A Rural Iowa Beginning

Mr. Campbell, my sixth grade teacher, was a scientist at heart. I was lucky enough to attend a small rural elementary school in Iowa that had a dedicated science lab, and Mr. Campbell took full advantage of the space. We tested mystery powders, conducted gravity investigations, and wrote lab reports. I looked forward to science class everyday because it was interesting and engaging. Mr. Campbell’s classes gave me a solid science foundation to build upon as I progressed through school, and as an aspiring teacher, he also gave me an exemplary model of what effective science instruction should look like.

But that doesn’t mean replicating his methods were easy. My first year of teaching was a disaster. My classroom was a loud, not well-managed place where I felt stuck teaching a worksheet driven curriculum. One of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy year was a unit on habitats where each section of fourth grade chose a habitat and created a display model to use to teach the other classrooms. My students and I turned our entire room into rainforest immersion experience. Carpet rolls turned into tall palms and painted foam balls and feathers turned into toucans.

I spent hours upon hours gathering books, videos, supplies, and ideas to help my students explore the rainforest habitat, but I couldn’t spend that amount of time on every lesson I planned. That’s why I am passionate about helping teachers quickly find the resources they really need, so their lessons can be more engaging and effective without a bunch of extra time and effort.

When I taught fourth grade, I spent a lot of time searching for informational texts to support my science and social studies standards. It was time consuming and frustrating. Even when I was successful in locating a text, I only had one copy for my entire class, and most of my students couldn’t read it on their own. Having a library of texts that allowed all of my students to read the same content at their independent reading level would have been a game changer in my classroom, and that’s why I created StarrMatica Texts: Science Your Way and Social Studies Your Way. My goal is to help teachers more easily and effectively teach NGSS, Social Studies, and Common Core ELA standards while differentiating instruction for every student.

Meet StarrMatica’s STEAM Dream Team

Emily Starr, CEO

Emily Starr knows the challenges of elementary education. Fueled by her teaching experience and a desire to help fellow educators, Emily left the classroom in 2005 and StarrMatica Publishing Group was born. 16 years later, Emily continues to be a leader in the field of innovative classroom resources. She has a passion for creating STEM teaching resources to support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and to help teachers differentiate reading instruction. When she’s not wordsmithing texts, recording audio files, or designing products, Emily loves exploring the outdoors with her two sons and scuba diving with her husband.

Brad Sapp, Lead Programmer

Brad Sapp is StarrMatica’s lead programmer and web developer. Backed by degrees in physics and chemistry, Brad expertly guides the development of StarrMatica’s second-generation content. In addition to his role with StarrMatica, Brad is the President and Principal Developer of Rise Above Creative, a web development firm out of Nashville, TN. When he’s not working in the Matrix, Brad loves to hang out with his wife and two boys – swimming in their pool, playing sports, and enjoying the great outdoors.

Tricia Hoover, Lead Content Writer

Tricia Hoover wanted to be a “Star Wars” Jedi when she was growing up.
When that didn’t work out, she became an electrical engineer instead. After fifteen years of designing computer chips, Hoover started writing to creating worlds of her own. In addition to writing StarrMatica content, she is the award-winning author of the young adult books “The Hidden Code” and “Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life.” When she is not writing she spends her time solving Rubik’s cubes, practicing kung fu, and watching Star Trek. She has two dogs and two turtles that will live to be 180 years old.

Katy Severe, Social Media & Marketing Specialist

Katy has a Masters degree in education, starting her teaching career as a fourth grade teacher in Oregon before moving to Iowa in 2011. In her 15 years of teaching she has taught sixth grade, Special Education, Montessori education, and most recently ran a Montessori school out of her basement during the 2020-21 school year. As someone who has stayed up late many nights planning and preparing lessons for her students, she knows first-hand the immense value of what StarrMatica’s products and resources can provide to teachers. Katy is ready for a new chapter in her career, and she is excited to help get StarrMatica into the hands and hearts of more educators. When she’s not teaching, Katy enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids exploring the outdoors, gardening, reading, and creating art.

Polly Peterson, Voice Talent

Polly Peterson’s voice-over work has been key to StarrMatica’s success. With over 38 years of experience as a radio broadcaster and voice-over artist, Polly’s clear vocal presentation allows students to engage with StarrMatica resources in a meaningful way regardless of ability or reading comprehension level. When she’s not busy laying down tracks, Polly loves to cook for her family and friends and get out in nature to kayak on Iowa’s lakes and quarries in the summer. During the colder months, she likes to dabble in water colors and oils to relax.

Karen Breitbach, Physical Science Expert

Karen started her career in the Materials lab at the John Deere Tractor Works in Waterloo, Iowa. Working on her Master’s degree in Chemistry persuaded her to pursue education. She spent the next 20 years teaching high school science, every discipline at one time or another. Mentoring aspiring science teachers from the nearby university was also a rewarding aspect of her teaching career. These days, she finds herself teaching Materials Chemistry (many of her students work for John Deere) and Physical Science for elementary/middle level education majors at the collegiate level, and collaborating with Emily Starr and Tricia Hoover on StarrMatica’s texts. When she’s not teaching, she is lost in a good book or playing in the dirt in her gardens.

Mike Vitalini, Life Science Expert

Mike Vitalini is still figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up. In the meantime, he is a Professor of Biology and Director of General Education at St Ambrose University where he helps students enjoy the processes of scientific and educational exploration. As a microbiologist, he helps students to ‘see’ the importance of our invisible microbial friends and to make connections among the visible and microbial worlds. For the past several years, Mike has also served as a science content consultant for various projects with the College Board and StarrMatica. If he is not in the lab, classroom, or office, you can find Mike in the woods, hiking and taking pictures of fungi.

Aaron Spurr, Earth and Space Science Expert

Aaron Spurr is an Instructor of Earth Science and Science Education at the University of Northern Iowa. He has 17 years of experience teaching secondary science, and uses that foundation to primarily work with students preparing to be K-12 educators. He has a special interest in the effective integration of technology in teaching. His hobbies include biking, quilting, and tinkering with computers. He also enjoys teaching driver education to aspiring teenage drivers.

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