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The Difference Between a Curriculum, a Program, and a Library of Content

 Posted by on November 12, 2013  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on The Difference Between a Curriculum, a Program, and a Library of Content
Nov 122013

starrsWhen someone is first introduced to StarrMatica, we always begin by sharing that StarrMatica is a library of content, not a program or a curriculum.  This is a very important distinction, and one that we have found is foreign to many educators for a myriad of reasons.  Just like our students, we use our prior knowledge to categorize new things, so educators immediately try to compare StarrMatica to what they already know.  Being the first and only library of content in the marketplace creates a unique challenge because they haven’t seen anything like StarrMatica before.  So in trying to make connections, educators immediately start asking questions that compare us to a publisher-based curriculum or an individualized software program.  Neither of which StarrMatica was designed to be.  (One of the reasons for this is explained here:  https://blog.starrmatica.com/common-question-3-does-starrmatica-automatically-choose-content-for-students/) So to help educators connect StarrMatica to prior experiences, we describe it as being just like a library of books.  Educators pick and choose particular pieces of content, just like they choose particular books off a library shelf according to the needs of their lesson and the needs of specific students.

And therein lies the difference between StarrMatica and a “program” or a “curriculum.”  StarrMatica is designed as a teacher directed resource.  Because as teachers, we know that:

No curriculum or program is complete.

Every classroom lesson is different.

Every student is different.

And teachers know their students best.

It is often a great challenge to help educators move beyond the one-size-fits-all program or curriculum comparison into an outside-of-the-box notion that digital content can be used as an effective tool by knowledgable educators to customize their lessons for specific purposes.  Once that connection is made and the difference is clear, it is easy for educators to see the great value of StarrMatica as a library of content that can be used easily, efficiently, and effectively supplement their chosen curriculum.

Behind the Scenes: The Creative Talent Behind StarrMatica’s K-2 Songs

 Posted by on July 2, 2013  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Behind the Scenes: The Creative Talent Behind StarrMatica’s K-2 Songs
Jul 022013

steve couchSteve Couch loves to train children in good behaviors through music, videos and cartoons.

He has performed his “Be a School Superhero” Bully Prevention show and his “I Like to Read” show for thousands of children throughout the Midwest. He also has three Creative Child and Parents’ Choice award winning children’s albums: “The World is a Rainbow”, Dinosaur Rhythms” and “Stop, Think, Choose”; an elementary school counselor’s training manual; and his “Step Up” Bullying Prevention DVD – available on his children’s training website www.ethics4schools.com

Ever since high school he has been a comedian, musician and performer and strives to use those talents to teach young children about the importance of healthy habits like reading, exercise, sharing and friendship. In 2001, he created and managed an interactive online training and video department for the national OSHA safety training company American Safety Training, where he feel in love with researching how humans learn.

Now he helps StarrMatica create engaging songs that entertain while teaching. “We are entering a golden age of human leaning, and the importance of StarrMatica’s mission can not be overemphasized.” says Steve. “It is a great honor for me to be able to help such a fine company use the latest technology.”

Check out Steve’s songs in StarrMatica’s new K-2 Telling Time lesson!

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!

Behind the Scenes: The Creative Talent Behind StarrMatica’s K2 Content

 Posted by on April 5, 2013  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Behind the Scenes: The Creative Talent Behind StarrMatica’s K2 Content
Apr 052013

Deanna Stoube loves challenging herself to create lessons that engage young learners in a story and teaches them a strategy/skill along the way.  When she was a classroom teacher she would use themes to create environments to support the lessons she would teach.  For example, in her last classroom, the school was building a new library just outside Deanna’s windows.  Instead of worrying about the distraction it might be for her class, Deanna turned construction into the theme for the year.  From Building a Story to Caution:  Falling Teeth her students were engaged in learning through their construction theme.

Deanna left her first grade classroom to become a teacher of future teachers.  During that time she had a future teacher in her class that would – years later – provide Deanna with an opportunity to return to her love of lesson writing.  That future teacher was StarrMatica’s CEO, Emily Starr.  In 2012 Emily asked Deanna if she’d be interested in developing K-2 Literacy lessons for StarrMatica.   Deanna jumped at the chance to once again challenge herself to create literacy lessons for young learners.  The added bonus of creating these lessons to be done online made the opportunity even more appealing.

It’s difficult for Deanna to pinpoint her favorite part of lesson writing.  She usually spends hours doodling ideas on legal pads and dreaming about possibilities.  Then it’s on to storyboarding how to make the lesson come alive.  Developing literacy lessons for StarrMatica has become a family project.  Deanna counts on her husband and three children to listen to her ideas and give their thoughts.  In fact, you’ll see Deanna’s children and their pets as characters in many of her lessons.

While Deanna loves the time she gets to spend working for StarrMatica, she continues in her role as a teacher of future teachers.  Helping future teachers of literacy see the opportunities they have available to them to enhance their teaching, brings her two professional loves together – teaching future teachers and developing lessons for StarrMatica.

Behind the Scenes: The Creative Talent Behind StarrMatica’s K2 Content

 Posted by on March 12, 2013  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Behind the Scenes: The Creative Talent Behind StarrMatica’s K2 Content
Mar 122013

When Debra Housel started her career in education 30 years ago, computers were only used in programming classes.  Programmers would keypunch their instructions on paper cards and submit them, in correct order, to the central processing center that held room-sized computers!  She couldn’t foresee that she would one day be writing interactive K-2 math content for StarrMatica because there was no such thing.  However, she did know that she was meant to spend her life as an educator.

Debra spent 15 years as a reading teacher, working with students in classrooms that ranged from elementary school to community college.  In creating materials for her students, she discovered her unique ability to take the complex and make it clear.  So, when she stayed home with her three children, she launched an educational writing career.  When it came time to consider returning to a classroom, she realized that she could make a difference in 25 students’ lives each year . . . or she could affect the learning of tens of thousands through her educational materials.  She chose the road less traveled.

Writing the K-2 math storyboards for StarrMatica has been a new and exciting challenge.  She says, “Creating storyboards is essentially the same as writing picture books.  Instead of pages that turn, the student or computer changes the screen.”  The best part has been coming up with a story that can teach the concepts to be covered.  The story is all-important since it draws the viewers in and keeps them interested. They actually learn math and math terminology without necessarily realizing it.  Debra states, “StarrMatica is light years beyond the boring math textbooks of my own childhood.  The child’s interaction with the content makes learning fun and holds the attention of the “video-game generation.”

In the past 14 years, Debra has written more than 100 titles.  Nine of those have won the prestigious Association of Educational Publishers (AEP) Distinguished Achievement Award.  Here’s her advice to those who want to work in the field of creating educational content: “Don’t limit yourself to doing one thing.  When I started working for StarrMatica,  I’d never done storyboards before.  I did it by following my motto:  Excellence is the only option.”

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.


Behind the Scenes: The Voice of StarrMatica’s K-2nd Grade Content

 Posted by on November 6, 2012  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Behind the Scenes: The Voice of StarrMatica’s K-2nd Grade Content
Nov 062012

Polly Peterson started out with aspirations to teach. Many of her relatives are teachers and principals, and although she has taught communication courses at her local community college, her radio career and voice over work takes center stage and has for the past 30 years.

When StarrMatica began looking for the voice of our K-2nd grade content, our recording specialist at Attica Recording Studios suggested we have Polly do a test recording of some of our content.  Once we heard her read the line from our cause and effect lesson, “The dominoes falling caused the spider to be squished.” we were hooked.  We couldn’t believe she could make a spider being squished sound so cute.

Polly’s favorite part of recording for StarrMatica is being able to help kids!  With her teaching background, she really appreciates the writing of the lessons.  “The online teaching technique provides a relaxed and fun playground for kids to soak up valuable learning lessons,” Polly shares.

And although Polly looks forward to every recording session, she quips that singing a modified version of BINGO in the Numerals lesson was quite a challenge.  “All kidding aside,” Polly shares, “I feel honored to be a part of this.”

Polly’s work outside of StarrMatica includes radio, tv, online, and training projects for major corporations.   But, Polly likes to stay busy with voice projects because she believes, “If you love what you do then it’s not work!”  And you can hear that enthusiasm in her work with StarrMatica.

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.

Videos to Share

 Posted by on October 24, 2012  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Videos to Share
Oct 242012

Having trouble describing to colleagues exactly what StarrMatica is and how it helps your students?  We’ve created two videos that can help.

In this video, Pekin principal, Jeff Eeling, shares how StarrMatica helped his teachers meet individual student needs:

Click here to watch the video

In this video, Superintendent, John Dotson, shares how StarrMatica helped his teachers use technology effectively:

Click here to watch the video

Want to star in your own StarrMatica video?  Drop us an email and we might just visit your school with our cameras rolling!

Behind the Scenes: The Voice of StarrMatica’s 3rd-6th Grade Content

 Posted by on October 2, 2012  Behind the Scenes of StarrMatica  Comments Off on Behind the Scenes: The Voice of StarrMatica’s 3rd-6th Grade Content
Oct 022012

Matt Williams didn’t grow up knowing he wanted to be a voiceover talent. He “fell” into the job after being asked by a local production company if he wanted to voice a commercial back in 1997. In 2005, Matt decided to go full time into voice over, which was perfect timing since that’s when StarrMatica’s first lessons were being developed! Many voices sent StarrMatica audition tapes, but when StarrMatica’s CEO, Emily Starr, heard Matt’s voice, she knew it was the voice of StarrMatica. “Matt’s has the kind of voice kids would imagine coming from a favorite teacher—authoritative yet friendly.”

Matt’s favorite part of being the voice of StarrMatica for 3rd-6th grade is getting to record the short stories. “It allowed me to play an old woman, a little girl or boy, a monster and more. Although it could be taxing to keep the flow from character to character, it was like reading to my four kids at home.” Although Matt shares that he enjoys “getting to bring the words on a sheet of paper to life through the use of my voice. It’s a unique job and I love doing it.” He also admits that, “Recording is hard. I’m working. It’s mentally taxing. After a few hours of recording, I’ve always said that it was like working a regular 8 hour day. Voice over is what I love to do, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. I recommend that anyone find a few things they know they love and start doing them.”

Matt keeps very busy with work outside of StarrMatica. In fact, he specializes in voice over acting for television, radio, websites, training, narration, and more. He has worked for clients such as John Deere, CBS Chicago, Pontiac, The Boy Scouts of America and is the voice of dozens of radio stations all across the U.S. Matt is nationally and internationally utilized for voice over with hundreds of clients that span the globe. We’re just glad he chose StarrMatica to be one of those clients!