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Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part Seven – Interest students

 Posted by on December 11, 2013  Content Integration Ideas  Comments Off on Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part Seven – Interest students
Dec 112013

This is the final in a series of seven posts sharing reasons virtual manipulatives should be the cornerstone of interactive content in the classroom including specific practical examples.  (The previous posts can be viewed here:  Part 1-VisualizingPart 2-Explore Difficult ConceptsPart 3-Access Materials/Added ValuePart 4- Inquiry LearningPart 5 – A New Way to Present, Part 6 – Demonstrate Understanding)

We know that engaged students learn more, so let’s face it—a large amount of our planning time is spent figuring out ways to interest and engage students in learning.  With that in mind, one of the reasons for using virtual manipulatives is simply to gain student attention.  Some students get excited about using technology and will buy into an activity simply because it is displayed on an interactive whiteboard or computer screen.

Below are four manipulatives that can be used to gain student interest.

foam Foam Phonemes

Shoot letters and word parts into the air. Then, create words in the sky with what you have chosen.



bubbleBubble Trouble

Count the bubbles!



deckDeck Chairs Symmetry

Create a pattern on the deck chair. Then, check to see if it is symmetrical.



splatSplat Square

Splat this number grid to show factors and multiples.


All of the activities shared in this seven part series could fall under several of the reasons we have explained because there are many simultaneous benefits to using virtual manipulatives in your classroom.

Please let us know how these posts have contributed to your thinking about virtual manipulatives in the comments below!

Teacher Feature: Tararra Babaz

 Posted by on December 5, 2013  Teacher Features  Comments Off on Teacher Feature: Tararra Babaz
Dec 052013

tararra babazMeet Tararra Babaz.  She teaches at T.S. Cooley Elementary Magnet School in Lake Charles, LA. She teaches 4th grade Social Studies and ELA to two classes totaling 50 students Tararra has been using StarrMatica in her classroom since the beginning of this school year, and has presented a break-out session about how she uses our content in her classroom at a regional conference.  Here is how she uses our content in her own words:

I have really enjoyed using this resource thus far. We have only skimmed the surface of all StarrMatica has to offer us. 

I use StarrMatica in a whole group setting with my students when I am introducing a new skill to them.  Together we will watch the video and teaching lessons as well as completing a practice or enrichment together which allows me to see how well the students are understanding. Students also use StarrMatica individually in our computer lab. There, students work on practice and complete assessments to reinforce the current skill.

StarrMatica solves the problem of searching for resources and keeping my students engaged.  I am easily able to look for a specific skill which in return cuts down on extra planning on my part. 

StarrMatica lessons and practice allow for me to replace the use of workbook pages and worksheets therefore keeping my students engaged and involved. 

Want to be our next teacher feature?  Contact us.  We would love to hear about your experiences.

Seven Reasons You Should Be Using Virtual Field Trips in Your Classroom

 Posted by on December 3, 2013  Content Recommendations  Comments Off on Seven Reasons You Should Be Using Virtual Field Trips in Your Classroom
Dec 032013

san diego

We live in an age where the world can be brought into your classroom.  I loved using virtual field trips as a way of taking my students to see the world without leaving their seats.  Students usually aren’t able to travel around the world, and some students haven’t even been out of their hometowns.  So it is important for teachers to give students a world view and that can be done very effectively through virtual field trips.

There are several types of virtual field trips.  Some are just photographs with captions that walk you through a specific area.  But, when I am talking about virtual field trips, I am talking about trips that place students in a location and give them 360 degree views as if they are standing there in person.

One reason to use virtual field trips is to give students a more realistic sense of geography.  No other tool does this better than Google Earth.  It is perfect to use when studying National Parks.   You can zoom in and look up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon as if you were on a boat on the river.  And you can “fly” through the canyon to view more than you would be able to in person!

In fact, Google Earth and other virtual field trip sites such as http://www.fullscreen360.com allow educators to take students on field trips they couldn’t actually take– such as allowing students view underwater terrains, mountain top vistas, and the out of this world surfaces of the moon and Mars. (NOTE:  On this site, The Red Light District of Amsterdam is included as one of the 360 tours.)

Teachers can also create “Where Am I?” geography games using Google Earth.  Zoom in to a location and have the students look around at the street view and try and guess where they are standing. Teachers can zoom out to give them a different frame of reference or can give them clues to help them guess the location.

There are some nice 360 field trips specific to particular sites such as this one for the Great Wall of China:  http://www.thebeijingguide.com/great_wall_of_china/index.html

Traveling to virtual locations also helps students to gain a sense of scale.  It is hard to describe how vast the Grand Canyon is.  But flying through it on a virtual tour can give a better sense of size than a photograph in their textbook.  Students have a hard time picturing how tall 1,063 feet is, but if you place them at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looking up, it paints a more accurate picture.

Another reason to use virtual field trips is to bring history to life.  Taking students virtually to a historical location allows them to see details they may not notice in still photographs.  It also can help to dispel misconceptions. For example, some of my students thought all Civil War battlefields took place on an open plain because that is all they had seen in films or re-enactments.

A few examples of historical field trips include:



Virtual field trips are an interesting way to explore other cultures.  In Google Earth, street views allow you to drop your students right in the middle of Tokyo or London so they can witness first-hand the differences in street signs, cars, buildings, and clothing worn by people on the street.

Virtual trips are fantastic ways to expose students to great works of art.  It is a different perspective to see the Mona Lisa in a book versus virtually standing in front of the small painting.  http://www.googleartproject.com has amazing museum views where students can walk through exhibits as if they were in the museum.

Virtual field trips are also very applicable to science.  The Museum of Natural History has fantastic virtual tours of its exhibits that are very helpful to establish background knowledge or to allow students to observe nature up close.  I love the Mendenhall Glacier tour on fullscreen360.com

Virtual field trips can be a great way for students to answer their own inquiry questions.  Instead of looking up on the internet how the Grand Canyon was formed, they can visit the Grand Canyon, see the river at the bottom and combine this with their knowledge of erosion to deduce how the canyon was formed. (Sometimes this will obviously have to be guided by a teacher—more so in the beginning of the year.)

In the beginning, it is important for to teachers to guide the field trip by asking lots of questions so students get out of the experience what the teacher intends and so they stay involved in the experience.  There are many opportunities for prediction questions before the trip, observation and inference questions during the trip, and compare and contrast and summary questions after the trip.

For example, have students write a descriptive paragraph about what they think a location will look like before the field trip.  After the field trip, have the students write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the actual location with their pre-visit paragraph predictions.

One of the criticisms of interactive whiteboards is that they are very teacher-centric, so it is important for teachers to also allow students to also guide field trips.  They can choose the Where Am I geography locations and write clues. They can embed 360 locations in presentations of their knowledge about a subject.  They can use a virtual field trip location to prove a hypothesis or to generate additional questions for further investigation.

But wait…before you are off on your next virtual field trip adventure…please take a moment to let us know below how you are using virtual field trips in your classroom!

New K-2 Lesson: Place Value

 Posted by on November 30, 2013  Content Additions  Comments Off on New K-2 Lesson: Place Value
Nov 302013

A new K-2 StarrMatica Lesson was just launched!

Our farm themed place value lesson was designed to help students discover the meaning of place value on their own and to explore the concept in many different ways.

In the Learn section:

  • Students are challenged to experiment with grouping animals to determine what groupings make them easier to count.
  • Students are introduced to counting by tens and ones.
  • Students explore the meaning of tens and ones with base ten blocks and discover the importance of zero as a place holder.

In the Play section:

  • Students are challenged to visualize groups of tens and ones.
  • Students are asked to represent numbers with ten frames and base ten blocks.
  • Students practice increasing and decreasing a number by tens and by ones.

Check out two of our favorites:

gardenGame:  Aerial Gardening

Count crops from the sky.  How quickly can you count by visualizing rows of tens and ones?



applesApple Pickin’

Add or take away boxes of ten apples and single apples to fulfill each farmer’s market order.



Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part Six – Demonstrate Understanding

 Posted by on November 20, 2013  Content Integration Ideas  Comments Off on Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part Six – Demonstrate Understanding
Nov 202013

This is the sixth in a series of seven posts sharing reasons virtual manipulatives should be the cornerstone of interactive content in the classroom including specific practical examples.  (The previous posts can be viewed here:  Part 1-Visualizing, Part 2-Explore Difficult Concepts, Part 3-Access Materials/Added Value, Part 4- Inquiry Learning, Part 5 – A New Way to Present)

Virtual manipulatives are often thought of as teaching tools, but they can also be tools for students to use to demonstrate their understanding of a concept.   Watching the way in which a student utilizes a manipulative can tell a teacher the depth of his understanding, the source of a mis-conception, or whether or not a student can apply his knowledge of a concept.  For students, using a manipulative for assessment can be a more interesting and authentic experience than paper/pencil tests.  Using manipulatives for assessments can also provide additional support for exceptional students who need modified testing accommodations.

Below are three manipulatives that can help students demonstrate their understanding of a concept.

number balance Number Balance

Students can use this interactive balance to demonstrate their ability to balance equations and finding missing digits and operations.



paintFraction Paint

Students can demonstrate their ability to find a fraction of a whole and to explain equivalent fractions using halves, fourths, eighths, and sixteenths.



graphCreate a Graph

Students can use their own data to create a bar graph, line graph, area graph, pie graph, or XY graph.


The Difference Between a Curriculum, a Program, and a Library of Content

 Posted by on November 12, 2013  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on The Difference Between a Curriculum, a Program, and a Library of Content
Nov 122013

starrsWhen someone is first introduced to StarrMatica, we always begin by sharing that StarrMatica is a library of content, not a program or a curriculum.  This is a very important distinction, and one that we have found is foreign to many educators for a myriad of reasons.  Just like our students, we use our prior knowledge to categorize new things, so educators immediately try to compare StarrMatica to what they already know.  Being the first and only library of content in the marketplace creates a unique challenge because they haven’t seen anything like StarrMatica before.  So in trying to make connections, educators immediately start asking questions that compare us to a publisher-based curriculum or an individualized software program.  Neither of which StarrMatica was designed to be.  (One of the reasons for this is explained here:  https://blog.starrmatica.com/common-question-3-does-starrmatica-automatically-choose-content-for-students/) So to help educators connect StarrMatica to prior experiences, we describe it as being just like a library of books.  Educators pick and choose particular pieces of content, just like they choose particular books off a library shelf according to the needs of their lesson and the needs of specific students.

And therein lies the difference between StarrMatica and a “program” or a “curriculum.”  StarrMatica is designed as a teacher directed resource.  Because as teachers, we know that:

No curriculum or program is complete.

Every classroom lesson is different.

Every student is different.

And teachers know their students best.

It is often a great challenge to help educators move beyond the one-size-fits-all program or curriculum comparison into an outside-of-the-box notion that digital content can be used as an effective tool by knowledgable educators to customize their lessons for specific purposes.  Once that connection is made and the difference is clear, it is easy for educators to see the great value of StarrMatica as a library of content that can be used easily, efficiently, and effectively supplement their chosen curriculum.

Teacher Feature: Carol Broadnax

 Posted by on November 9, 2013  Teacher Features  Comments Off on Teacher Feature: Carol Broadnax
Nov 092013

CarolMeet Carol Broadnax.  She teaches at Highland Catholic School in Saint Paul, MN.  She works with small groups of students in grades K-6 to provide math and language arts enrichment for advanced students. She has an interactive whiteboard, classroom laptop and iPad, as well as a set of student response clickers. She also has access to the school’s computer lab, mobile computer and iPad carts. She checks these out several times a week for various groups.  Carol has been using StarrMatica in her classroom for the past five years.  Here is how she uses our content in her own words:

StarrMatica is extremely helpful in allowing me to quickly locate content that relates to specific state standards. This is very useful since I do not use textbooks in my classroom and I typically present content that is a grade level or two above the students’ actual grade. I am able to locate engaging materials and target them directly to my students’ skill levels.

My students love the interactive lessons which I use to introduce new concepts. I follow this up with the practice and resource activities during the units I teach. I also use the virtual manipulatives quite a bit.

StarrMatica helps my students extend and broaden their learning and it is very efficient for my needs. I am always confident that the materials are of the highest quality.

Fraction Action

 Posted by on November 6, 2013  Content Recommendations, Math Resources  Comments Off on Fraction Action
Nov 062013

grampyTwo of my favorite websites for exploring beginning fractions concepts with students are Kids and Cookies and Find Grampy.  I share Kids and Cookies often at conferences and during webinars.  I was honored two years ago to meet one of the creators of Kids and Cookies when he introduced himself after attending my interactive resources presentation at PCTM in Pittsburgh.

I used Kids and Cookies to introduce fractions to my students.  The open-ended manipulative allowed them to explore the concept of fractions in the context of a real world problem.  I would choose three kids and four cookies and ask my students how they could divide them equally and “still be friends” when they were finished.  The manipulative then allowed us to cut the cookies into equal parts which would be the springboard for our discussion “What Is A Fraction?”

Being able to choose different numbers of students, different numbers of cookies, and different shapes of cookies opens the manipulative to future uses for exploring equivalent fractions and mixed numbers.

Kids and Cookies can be accessed here: http://www.teacherlink.org/content/math/interactive/flash/kidsandcookies/kidcookie.php

I used Find Grampy to practice visualizing the size of fractional parts of a whole with my students.  Students are used to larger numbers representing larger quantities, so a difficult fractions concept for them to grasp is the fact that the denominator increases as the size of the fractional part decreases.  Find Grampy helps students practice visualizing the size of fractional parts in the context of a fun hide-and-seek game.  I often used virtual ink over the top of the interactive and asked students to divide the hedge into the equal number of parts indicated by the denominator before answering online.

Find Grampy can be accessed here:  http://www.visualfractions.com/FindGrampy/findgrampy.html

Both Kids and Cookies and Find Grampy are included in Developing Beginning Fractions Concepts with Digital Content on Teachers Pay Teachers:  http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Developing-Beginning-Fractions-Concepts-with-Digital-Content-631400

New K-2 Lesson: Story Clues

 Posted by on October 28, 2013  Content Additions  Comments Off on New K-2 Lesson: Story Clues
Oct 282013

predictingStarrMatica’s detective themed K-2 Story Clues lesson just launched!

Students learn how to use context clues to identify an unknown word, how to make a reasonable prediction, and how to draw a conclusion by combining their own knowledge with a clue in the story.

A few lesson highlights include:

Light Bulb Conclusions – Students choose the conclusion they can draw from the given statement.

Game:  Riddle Me This –  Students draw conclusions from the clues they are given to solve the mysterious riddles.

Enrichment:  What Did You Say? — Students are challenged to figure out the meaning of common idioms by hearing them used in a sentence.

To access these resources, login and choose K-2 Lessons.  Then choose Story Clues  from the Reading Menu.

Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part Five – A New Way to Present

 Posted by on October 24, 2013  Content Integration Ideas  Comments Off on Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part Five – A New Way to Present
Oct 242013

This is the fifth in a series of seven posts sharing reasons virtual manipulatives should be the cornerstone of interactive content in the classroom including specific practical examples.  (The previous posts can be viewed here:  Part 1-Visualizing, Part 2-Explore Difficult Concepts, Part 3-Access Materials/Added Value, Part 4- Inquiry Learning)

Virtual manipulatives can provide a new way to present a concept to student.  We know that students learn in different ways, so using an uncommon manipulative can be a way to help students understand a concept they are struggling to grasp.  Using a variety of manipulatives can also challenge the understand of advanced learners and encourage them to look at a concept in a new way.

Below are three manipulatives that help students look at concepts in a new way:

abacus Place Value Abacus

Build numbers with a model that is uses colors to indicate value.  Compare this model to traditional base ten blocks.



number barsNumber Line Bars

Use number line bars to explore the concept of multiplication as repeated addition.



keyboardMusical Patterns

Create a pattern with images and sound.