are always pressed for time and that each teacher is as unique as each student in their technological skills, consider ease of use when choosing your content solution.  Professional development is always necessary to be sure you are getting the best return on your content investment.  However, if your teachers are spending days of valuable professional development time just trying to learn how to navigate a program, that leaves little time for learning how to use that content effectively.  Be sure to ask how much professional development is required to get teachers up and running with the content and how much is required to show them how to use that content effectively.

If your chosen content includes a classroom management system, find out if the company will create your teacher and student accounts so your teachers don’t have to spend their valuable time entering data.  And be sure to ask if the account creation service is free or at an additional cost.  And remember to ask whether there will be assistance with account creation every year or just the first year of purchase.  Always take advantage of free trials offered by content providers to facilitate your evaluation, yet keep in mind that the trial may only offer access to a portion of the available content.  Contact the content provider or attend an online demonstration for a more thorough evaluation of both the content and the company.

As schools increasingly invest in technology hardware, teachers will need content to use those technologies effectively.  All educators must be informed digital content advocates to help their schools select quality content that provides the most value.  Visit starrmatica.com/twelvequestions to download the 12 questions in an easy to use table format to assist with your personal content evaluations.

Common Core ELA Shift: Questions of Varying Complexity

 Posted by on December 22, 2014  Common Core  Comments Off
Dec 222014

This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to helping teachers understand specific changes the Common Core requires them to make in their instruction and sharing how StarrMatica’s content can help facilitate that transition.  The first two posts can be viewed here and here.

A major focus of the Common Core is requiring students to answer questions of varying complexity about a variety of texts.

Students will be presented with a sequence of questions in which a question is related to and its answer may be dependent on the answer to a previously asked question.  A sequence of questions may also ask students to cite evidence from the story like in this Part B question from a fourth grade PARCC Assessment item example, “Which detail from the story best supports the answer to Part A?” 

This shift is related to the previous one in that students be will required not only to use evidence in their constructed responses but to choose the best supporting evidence from a given set to answer a direct question.

Embedded with these shifts is the Common Core expectation that in grades K-5 50% of a student’s reading will be non-fiction texts.  That is why as teachers make this shift, it is important for them to have access to an abundance of high quality fiction and non-fiction texts.

Planning Tip:  A science and social studies curriculum packed with high-interest non-fiction texts provides authentic opportunities to work on these shifts in other content areas.

Digital Content for the Common Core Standard 2.G.A.3

 Posted by on November 25, 2014  Common Core  Comments Off
Nov 252014

One of the most common questions we are asked is how our library of digital content supports the Common Core.  The easy answer is that our entire library has been aligned to the Common Core standards, so teachers can find resources related to each standard.  The more complex answer is that there are many pieces of content that can be used in flexible ways to support each individual standard, and it is up to teachers to choose the content that best supports their lesson and their students.

Here are five pieces of digital content a teacher might choose from our library to support and enhance the teaching of: CCSS.Math.Content.2.G.A.3

Partition circles and rectangles into two, three, or four equal shares, describe the shares using the words halves, thirds, half of, a third of, etc., and describe the whole as two halves, three thirds, four fourths. Recognize that equal shares of identical wholes need not have the same shape.

kidsKids ‘N Cookies

A teacher could use this virtual manipulative with students on laptops/tablets/Chromebooks or an interactive whiteboard to introduce the concept of fractions in the context of a real-life problem.  Choose 3 friends and 4 cookies.  Ask your students how they will share them equally and still be friends.

visualVisual Fractions

A teacher could use this virtual manipulative with students on an interactive whiteboard.  This manipulative demonstrates that a fraction will look differently depending on the whole being divided.


fractionsShading Fractions

A teacher could use this virtual manipulative with students on laptops/tablets/Chromebooks or an interactive whiteboard.  Students can explore dividing different wholes into parts and shading parts to create fractions.

geoboardVirtual Geoboard

A teacher could use this virtual manipulative with students on laptops/tablets/Chromebooks or an interactive whiteboard.  Students can explore dividing the same wholes into parts in different ways. (Choose 3, Geoboard: Fractions)


sortingSorting Fractions

A teacher could use this resource to check for student understanding.  The activity challenges students to sort equal fractions with different shaped wholes into three groups.


Nov 192014

purple question(This post is a continuation of our 12 Questions series.  The first two posts can be viewed here and here.)

#7 Who created these resources?
It is important to consider the source of content you use in your classroom.  Verify that the resources you are considering are research-based.  Find out whether they were created by educational publishers, teachers, researchers, or a software company.  Would you want a software programmer or graphic designer with no education degree teaching in your classroom?  Is it logical that a researcher should be designing lessons for fifth graders if they have never taught fifth graders?  Educational content written by educators with recent classroom experience may contain effective strategies and methods learned only by teaching concepts directly to students.  Content designed by educators is usually organized and presented in ways that are simple and intuitive for other educators and students.

Equally important is the country in which the content was created.  Find out if the content was created by educators in your country based on your standards and benchmarks or if it was created in another country and had to be modified to fit your country’s curriculum.  If it was modified, check what modifications were made to language, vocabulary, and teaching strategies as they vary greatly from country to country.  If considering purchasing resources that were developed in another country, look closely at their user statistics and research.  Does the product have a customer base and research on effectiveness in your country?

#8 Can I search by standards?  Can I search by my publisher-based curriculum?
At the very least, a product should provide a way for you to view which state and/or national standards are aligned to each of their resources.  At the very best, a product will provide a way for users to search and find content aligned to each specific state and/or national standard. (This is particularly helpful when searching for interventions based on results from standardized testing.)

A hard-to-come-by but very useful time-saving feature is the ability to search and find resources aligned to each unit/lesson/chapter in specific publisher-based curriculums.  In addition to being a time saver for teachers, this search validates the digital content by closely tying it to your district’s specific curriculum.

#9 Do these resources include voiceovers?
Voiceovers add value and increased functionality to interactive content.  They help to differentiate instruction and to engage auditory learners.  If voiceovers are present in paid content, they should sound professional, be of an appropriate accent for your country, and preferably offer the option to be turned on or off depending on the needs of specific students.

(This post is the third in a series of four.  Stay tuned for more questions to ask!)

Teacher Feature: Julie Ahern

 Posted by on November 5, 2014  Teacher Features  Comments Off
Nov 052014

Julie Ahern PhotoMeet Julie Ahern.  She teaches at Andrew Cooke Magnet Elementary School in Waukegan, Illinois.  Here is her StarrMatica story:

Our fine arts magnet school is located in a vibrant and diverse community where I have taught 3rd and now 2nd grade for 22 years. Although we are in a high poverty district, our school has been able to retain our fine arts magnet status. However, it has been a challenge to find the funding for technology and effective computer programs. Although we have a computer lab in our building, which the students visit once a week, I have worked very diligently to obtain laptops for all of my students so that we are a 1:1 classroom. Therefore, with my remaining available funds I wanted to make sure that I obtained the most effective research based programs out there.

Last year I submitted a DonorsChoose project for StarrMatica and found it to be everything and more that I needed for my students. StarrMatica allows me to introduce a new skill on our projector and then have my students go into the related interactive games and lessons on their classroom laptops. When needed, I can differentiate lessons by directing students to certain games/lessons in the K-2 section and even challenge others to work in the grades 3-6 section. I also value the included search option to find lessons and activities so that we can extend our learning.

My parents appreciate that they can have their children continue our lessons at home. At the end of our units, I have my students complete the assessments and then share that information with my parents. This is my second year of using StarrMatica.  After having such a positive experience with this program, I made sure to include it in our line-up for the school year 2014-15. Our district is asking us to implement the Common Core standards yet has not provided us with a reading or math curriculum to do so.

Therefore, I appreciate having access to StarrMatica as it has provided me with the reading and math Common Core content that I need. It also has saved me time searching for relevant curriculum because the StarrMatica program does an excellent job of offering content on so many levels. I will definitely seek a membership to StarrMatica next year as well!


Oct 282014

question mark(This post is a continuation of our 12 Questions series.  The first post can be viewed here.)

#4  Can my students access these resources?

In addition to accessing content for whole class instruction, some web based solutions also allow students to access content on computers.  This helps teachers to make a connection between whole class instruction and individual student learning.  Some online content providers add increased value by inviting students to access content at home for further review and exploration.  Offline programs may also allow individual student access, but the program must first be installed on each computer. 

If student access is included, consider whether or not the content will still appeal to your students after experiencing it during whole class instruction.  Is the activity engaging and are the questions randomized so students will still feel challenged during subsequent visits?  Or does the program provide enough content options for each topic that the issue of repetitiveness is eliminated?

#5 Do these resources promote teacher involvement and offer flexibility?

Many software programs are designed for individual student use in learning isolation.  A computerized program replaces a teacher’s guidance by assessing students, offering recommended activities, and even adjusting activities to a student’s ability level.  While this type of program at first glance seems like an easy answer to individualized instruction, consider the implications of removing teacher guidance and peer collaboration from the learning process.

Research has shown that technology, specifically instructional software, has been proven most effective when integrated into classroom instruction.  Students who experienced teacher-led standards-based instruction with technology showed higher overall gains than students who experienced the same curricula and technology in an isolated lab setting.  

Teachers have the ability to match computer instruction with the children’s development, the curriculum sequence, and the needs of particular students.  Teachers must be involved, “orchestrators” of technology, rather than quiet observers of students in learning isolation.  Find out whether the digital content you are investing in allows teachers to choose interventions for their students and whether multiple activities with multiple strategies for learning are available for each concept.  Ask if the content includes a strong instructional component and problem solving opportunities beyond skill and drill activities.  Determine whether the digital content is numerous enough and flexible enough to be used for whole class instruction, center time, group work, and individual student remediation or enrichment.

#6 Can student progress be monitored with these resources?

If students are allowed to access content on computers, find out if the content includes individual progress accounts.  Particularly if content will be used for interventions, progress accounts allow teachers to view student scores on activities to determine if students are progressing toward mastery or if additional assistance is necessary.

(This post is the second in a series of four.  Stay tuned for more questions to ask!)

Common Core ELA Shift: Citing Evidence

 Posted by on October 22, 2014  Common Core  Comments Off
Oct 222014

This is the second in a series of posts dedicated to helping teachers understand specific changes the Common Core requires them to make in their instruction and sharing how StarrMatica’s content can help facilitate that transition.  The first post can be viewed here.

A major focus of the Common Core is requiring students to give evidence directly from the text to support their responses.  An opinion given in a response is valid only if the argument can be supported with details from the text.

Here is an example of a Smarter Balanced Assessment item which requires text evidence:  “What does Naomi learn about Grandma Ruth? Use details from the text to support your answer.”

As we prepare our students not only for the Common Core, but for life beyond school,  it is important that any answer a student gives, we require them to justify that answer with evidence.  If a student is describing the traits of a character, have them support their answer with evidence from the story where a character is demonstrating those traits.  If a student is stating an opinion that recycling should be mandatory, have them justify that opinion with facts from the text.  

If you make citing text evidence a daily follow up question, the students will come to understand that it is a requirement and will eventually offer text evidence before they are even asked. 

Digital Content for Common Core Standard 1.NBT.B.2(A,B,C)

 Posted by on September 25, 2014  Common Core  Comments Off
Sep 252014

One of the most common questions we are asked is how our library of digital content supports the Common Core.  The easy answer is that our entire library has been aligned to the Common Core standards, so teachers can find resources related to each standard.  The more complex answer is that there are many pieces of content that can be used in flexible ways to support each individual standard, and it is up to teachers to choose the content that best supports their lesson and their students.

Here are five pieces of digital content a teacher might choose from our library to support and enhance the teaching of CCSS.Math.Content.1.NBT.B.2(A,B,C)  Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones.

creatingCreating Groups of Ten

You could use this animation with students on laptops/tablets/Chromebooks or on an interactive whiteboard.  Students explore grouping animals in different ways to discover that they are easier to count when there are ten in a group with some left over.  (You must be a StarrMatica member and be logged in to access this resource.)


Counting Groups of Ten

You could use this animation to teach or review how to count groups of ten and ones.  (You must be a StarrMatica member and be logged in to access this resource.)



Gathering Animals in Tens

You could also use this activity with students to allow them to practice creating and counting groups of ten.  (You must be a StarrMatica member and be logged in to access this resource.)


gardeningAerial Gardening

You could use this simple activity with students to help them visualize groups of ten.  This game challenges students to count the number of seeds in the field before they disappear.  They have to count by tens and ones because the seeds disappear too quickly to count one at a time.  3 disappearing speeds are offered.  (You must be a StarrMatica member and be logged in to access this resource.)

safariSafari Units

You could use this resource to check for student understanding.  The game challenges students to place tens and ones on a scale to balance the weight of an animal.

Sep 192014

green question marksAccording to research, students whose teachers use technology effectively in the classroom have higher test scores than students whose teachers do not.

So schools purchase projectors, interactive whiteboards, response systems, computers, and tablets with the goal of using technology to reach 21st century learners and engage students.  

But as schools begin implementations, administrators discover that simply placing hardware in classrooms does not raise student achievement.  Teachers need help using this technology effectively.  And the primary assistance teachers need to use technology effectively is access to high quality digital content.

Unfortunately, most schools approach digital content as an unnecessary “extra” after they have spent tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on technology hardware.  Teachers are typically asked to create or find their own content.  This is equivalent to providing teachers with a DVD player but refusing to buy them DVDs and instead asking them to create their own DVDs or to search the internet for free downloads.  Seems like a stretch, but for some teachers, the task of finding or creating their own content is as difficult as creating your own DVD.

“Free content” is not a viable long-term solution.

SMART Exchange, Promethean Planet, mimio Connect and the eInstruction community are great places to start searching for content to teach effectively with interactive technologies; however, content on these sites can be difficult to sift through and questionable in quality.  Teachers will need resources in addition to the user generated content available in these libraries.  

In fact, 88% of educators said they would use IWBs, or would use their existing IWBs more often, if more digital content were available according to the “K-12 Technology Tools and Trends 2009” report produced by Simba Information and Market Data Retrieval (MDR).  Similarly, laptops and tablets can be effective tools for individualized instruction, but the hardware is only as useful as the content it presents.  Teachers can spend hours online searching for free interactive content when search time could be better spent planning effective lessons utilizing the content.  

Classrooms with tablets typically turn to apps as their sole source for content.  Apps are great for schools with limited bandwidth who need their students to be able to access content without an internet connection.  They are useful for students who are allowed to take their devices home but their home has no internet connection.  They are relevant in special education settings for students with highly specialized needs.   However, relying solely on apps for your content presents a serious challenge.  Free apps are not truly free.  Graphic artists and programmers spend countless hours designing and creating a single app.  That is why very few apps are truly free.  

Programmers make money on “free” apps in one of two ways.  They release a free version that contains ads.  Though the ads are more regulated for the iPad than they are for Android, it is never the best solution to have a child playing a game with a rotating banner ad in their face the entire time.  

The other option for programmers to make money from “free” apps is by releasing a lite version.  Lite versions give users access to a portion of the app and then require the user to purchase the paid version to access the entire app.  Lite versions may only contain a few questions or a few levels that can be completed in a few minutes and then the app is useless.  They may also pop up messages to the user periodically requesting them to buy the full app, which is very distracting to children.

It is also important for schools to realize that the marketing phrase “There’s an app for that” does not hold true in an educational setting.  There is not an an app for every curricular goal, and even if there were, teachers don’t have time to find, download, and install every app on every tablet.  The more schools can break free of the “apps” mindset and move to a library of online content the more sustainable and useful their tablets will become.  With the move towards digital content in education and the ability to individualize instruction with tablets and other mobile learning devices, we need to move beyond the idea of buying content peacemeal.  Digital content delivery has evolved and gone are the days we should be purchasing content for individual topics such as fractions, basic facts, reading comprehension, etc.  

When we allow singularly focused apps to be our only method of acquiring content, we will never be able to use our devices to their full potential. Use of the device shouldn’t be limited by the “apps” we can find.  So, what is a school to do?  Having a library of content available allows teachers to address individual student needs at any level with every concept they teach.

Inevitably, as schools continue to invest in technology hardware and begin to realize digital content’s role in effective technology integration, more and more companies will be offering content.  Creating quality, interactive content is an expensive endeavor, so most of these resources will not be provided for free.  So as the amount of paid content grows, how do you know what interactive digital content you should invest in.  Here are twelve questions you should ask before purchasing interactive digital content in all its forms from interactive whiteboard packages to individualized software programs.

#1  Are these resources already available in my interactive technology software?
There is content currently available for purchase that includes spinners, dice, currency, flash cards, and a host of other activities and manipulatives that are already located in interactive technology software galleries.  Take a few minutes to browse through the options available in the software you currently have.  And be sure you are comparing apples to apples.  A 6 sided die that rolls when you spin it is different than a 6 sided die that does the same but can be customized by the teacher with different numbers or words.

#2  Are these resources like a textbook online?  Could I create these resources myself?
If content looks like it is a scanned .pdf from your textbook, is similar to a Power Point slide with some simple text and images, offers no functionality beyond drag and drop, or looks like something you could create in your interactive technology software, you can save your money and most likely find comparable content free on any interactive whiteboard community site.

#3  Are these resources limited in number or comprehensive?
Some interactive content packages are grouped in large grade level bands.  For example, a math pack may include 100 lessons for K-5th grade.  Look closely at the number of lessons that pack includes for each specific grade level and consider the number of topics it covers.  If I am a first grade teacher, only 20 of those lessons may apply to my classroom, and they may only address 6 of the 15 math topics taught in my curriculum.  Since a single classroom includes students of widely varying abilities, it is important to have access to materials at other grade levels. 

Determine whether the content you purchase is comprehensive and will allow you to choose materials from different grade levels or whether you are limited to the content for your specific grade.  (This is particularly important when content will be used for individual interventions.)  If content is limited, investigate whether the resource points you to additional interactive activities either within the program or on the web.  For example, if you use two decimals lessons from the content but aren’t finished teaching decimals, does the resource continue to assist your efforts?  If students complete an activity but are still struggling, are there additional interventions available?

(This post is the first in a series of four.  Stay tuned for more questions to ask!)

Summer Updates Are Live!

 Posted by on September 3, 2014  Content Additions  Comments Off
Sep 032014

Welcome to the beginning of another fantastic school year!  We have been working all summer to help you start the year off right.  Here are a few of the updates you can now take advantage of automatically:

K-2 Reading and Math Content

We want to make sure StarrMatica is providing you with the best digital content on the web.  That’s why in addition to adding new content topics, we also revisit current topics and add all of the new gems we’ve found as we scour the Internet so you don’t have to!  This summer, hundreds of new pieces of content were added to our existing K-2 reading and math topics!

Check out Word Chain Short Vowels and Number Jungle

Student and Teacher Notes

You asked and we’ve answered!  There are now two options for adding a note to an individual link.

The Comment section that pops up when you add a link to a collection or edit a link in a collection is now re-named Student Notes.  In this section, you can write a note that the student will see about how this link will help them or how this link relates to your work in class.

The new section is named Teacher Notes.  In this section, you can write a note that you or any other teacher accessing your collection will see.  You can use this section to make notes to yourself about how you plan to use this link or notes to another teacher about how this link fits with your curriculum.

3-6 Exit Button

A new Exit button was added to our 3-6 interface.  The button is found below the star navigation arrows at the bottom center ofExit Button your screen.

This new button will allow you to exit back to your teacher or student member page without having to use the back button in your browser.  Now both the K-2 and 3-6 interfaces have an easy, intuitive way for you to exit and continue to explore other areas of StarrMatica.