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Meet Michelle Negron Bueno

 Posted by on August 27, 2020  Reading Resources, Teacher Features  Comments Off on Meet Michelle Negron Bueno
Aug 272020
 

Hello! I am Michelle Negron Bueno and I love writing for StarrMatica!

From a young age, I have been enthralled with stories. It comes as no surprise that many years later, my whole life surrounds reading and writing. I was born and lived for many years in Spain, a place extremely rich with history. I also lived in Germany where I went to boarding school. Years later, after reading the Harry Potter series, I would remember how lucky I was to attend boarding school, but would also wish it could have been Hogwarts. I would have loved to have learned magic and known Professor Dumbledore!

In college, I studied anthropology. I wanted to discover stories from both the ancient past, as well as cultures in the present. In the years after college, my love for writing merged with my passion to make the world a better place. I joined the communications department of a non-profit organization specializing in community development in El Salvador, where I had moved to a few months after getting married. I began to write stories of people living in extremely poor communities and how they were courageously and creatively changing their lives.

During my time in Central America, where El Salvador is located, I raised three children who are now both Salvadoran and from the United States. In El Salvador, I also wrote for magazines and began to write stories of my own. Eventually, I completed a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature from Hollins University.

While I was at Hollins, I learned about StarrMatica. I began to write fiction stories for StarrMatica at first and then began to write both science and social studies texts. While I did not think I was particularly good at science growing up, I found with research and a little help from experts, I could learn amazing things! I also found writing both fiction and nonfiction was still all about stories.  

Even though I still work as the Head of Communications for the same nonprofit and am a writer for StarrMatica, I continue to research and write my own stories. My current project is a novel taking place in El Salvador in what is known as the Balsam Coast in the 1930s. The main character is a young woman who is both Maya-Pipil (two indigenous groups who still live in Central America today) and a descendent of the renowned profiteer, Sir Francis Drake, who spent time in the Balsam Coast region while on his voyages around the world.

I love that no matter where my life takes me, whether a new country or a new job, I can always read, write and discover new stories. It is what makes my life always new and always fascinating.

I’m on the left in this photo. The person on the right is my sister, Elizabeth Baldwin. She also writes for StarrMatica!

Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 5-ESS1-2

 Posted by on August 12, 2020  Phenomenon Ideas  Comments Off on Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 5-ESS1-2
Aug 122020
 

5-ESS1-2 Represent data in graphical displays to reveal patterns of daily changes in length and direction of shadows, day and night, and the seasonal appearance of some stars in the night sky

If you are teaching the Next Generation Science Standards and are looking for phenomena ideas, you’ve come to the right place! I like to think about phenomena as lesson starters. They are photos or videos showing an observable event in the universe and are used to get kids thinking, asking questions, and discussing their prior knowledge. For more information about using phenomena, there is a handy printable guide and video here:
https://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/phenomena

And now, on to our shadows phenomenon!

Do you see a caravan of black camels crossing the desert in this photo? At first glance it might seem so. But take a closer look and you discover that what you are seeing are the camels’ shadows. Since the photographer took the photo from above, you can only see the small, white tops of the camels!

Why do you think the camels’ shadows are so large? Have you ever seen other really long shadows? Have you ever been playing outside in the evening and noticed that your shadow is really tall like a giant? Have you ever noticed that at other times of the day your shadow is closer to your size or hardly there at all? Why is that?

The changes in the length of our shadows have to do with the position of the sun. Assuming you are standing still outside all day long, the sun would appear to rise and set. When the sun’s light is blocked while it is low on the horizon, either in the morning or the evening, your shadow will be longer. As the sun approaches midday, shadows become shorter and shorter until the sun is overhead.

Shadows also change in direction throughout the day. When the sun is behind you, your shadow appears in front of you. When you are facing the sun, your shadow trails behind you. If the sun is to your left, then shadows form on your right. If the sun is on your right, shadows appear on your left.

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These excerpts are from the text: Keeping Track of Your Shadow by Michelle Negron Bueno.  Keeping Track of Your Shadow is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here: http://www.starrmatica.com

Meet Polly Peterson

 Posted by on July 23, 2020  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Meet Polly Peterson
Jul 232020
 

Polly has been working with StarrMatica as our voice over (VO) artist for over a decade. Soon after graduating in Art at Iowa Wesleyan University, Polly started her career at two radio stations in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa.

​“To bring words to life with how they are intended to be said, as well as achieving the intended results has been what drives me to work harder on different sorts of VO projects.  This is a fun and rewarding field.  A VO artist is a voice actor and in this case, a teacher,” Polly explains.

Her passion and commitment to excellence has helped her throughout her career. Polly has been the voice over artist opening for the David Copperfield shows, and she was the official voice of San Francisco’s Whole Foods Market for nearly two years! “It has been extremely exciting! I even got a call from Don Anthony to try out for the weather girl position on Rick Dees’ (The Weekly Top 40) show,” she remembers.

While on-air, Polly turns her experience into a practicum course, finding her path as a writer and producer for radio, television and commercials, as well as documentary work. As a production manager at KDWD in Burlington, Iowa, she enjoyed having total control over writing, assigning and directing her work.

Her love for learning something new every day earned Polly an Addy Award for production and voice over in the Green Bay Market while on-air at WROE in Neenah, Wisconsin. To this day, Polly helps develop talent and coaches voice over artists, because it is so important for to her to give back!

Working for StarrMatica plays into another passion for Polly: “To assist with the educational reads designed for elementary kids to learn online in addition to what they learn in the classroom is rewarding, because many of my relatives also teach and have even been principals. I am immensely proud to be a part of such a powerful project!”

Meet Tricia (PJ) Hoover

 Posted by on May 19, 2020  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Meet Tricia (PJ) Hoover
May 192020
 

Hi! My name is Tricia (PJ) Hoover and I’m one of the writers here at StarrMatica. Growing up, I never wanted to be a writer. I actually wanted to be a Jedi. After all, who wouldn’t want to be able to travel in space, use telekinesis, and do cool mind tricks? But seeing as how that wasn’t going to happen, I instead spent my summers reading science fiction and fantasy books (some of my favorites were J. R. R. Tolkien, Roger Zelazny and Isaac Asimov) and teaching myself to program in BASIC on my Commodore 64. I also fell in love with mythology in sixth grade thanks to the book Mythology by Edith Hamilton. In high school, I spent many nights staying up late watching reruns of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone.

When it was time for college, I headed off to Virginia Tech where I got a degree in Computer Engineering. At the end of four years, I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist, so I stuck around and got a History degree. But then I thought about it and figured engineering might provide for a better future, so I continued on to get my master’s degree in Electrical Engineering.

After a fifteen year bout as an electrical engineer designing computer chips in Austin, TX (working at Motorola and Intel), I went through a turning point in my life. I wanted more. I wanted something different. But I wasn’t sure what. First, I learned to solve the Rubik’s Cube. Then I memorized Kublai Khan by Samuel Coleridge. Finally, I decided to take my own stab at creating worlds and started writing science fiction and fantasy books for kids and teens.

People tend to think engineering and writing are different, but I don’t agree. Getting through engineering school requires discipline and organization. Writing a book requires discipline and organization. Designing computer chips takes quite a bit of creativity. And yes, writing a book takes creativity, too. Computer code is a lot like a book. You write. You test. You revise. You test some more and you keep on revising until you get it right. Sure, you might find bugs, but no computer chip is perfect. And neither is any book.

When I am not writing, I spend time practicing kung fu, solving Rubik’s cubes (including 2×2, 3×3, 4×4, and 5×5), playing Wizard101 and watching Star Trek. I have two crazy puppies and two Sulcata tortoises, King Tort and Nefertorti, who will live to be 180 years old.

A few fun facts:

1) I collect Smurfs, Bicentennial quarters, Star Trek Christmas ornaments and antique bricks. If you find an old brick with words on it, please let me know!

2) I have a 4th degree black belt in Kung Fu.

3) I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 2 minutes (including with my eyes closed!).

4) I plan to hike on the Great Wall of China someday. And I’d love to go on an archaeological dig!

5) Jobs I’ve had include Donut Seller, Car Assessor, Dorm Security Monitor, and of course, Chip Designer.

For more information about P. J. (Tricia) Hoover, please visit her website www.pjhoover.com.

Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 2-LS2-2

 Posted by on May 6, 2020  Phenomenon Ideas  Comments Off on Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 2-LS2-2
May 062020
 

2-LS2-2  Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.

If you are teaching the Next Generation Science Standards and are looking for phenomena ideas, you’ve come to the right place! I like to think about phenomena as lesson starters. They are photos or videos showing an observable event in the universe and are used to get kids thinking, asking questions, and discussing their prior knowledge. For more information about using phenomena, there is a handy printable guide and video here:
https://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/phenomena

And now, on to our pollinator phenomenon!

When we think about pollinators, most of us probably think of bees.  But did you know many other creatures pollinate plants including bats, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and lemurs?  Lemurs are the world’s largest pollinators!  In fact, they are the main pollinators of a type of tree in Madagascar, an island off the coast of Africa. They pull open the tree’s flowers and stick their long snouts inside. As they gobble up the flowers, lemurs collect pollen all over their faces and bodies. They then leap to another flower, transporting the pollen along the way.

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This information is from the text: Powerful Pollinators! by Sarah Wassner Flynn.  Powerful Pollinators! is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here: http://www.starrmatica.com/index.php?/main/texts

Engineering Resources

 Posted by on April 27, 2020  Science Resources  Comments Off on Engineering Resources
Apr 272020
 

Right now, I am safe at home with my three-year-old and five-year-old.  Like many of you, I feel the challenge of balancing at-home work with full-time parenting.  I know many of your school districts are doing an amazing job of providing distance learning resources.  Yet, I wanted to share a few STEM resources you can put in your own personal toolbox for those times when you just need to get something done and your kids seem to be bouncing off the walls! 

The resources below can make you feel good about allowing your kids to use their devices, because they help kids develop their engineering skills.  Did you know STEM-related jobs are expected to grow at 17% compared to 9.8% for non-STEM jobs?  Projections indicate the United States will experience a shortage of engineers.  Some projections look like there may be as many as one million more engineers needed, than our education system will produce at its current rate.  So, letting your kids have fun with the engineering design challenges below will help you, help them and potentially help all of us!

Design different machines to help the ball reach its goal:

https://invention.si.edu/tinker-ball

Put on your engineering hats to design a course to guide a ball to an ultimate goal:

https://launchball.sciencemuseum.org.uk/

Adjust the Rube Goldberg machine, so lunch can be served:

https://www.gamesloon.com/free-educational-27/goldburger-to-go-33707.html

Design a structure to help the hamster reach its food:

https://pbskids.org/ruff/structures/game

Find the parts to complete each machine:

https://iowa.pbslearningmedia.org/asset/741049e7-165c-4437-9146-ce2b5f9c35f3.asset/EN/

Use simple machines to design a solution to complete each task:

https://www.msichicago.org/fileadmin/Activities/Games/simple_machines/

Join forces with the Fidgets to solve four engineering challenges:

https://pbskids.org/designsquad/games/

Important Note:  Many of these resources require Flash, so make sure you have it enabled in your browser or you may not be able to see the resource.

Elizabeth Baldwin

 Posted by on April 20, 2020  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Elizabeth Baldwin
Apr 202020
 

Hello!  My name is Elizabeth Baldwin and I am a life-long learner!  I love to read and research things that happened in the past, things happening right now and things that might happen in the future!  Whether it is in the field of history, science, fiction or nonfiction, I find our world very engaging.  At this moment, I have 5 books stacked on my night-stand next to my bed!  One is a fictional story set in the early 1800’s, one is a memoir, one is a biography, one is inspirational, one is to practice Spanish and I usually have a science fiction book lying around somewhere!

I have been married for 25 years and have two wonderful children, who are both in college.  I studied music and elementary education in college and have been a teacher for most of my adult life.  I love to sing and I play a few instruments. I am in the process of writing my first children’s novel.  When I first started writing for StarrMatica, I was studying reading in graduate school.  I wrote fiction and non-fiction reading texts for multiple grade levels.  One of my favorite texts was about truffles and why they are expensive.  At this moment, I am writing texts for social studies.  While I was researching plastic, I discovered how I could change my behavior to make a difference in the world.

We can learn so much from our world!  We can learn from animals and nature.  We can learn from history and try to be better for it.  The creativity of people is amazing!  What if we did this?  What if we tried that?  Those are some of the questions that keep me wanting to learn.  I hope with my writing, I can inspire kids to learn and ask questions for themselves.

Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 3-PS2-2

 Posted by on April 7, 2020  Phenomenon Ideas  Comments Off on Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 3-PS2-2
Apr 072020
 

3-PS2-2  Make observations and/or measurements of an object’s motion to provide evidence that a pattern can be used to predict future motion.

If you are teaching the Next Generation Science Standards and are looking for phenomena ideas, you’ve come to the right place! I like to think about phenomena as lesson starters. They are photos or videos showing an observable event in the universe and are used to get kids thinking, asking questions, and discussing their prior knowledge. For more information about using phenomena, there is a handy printable guide and video here:
https://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/phenomena

When you look at the stone in this photo, how do you think it got there? Has the stone been pushed by the wind or pulled by gravity? Has an animal or a person moved it forward without leaving any footprints? If you can’t seem to come up with an answer, you’re not alone! The mystery of this stone and many others like it has baffled scientists for almost 100 years!

This photo gives us a glimpse of a natural phenomenon called “sailing stones.” Sailing stones can be seen in a few locations in the U.S. The most famous can be found in Death Valley National Park. There, hundreds of stones, rock, and boulders dot the landscape. Their mysterious trails give evidence of their movement. No one has ever watched them move, and yet it is clear that somehow they do. They sit for years. Then suddenly a park ranger would find that they had drifted to new locations. Sometimes they move only a few inches and in other cases thousands of feet!

Scientists set up an experiment to figure out how these stones move, and here is what they found:  Every winter, several inches of rain freeze creating a pond of ice in an area of Death Valley known as the Racetrack Playa. Stones, rocks, and boulders dot the pond’s surface. As the sun warms the ice, it begins to crack. The thin sheet of ice covering the lake bed is only about the thickness of three quarters stacked on each other. As it breaks up under the sun, pieces of ice accumulate behind the rocks. Working together, the wind and ice gently push the rocks forward along the soft, moist ground.  Eventually, the water evaporates. The ground dries out. The trails are visible for all to see.

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This information is from the text: Solving the Mystery of Sailing Stones by Michelle Negron Bueno.  Solving the Mystery of Sailing Stones is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here: http://www.starrmatica.com/index.php?/main/texts

Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 1-LS3-1

 Posted by on March 10, 2020  Phenomenon Ideas  Comments Off on Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 1-LS3-1
Mar 102020
 

1-LS3-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.

If you are teaching the Next Generation Science Standards and are looking for phenomena ideas, you’ve come to the right place! I like to think about phenomena as lesson starters. They are photos or videos showing an observable event in the universe and are used to get kids thinking, asking questions, and discussing their prior knowledge. For more information about using phenomena, there is a handy printable guide and video here:
https://www.nextgenscience.org/resources/phenomena

And now, on to our pelican phenomenon!

The pouch on a pelican’s beak helps it scoop up fish. 

This is just like we would use a net.

Our tools help us to do the things birds’ beaks are able to do!

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This excerpt is from the text: All Types of Bird Beaks by Sarah Wassner Flynn.  All Types of Bird Beaks is found in, StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way, a collection of informational texts written specifically to address every K-5 NGSS Performance Expectation.  All texts in the collection begin with a phenomenon photo and are written at six different Lexile levels, so all students can read the same content at their reading level.  You can find out more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way here: http://www.starrmatica.com/index.php?/main/texts

Leveled Texts

 Posted by on February 26, 2020  Reading Resources, Science Resources  Comments Off on Leveled Texts
Feb 262020
 

In my second year of teaching fourth grade, my science curriculum had a unit on plants. In an effort to integrate my English Language Arts and Science instruction, I wanted my students to read an informational text about plants during our small group guided reading time (In our district, guided reading was a time when students with similar reading abilities met in small groups to read and discuss a leveled book and receive more individualized reading instruction.)

So, I headed down to our guided reading library intent on finding a leveled text about plants for each of my guided reading groups.  However, I was met with not one book about plants in the entire library.  In an effort to be respectful of your time, I’ll spare you the details about the hours I spent in the coming days combing through our school library, area libraries, our local AEA catalog, online sites and resource catalogs and still could not find what I needed.  I found books at a few levels, but not at the levels all of my kids could read independently.  The books I did find were about plants, yet didn’t cover the same content from title to title.  Then there was the problem of needing multiple copies for everyone in the group.  I have to admit, I finally just gave up on the idea and read my kids a text aloud in addition to round robin reading from our old textbook.

This is one of the experiences that lead me to the development of StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way.  Through our research, I’ve found I am far from alone in my quest for science informational texts aligned to my curriculum that all my students could read.  In our latest survey about science informational texts, many teachers responded they were having issues finding appropriate informational texts for the Next Generation Science Standards:

“Most science books are nonfiction and that can be harder to read especially for lower readers.”

“I read difficult text to students and reword text so they understand.”

“Finding resources already integrated together are a challenge. It is up to me to find appropriate text that aligns with science and try to figure out which standards align.”

“I struggle with finding the texts I need due to lack of time to search.  I also struggle with finding the texts I need to match what I am teaching.”

StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way helps teachers with these struggles by providing informational texts written specifically for each Next Generation Science Standard Performance Expectation.  All students can access the texts online at their specific Lexile level.  This innovation means all students can independently read the same text with the same content. 

One of the criticisms of leveled texts presented in labeled bins in a classroom is that children may feel labeled as a good reader or a struggling reader by their designated level.  Our texts help to address this concern.  Since teachers are choosing the Lexile level of StarrMatica’s texts behind the scenes, the level is never displayed for the child and the content of the text is the same for each level.  So, a student doesn’t know there are multiple levels of the text read in his/her classroom.

Another criticism of leveled texts is how much a child’s reading choices are limited by the books available in his/her school at his/her designated level.  This criticism speaks to me as a former fourth grade teacher.  I had access to sets of leveled readers at our school, but there are only so many books and so many copies of each we could afford.  Having sets of texts about the same topic, all aligned to my curriculum and that all of my students could read independently would have been a game changer in my room.

If your school doesn’t ascribe to book leveling or guided reading, you still may be interested in choosing different Lexile levels or different text structures based on how the text will be used with your students.  If you are reading as a class, maybe you want to choose the highest level because, you will have an ability to discuss vocabulary and to address student questions.  If you are reading in small groups, maybe you want to have half of a group read the text written as a problem/solution piece and half of the group read the text as a descriptive piece before discussing the similarities and differences between the two sets.  You might also be interested in additional customization options to allow you to turn on and off voiceovers to read the text aloud, to choose ELA standards, and to select graphics.

You can visit http://www.starrmatica.com/index.php?/main/texts to learn more about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way.  Send me an email with questions or just share your classroom struggles and triumphs with informational texts.  I would love to hear what is and isn’t working for you!