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Emily Starr

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!

Get to Know the StarrMatica Team: Sarah Wassner Flynn

 Posted by on February 26, 2020  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Get to Know the StarrMatica Team: Sarah Wassner Flynn
Feb 262020
 

Hi! I’m Sarah and I am a writer for StarrMatica. Writing for kids is a passion of mine I developed at my first job out of college with National Geographic KIDS magazine. Prior to that point, I had visions of working for a fashion magazine. But I soon realized writing for a younger audience and sharing stories about the world with them is really fulfilling. I soon forgot my fashion dreams.

After National Geographic, I did a stint at a couple of magazines in NYC, including CosmoGirl!, a spin-off of the (much more) grown up Cosmopolitan magazine. Transitioning from writing for kids to writing for teens was a natural progression, and I realized my future would likely be in writing for younger audiences.

Fast-forward a few years and I decided to venture into the world of freelance. I was expecting my first child and wanted a more flexible position which allowed me to write for a variety of audiences. That’s when I came into writing not only for National Geographic Kids Magazine but for National Geographic books as well. Writing books soon proved to be even more rewarding than writing magazine articles, because I am able to dig my heels into some very fun topics, whether it’s trash (like for This Book Stinks!), Greek Mythology (Weird But True Know It All: Ancient Egypt) or the science and culture of all things “cute” (This Book Is Cute). I’ve done several fact-based books, where I can really flex my research muscles and find super fun (and weird!) facts for books like Weird But True and 5,000 Awesome Facts. All told, I have contributed to or authored some 20 books and recently won a few awards for my work. It’s a fun, fulfilling career I am very lucky to have!

Though I am not strictly a science writer, I am interested in exploring the world around us and enjoy breaking down more complex topics into information kids can easily understand–which is what brought me to StarrMatica. I really enjoy the process of writing science content for kids from kindergartners to fifth graders, including finding the topics and coming up with fun, fresh approaches to explaining various concepts. I hope my work not only helps students but their teachers as well!

When I am not writing, I am busy running around with my four children, ages 11, 9, 7 and a newborn. The older three are at a perfect age to enjoy (and critique!) my work, so I often run whatever I write by them for their honest opinions–of which they have many!

It’s funny to look back at 22-year-old me who thought she’d wind up as a famous editor of a fashion magazine. While my life may be a bit less glamorous, it’s probably a lot more fun the way it all played out.

Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – 4-PS3-1

 Posted by on February 12, 2020  Phenomenon Ideas  Comments Off on Phenomenon for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – 4-PS3-1
Feb 122020
 

4-PS3-1 Use evidence to construct an explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object.

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 penguin phenomenon!

Did you know that even though penguins are classified as birds, they can’t fly? But as you can see in this photo, that doesn’t mean that penguins can’t become airborne. Penguins have the ability to hurtle themselves from the water in a spectacular way.

A penguin’s launch through the air actually begins on the ice. Penguins spread oil on their feathers with their beaks to make them slick in the water and to trap air between their feathers and skin. This air becomes extremely important later in the water.

The penguin starts the process of launching back onto the ice by actually diving down, as deep as 1,800 feet. That’s the same distance as six football fields! The dive gives the penguin a “running start” to its launch. When it gets deep enough, it turns back toward the surface. As it begins to swim upward, the penguin releases tiny bubbles of air that it had trapped between its feathers and skin. The bubbles cover the penguin’s body like a jacket. The bubbles store energy. As the penguin releases them, more and more energy transfers to the penguin, helping it rise through the water faster and faster.

Energy from the water collides with the energy made by the penguin using its flippers, tail, and tiny bubbles. The penguin’s speed, just as it breaks the surface of the water, is now twice as fast as it was when it was swimming downward! The faster the penguin’s speed, the higher it will rise as it flies out of the water toward the ice.

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This excerpt is from the text: The Flight of a Penguin by Michelle Negron Bueno.  The Flight of a Penguin 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

Get to Know the StarrMatica Team: Shannon Mc Elroy

 Posted by on January 24, 2020  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Get to Know the StarrMatica Team: Shannon Mc Elroy
Jan 242020
 

Since StarrMatica is a teacher-owned company, we would like to introduce one of our team members whose commitment to educational texts helps to make us who we are today. Shannon McElroy is one of our writers who creates comprehension supports and Common Core aligned questions for StarrMatica Texts:  Science Your Way and for StarrMatica Texts: Social Studies Your Way.

Shannon has a history of writing stories, informational texts, assessment items and learning support materials for kindergarten through college-level students. She loves it all. Creating content for a wide age range keeps her engaged year after year, as well as toggling between Language Arts and Science topics. Her content can be found in standardized assessments, education-based websites, at-home learning products and customized classroom content.

Shannon loves the freedom of researching unusual topics and pursuing an idea further than she had time for as a classroom teacher, “I loved the interaction of being with students in the classroom, but I found myself going home and researching our class material even further on my own. That’s why writing on a topic for a variety of grade levels is so exciting to me. I love the challenge of taking a complicated topic and making it appealing to a younger audience and then on the flip side, diving deep into a simple topic for older students.”

As educational technology has evolved, Shannon has kept pace through developing assessment items for the first-generation computer adaptive testing systems and creating content for cutting-edge interactive computer modules catering to individual learning styles. On the ever-increasing sophistication of technology-based education products, Shannon states, “The technology may change, but the importance of engaging students with exciting content and showing them how to stretch their knowledge and stay curious about the world around them will never change.”

Thank you for all the hard work, Shannon!