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Emily Starr

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:

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.


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!

StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way

 Posted by on January 15, 2020  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica, Science Resources  Comments Off on StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way
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.

Did You Know? Fun Facts for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – 3-PS2-3

 Posted by on January 8, 2020  Phenomenon Ideas  Comments Off on Did You Know? Fun Facts for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) – 3-PS2-3
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! 


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!