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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!

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”.