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Emily Starr

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.

StarrMatica’s Story: A Quest to Change Teaching

 Posted by on August 28, 2012  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on StarrMatica’s Story: A Quest to Change Teaching
Aug 282012

by Emily Starr (President/CEO StarrMatica.com)

I always knew I wanted to be an elementary teacher. I idolized my creative fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Burnett, who inspired my love of writing with outdoor journeys to sit under trees and journal. I was intrigued by my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Campbell, who designed fantastic labs for us to experiment using the scientific process. I loved school buildings with colorful bulletin boards, clanging bells, squeaking shoes in the gym, and loud conversations in the cafeteria. So it was no surprise when so many of my peers were struggling to decide their future careers, I declared elementary education as my major and never looked back.

Emily Starr and her fourth grade student in 2005.

I taught fourth grade for five years, first at Briggs Elementary in Maquoketa, Iowa, and then at Ekstrand Elementary in DeWitt, Iowa. I had fun using technology in my lessons, which also came as no surprise. My mom was a business education teacher, so I grew up learning to type with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing on the first IBM computers. (And playing Snake Byte when my lesson was finished!)

My first year I won Iowa’s Spotlight on Education Technology Award for my use of technology in the classroom. So you can imagine how excited I was when at Ekstrand, I was one of the first teachers to receive a projector. I saw it as a window to the world and an exciting new possibility for engaging my students. But my excitement quickly turned to disappointment, and my disappointment to frustration, and my frustration to dread.

I searched the internet hours at a time for quality interactive content to visually explore math concepts and apply reading comprehension skills. I should have been developing engaging lessons using interactive content during all those hours, not simply searching to find it.

Much of my school’s software collection was out of date and what did work only covered a small portion of my curriculum. I investigated new software, but it was sold in pieces and parts, and the comprehensive programs were ridiculously expensive. I was tired of searching and angered by the lack of a solution.

What I really wanted was a library of digital content that covered my entire curriculum and allowed me to select the resources that were best for my lessons and my students. That library simply didn’t exist. So in 2005, I decided to create it myself so other teachers wouldn’t experience the same frustrations I had.

From its classroom roots, StarrMatica has grown to be an award-winning library of online digital content for interactive whiteboards, tablets, response systems, projectors and computers. Teachers and students benefit from 4,800 K-6 reading and math simulations, animations, activities, games and assessments searchable by grade, topic, state standard, National Core Curriculum, and textbook curriculums.

Classroom educators design and review our research-based content, making StarrMatica like a friendly colleague with digital content expertise. Just as I had envisioned, educators who partner with StarrMatica quickly locate targeted content for specific lessons and for specific students, so they can spend their valuable time planning effective lessons that leverage technology so every student can shine.

Now you know why I say StarrMatica is “Your Digital Content Teaching Partner”.