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Emily Starr

Jan 152020
 

My favorite movie of all time is “The Wizard of Oz.”  As a little girl, I used to dress up like Dorothy and watch a VHS tape of the movie my parents recorded when it aired on television.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know that near the end, Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal the Great and Powerful Oz is simply one man with a lot of ingenuity. 

Since StarrMatica is a teacher-owned company nowhere near the size of a large publishing house, you might suspect a wizard behind the curtain scenario.  So, I am writing this post to share with you the amount of time and expertise that goes into creating StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way and to tell you about the team behind our curtain. (The differences that makes us truly unique are bolded below.)

Each Science Your Way text starts with a Next Generation Science Standard.  Our collection of texts is written specifically to address the NGSS and is not a collection retro-fitted to align to the standards.  You’ll realize this difference quickly as you start to read one of the texts.   Each text starts with a phenomenon photo and related question to mirror the beginning of a high quality NGSS lesson.  All our texts are written by children’s authors who each have a Master’s Degree in Children’s Literature or Nonfiction Writing.  Our talented authors have won awards for their writing and have written for major publications such as National Geographic Kids.  Several have even taught in the classroom themselves!

Once a text is written it goes through an editing and revision process which includes an executive editor, professional proofreader and a scientific expert.  University professors read each text to ensure alignment to the standard, to check for scientific accuracy and suggest edits to help students avoid common misconceptions about the topic now and in the future. 

Each text is written in two different text structures (cause/effect, problem/solution, descriptive, etc.) Once both texts are in their final forms our author coordinates with our executive editor to create six different reading levels for each text (One above grade level, three at grade level and two below grade level).  That’s twelve different versions of the same text!  These texts are then sent MetaMetrics for official Lexile scoring.  This is one of the features that sets this solution apart.  All students can read the same text at their level. 

Two professional graphic designers assist with the graphics and layout of each text.  Because the texts are informational, we use photographs whenever possible.  Each text has one or two graphics created by our talented designers that are unique to that text such as diagrams, timelines and text boxes.  You might know Common Core standards at several grade levels speak to the importance of illustrations.  In our text customization process, teachers can choose which graphic aids to include in a text, so graphics are an important part of our process.

The final texts are sent to another writer to create our Common Core-aligned comprehension questions and comprehension supports.  This writer has years of ELA assessment writing experience and has worked with major publishers.  She is also another set of proofreading eyes.

Once the questions and comprehension supports are edited and proofread, they are added to a recording script with the texts.  As teachers, we believe there is a lot for students to learn from the way a text is read from pacing to inflection.  This is why we take the extra time and great expense to record audio supports for all of the text a student sees on the screen rather than using an inexpensive auto-reader.  We also think listening to a text should be enjoyable for students.  Afterall, who likes listening to a robot for an extended period of time?

The audio supports are recorded at a studio with a sound engineer and a voice talent with decades of experience.  Two editors are also in each session to listen for accuracy, pacing, pronunciation and inflection.  The finished sound files are each listened to and compared with the script.

Next, the whole set of texts, graphics, questions, supports and audio files are sent to our programmer to work his coding magic.  Finally, each text is tested by our editors, as well as by students and teachers in classrooms.

Whew!  That is just a brief description, so you can have confidence that when you use StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way with your students, you are using a high-quality product designed to integrate with your curriculum. For more information about the research-basis for the texts, check out last month’s post.  And feel free to contact us if you would like more information about StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way or any of the steps above that go into creating each text.

Jan 082020
 

3-PS2-3 Ask questions to determine cause and effect relationships of electric or magnetic interactions between two objects not in contact with each other.

As we create informational texts for each of the Next Generation Science Standards, there are tons of amazing, interesting, and just plain weird facts we are learning. I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you, so this is the first in a series of posts that tell interesting science facts!

Magnets are also used to protect the health of animals and keep our food safe. Cows that are bred for their meat graze in fields. The fields can have small bits of metal stuck inside the grasses. The debris from the field can be harmful to the cow. It can also hurt people if it gets into the meat. Magnets are passed over a cow’s feed to remove stray metal objects. Farmers also put long, narrow magnets into the feed. The cow eats the magnets, which doesn’t hurt the cow, but it is never something a person should do! Magnets can get stuck in humans and cause a lot of problems. For the cow, as the magnets pass through its digestive tract, magnetic objects are collected. The debris comes out with the cow’s manure instead of getting lodged inside your hamburger! 

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This fun fact and more are found in the text: Amazing Magnets by Michelle Negron Bueno.  Amazing Magnets 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 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

Why is Informational Text Reading Comprehension Important?

 Posted by on December 23, 2019  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica, Content Recommendations, Reading Resources, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Why is Informational Text Reading Comprehension Important?
Dec 232019
 

It sounds like a silly question if you are a teacher.  We know students need to understand what they read, but maybe you haven’t stopped to really think about the question in awhile.  It may seem counterintuitive, but just because your students read fluently doesn’t mean they understand what they read.  This is a dangerous pitfall, because if we hear a student reading fluently, we often assume they are a good reader.

Assessing reading comprehension is further complicated when students who are able to comprehend fiction passages, may not be comprehend informational texts. Literary passages simply do not require the same set of comprehension skills as informational texts.

This issue of comprehending informational texts was identified in 1993 when researchers found “nearly 44 million American adults cannot extract even a single piece of information from a written text if any inference or background knowledge is required” (Levy, 1993). Not much since 1993 has happened to address the issue. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. fourth graders can only read at or below a basic level according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (The Nation’s Report Card, 2015).  Researchers have even identified a “fourth grade slump” they attribute to issues with comprehending informational text (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Chall & Jacobs, 2003; Sanacore & Palumbo, 2009).

It is no surprise success in school, career and society depends on a student’s ability to comprehend informational text (Duke 2004).  But did you know, increasing a child’s ability to comprehend informational text also increases overall reading achievement (Duke, 2004)?  Did you know, reading informational texts increases a child’s background knowledge and background knowledge accounts for as much as 33 percent of the variance in student achievement (Marzano, 2000)?  And did you know, a major predictor of overall student achievement is the ability to use comprehension strategies during content area reading (Duke, 2003b; Hall & Sabey, 2007; Vacca et al., 2009)?  These are some of the reasons why the writers of the Common Core recommend increasing the instructional time spent with informational text during elementary school from 10% to 50% (Coleman, 2011).  Is 50% of your reading instructional time spent with informational texts?  Probably not.  I know as a fourth grade teacher, I didn’t meet this goal for a variety of reasons including not enough access to informational texts and the inability of students to independently read the texts I did have in my classroom.

So, what can you do to help your students with informational text comprehension?  Not only does comprehending informational text require a different set of strategies for students than when reading fiction, it also requires a different set of strategies for teachers:

  • Students need to be proactively taught to identify and understand informational text features first and foremost (Bamford & Kristo, 1998).
  • Students benefit from learning multiple comprehension strategies while they are reading (McKeown et al., 2009).
  • The more informational texts a student reads, the better their ability to comprehend text (Brenner & Hiebert, 2010). 
  • Informational texts should be carefully integrated into the curriculum (Strauss, 2010).
  • Informational texts should be matched to the student’s reading level (Lennon, C. & Burdick, H., 2004).

Frustrated with the lack of informational text resources, we decided to come up with a new solution based on research to help teachers with informational text instruction.  StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way is a library of customizable informational texts written specifically to address the Next Generation Science Standards. StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way helps teachers access and integrate informational texts into their curriculum during ELA or science instructional time. Unique to our resource, texts can be adjusted to a student’s individual reading level, so all students can read the same text. Corresponding comprehension instructions are taught throughout the text and Common Core-aligned quiz questions are provided as well.

We are excited about StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way and will keep you updated on our progress through upcoming blogs. Please visit our website or contact us directly to learn more.

Meet Emily Starr

 Posted by on November 26, 2019  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Meet Emily Starr
Nov 262019
 

There is never enough time!  As a fourth-grade teacher, I felt the time squeeze every day in my classroom; not enough time to prepare meaningful lessons, not enough time to teach and not enough time to address individual student needs.  Five years into teaching, I was at the point of thinking, “Enough is enough!”  If you are a teacher, I’m sure you’ve had this feeling at some point.  

Emily Starr

My particular tipping point came one day in 2004.  I was handed a projector and asked to use it in my classroom.  My excitement to use technology quickly turned to dismay as I realized I had been given the equivalent of a DVD player without any DVDs.  I spent hours combing the web for resources and sifting through outdated software to find digital content related to my curriculum.  Finding content for the projector became one more thing on my already impossible to complete “to-do” list. Frustrated with the lack of resources, I began talking to fellow teachers and found they were experiencing the same problem. What I really needed was a library of digital content.  It simply didn’t exist.  And that’s how the idea for StarrMatica was born.

As fate would have it, I received a flyer in the mail from the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) about a class called “Boot Camp for Entrepreneurs:  Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Own Business.”  I took the class and thought, “I can do this.”  So, I began working with Ann Hutchinson from the SBDC on a business plan and within a year, I quit teaching and was working on StarrMatica full-time. 

Fast forward to today.  StarrMatica Learning Systems is a digital content development company specializing in K-5 customizable curriculum solutions. Even though I’m now joined by a team of experienced authors, educators and subject matter experts, I will always be a teacher at heart.  Every StarrMatica product is rooted in a desire to help teachers solve a classroom challenge with less time and effort.  Whether it is an issue with finding time to differentiate instruction, an issue with locating informational text resources for different reading levels or a problem with re-writing old lesson plans to meet the NGSS, I am tireless in search for solutions to help as many teachers as possible with their specific issues.  My focus has always and will always be on how to help teachers do their jobs more easily and effectively.  It is my belief that if you can help teachers teach at their highest levels, you’ll be helping their students learn at their highest levels.

Some of you may be familiar with StarrMatica from my library of digital content.  Others may be hearing about my company for the first time.  Either way, thank you for stopping by the blog and reading part of my story.  Please leave a comment below and let me know a little bit about your story.

You can check out the current projects I’m working on at www.starrmatica.com and stay tuned for next month’s blog where I take a dive into why informational text comprehension is so important.

Summer Updates Are Live!

 Posted by on September 3, 2014  Content Additions  Comments Off on Summer Updates Are Live!
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.

Common Question #4: How does StarrMatica support the Common Core ELA standards?

 Posted by on June 11, 2013  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica, Common Core  Comments Off on Common Question #4: How does StarrMatica support the Common Core ELA standards?
Jun 112013
 

In our Common Questions series, StarrMatica’s CEO, Emily Starr, answers some of the questions we are most commonly asked.

StarrMatica’s content addresses many of the Literature and Informational Text Common Core Standards.  There are several features to our content which are specifically focused on meeting the needs of teachers as they adjust to the Common Core.

  1. Teachers can search our entire library of content by the Common Core standards.
  2. In 3rd-5th grade, the Common Core focuses on non-fiction texts.  Half of the literature on StarrMatica is non-fiction including at least eight texts for every reading comprehension topic.
  3. StarrMatica’s 3rd-6th grade reading tests include both fiction and non-fiction texts.  The tests are open response which require students to type in answers, use details from the story to support answers, and justify/explain answers.  This is similar to the structure of the new Common Core assessments.
  4. For teachers looking for practice texts, look no further than StarrMatica’s picture book resources.  StarrMatica has developed picture book partner guides for many picture books.  These guides provide a lesson plan with printable questions for using the picture book to teach Common Core standards.  The standards addressed are listed in each guide.

As former teachers, we are committed to helping our fellow educators find quality digital content to assist in the Common Core transition.  Stay tuned for further Common Core updates!

Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part One – Visualizing Concepts

 Posted by on June 5, 2013  Content Integration Ideas  Comments Off on Virtual Manipulative Mania: Part One – Visualizing Concepts
Jun 052013
 

Every time I use the term virtual manipulatives outside the education community, my gaze is met with blank stares and funny looks. Being a teacher, “education speech” comes naturally to me, and I often forget that not everyone is a member of the club. Virtual manipulatives is a term that I always stop to explain to whomever I am speaking because virtual manipulatives are an integral part of using interactive content in the classroom effectively. I refer to manipulatives as online objects that can be moved and explored to help students understand concepts. A few examples would be base ten blocks, fraction bars and multiplication arrays.

As teachers begin to use interactive content in the classroom, I encourage them to use content that has already been created as a starting point for designing interactive lessons rather than starting from scratch to create their own content. I suggest this for three reasons:

1. It helps both tech-savvy and non-tech savvy-teachers begin to use interactive technologies right out of the box without having to spend time learning to use new content-creation software.

2. It increases teacher planning time by allowing them to focus on designing an effective lesson around the content rather than spending time with design elements of the content. ie: Teachers should be figuring out what questions to ask their students to guide their exploration of a manipulative rather than worrying about text size and finding appropriate graphics.

3. Teachers cannot create manipulatives with the same graphics and interactivity programmers can.  They simply don’t have the same tools and skill set.  And, manipulatives with those elements are an essential part of using interactive technologies effectively. (These points will be well evidenced throughout this series of posts.)

StarrMatica has curated one of the largest collections of virtual manipulatives available because of the reasons above, the research associated with the use of virtual manipulatives, and the reasons I will be sharing with you in subsequent posts, I believe virtual manipulatives should be the cornerstone of interactive content in the math classroom.

This is the first in a series of seven posts sharing why I believe so strongly in virtual manipulatives along with specific examples that exemplify each reason.

Virtual Manipulatives Help Students Visualize Concepts

Virtual manipulatives help students visualize abstract concepts. Using manipulatives for this purpose allows students to learn through inquiry and to explore a concept in a way that is not possible without the manipulative.

An obvious math example is base-ten blocks. These virtual manipulatives allow students to visualize the “sizes” of numbers indicated by their places in our number system. Below are three additional manipulatives that help students visualize concepts.

Mega Penny Project

Students explore images in this manipulative to help them visualize the size of large numbers using groups of pennies in relation to other objects.

 

 

 

Visualizing Percentages

Students visualize the size of percentages by viewing different objects.

 

 

 

Alphabet Symmetry

Students explore line symmetry by folding letters and symbols vertically and horizontally.

 

Common Question #3: Does StarrMatica automatically choose content for students?

 Posted by on November 28, 2012  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Common Question #3: Does StarrMatica automatically choose content for students?
Nov 282012
 

In our Common Questions series, StarrMatica’s CEO, Emily Starr, answers some of the questions we are most commonly asked.

First of all, research supports teacher selected instructional materials.  While at first glance it may seem easier to have a computer program choose activities for students, research has shown that technology, specifically instructional software, has been proven most effective when integrated into classroom instruction by a teacher.  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.  This is because teachers have the ability to match computer instruction with a child’s development, the curriculum sequence, and the needs of particular groups of students.

Secondly, when students use individualized software programs, and the program assigns activities, these activities are typically limited in number, are skill and drill based, use the same strategies over and over, and offer little learner choice.  If computer selected interventions are not effective, then teachers are once again searching for alternate resources.

With StarrMatica, teachers are presented with up to fifty digital content resources for a concept, so instead of relying on a singularly focused activity, teachers can try several interventions until a student succeeds. In addition, choosing interventions from multiple activities with multiple strategies allows teachers to match interventions to a student’s learning style, interests, strengths, and weaknesses.  A teacher knows that:

  • John would like this activity because he has an interest in cars and this activity involves racing problems.
  • Shoney is distracted by sounds, so I’m going to choose this soundless activity.
  • Mason just completed two multiple choice worksheets and he guessed on every answer so I’m going to choose an activity where he has to think of an answer and type it in.
  • Alex is a visual learner, so I am going to choose this learning animation that uses graphics to explain place value.
  • Scott needs to work on his test taking strategies, so I am going to choose this multiple choice activity.
  • Joaquin understands multi-digit multiplication problems using the grid method, so I am going to choose practice that allows him to use that strategy.

The bottom line is that teachers know their students best.  So, we strive to put the best digital content choices at the fingertips of teachers so they can choose what is best for their students.

 

Common Question #2: Doesn’t it take teachers a lot of time to use StarrMatica effectively?

 Posted by on October 30, 2012  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Common Question #2: Doesn’t it take teachers a lot of time to use StarrMatica effectively?
Oct 302012
 

In our Common Questions series, StarrMatica’s CEO, Emily Starr, answers some of the questions we are most commonly asked.

Yes and no.  As with any curriculum resource, yes, of course it is going to take time to choose content that fits best with your lessons and for your students.  However, think about the amount of time teachers are currently spending:

  • learning to use new programs such as SMART Notebook, designing lessons, and creating those lessons using the software
  • on interactive whiteboard communities sifting through other teachers lessons, downloading lessons, and modifying lessons.
  • on Google searches trying and find interactive content that fits with their lesson, that doesn’t have ads, and that was designed for education
  • searching for resources to help individual students and photocopying worksheets and creating independent learning activities

And after they have done all of that work searching for content, teachers have often run out of time to plan how to use that content effectively within their overall lesson.

StarrMatica actually saves teachers time by providing multiple search functions so teachers can find targeted content and quickly make content choices.  Then they have the time to plan how to use that content effectively within their lesson structure or with specific students.

The overall structure of StarrMatica’s search and share features are intuitive and easy-to-use which also streamlines the process.  One of the most common comments we receive from our members is that they can tell StarrMatica was designed by a teacher.  The library is structured the way teachers typically think about and organize content, which makes finding the content they are looking for a snap.

Common Question #1: How are your standards aligned?

 Posted by on September 6, 2012  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica, Common Core  Comments Off on Common Question #1: How are your standards aligned?
Sep 062012
 

In our Common Questions series, StarrMatica’s CEO, Emily Starr, answers some of the questions we are most commonly asked.

How are your standards aligned?

In one sentence:  They are aligned the hard way!  Instead of relying on an automated alignment system like most software and publishing companies use, StarrMatica’s standards are aligned line by line by educators.  We go through each benchmark (or essential skill, or whatever the most narrow category is called—because it is different for different standards sets) line by line and align StarrMatica content to each benchmark.  This is a long and tedious process, but it results in content that is more closely and accurately aligned to standards than what is possible with an automated system.

Our textbook alignments are similarly thorough.  We obtain the teacher manuals for each series from the publishers and go through page by page to align StarrMatica content to each lesson.

While this means it may take a week to get a new state aligned or a month to get a new textbook aligned, we know it is worth your wait time and our work time to produce alignments of the highest quality.