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STAARScopes from Rice University
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STAARScopes from Rice University

By Reid Whitaker

December, 2010


Who knew that Rice University was helping science teachers prepare for STAAR with STAARscopes?


The Rice Online Learning Experiences K12 Project in the Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning ( at Rice University hosts TAKScopes, a web-based curriculum management system for K-5 science teachers that is currently used in over 11,000 Texas public and charter school classrooms across the state. In the summer of 2011, TAKScopes will morph in to a new program called STAARscopes (aptly names for the new Texas learning assessment and standards - STAAR) and will expand to include middle school science and high school biology. STAARscopes will feature new components that will provide a plethora of resource sand activities for teachers tot each science concepts and scientific process skills.


TAKScopes was created in 2006 to address teachers’ need for rigorous, accurate, and engaging science resources. A feature that differentiates this program from other commercially available curricula systems is the combination of Texas state standards (called theTEKS – Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and the 5E instructional model). These were the building blocks for the entire system. With the state and district accountability a prime focus, teachers needed resources that not only were hands-on and content-rich but also reflected mandated key concepts that students were to be tested on. “TAKScopesis able to bridge the need for standards-based instruction with fun, engaging, and relevant science,” states Maria Picon (a teacher in Bryan ISD). “It makes science fun to teach. I used to be scared to teach science but TAKscopes make sit easy and relevant. I’m not scared anymore!”


During the design process of TAKScopes and STAARscopes the site was teacher-tested to ensure its user-friendliness. In a recent survey of over 100 teachers, 87% noted the ease of use as the number one reason for TAKScopes’ continued use. “This is a huge accomplishment!”states Reid Whitaker, Director of TAKScopes/STAARscopes and the Rice Online Learning Experiences K12 Project. “The complexity of using online programs is still a major reason why teachers don’t use on-line systems. Our programs eliminate that hurdle!”


The program starts with taking a prescribed learning objective (such as learning about magnets which is identified as 1.6B in the TEKS) and creating a teaching unit around the specific science concept called a scope. Currently, TAKScopes has over 101 scopes or learning units. The program uses the validated 5E strategy of teaching in order to organize the all of the learning experiences within a scope. The 5E method consists of engaging the student; exploring the concept through a hands-on activity; explaining the learning topic through questioning, discussion,and vocabulary review;elaborating or extending the learning through reading,writing, doing math, or further inquiry; and finally, evaluating the student’s mastery of the topic through performance based, criterion-referenced, and interactive assessments.


TAKScopes is currently used in 145 public school districts comprised of over 550 Texas schools serving K-5 students. And it even has subscribers in Latin America. Many school districts use the program as their core curriculum to teach science. “As a classroom teacher, I watched the transformation of my students’ science knowledge and skills as result of using TAKScopes. “I am excited now to be able to oversee the creation of the new version of this program - STAARscopes,” states Andrew Ginakis, Associate Director.


STAARscopes will have new interactive learning components such as virtual lab investigations and science songs that students can use with Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution. “Our goal is to get teachers to love to teach science so their students will love learning science,” states the Director,Reid Whitaker. “We can do this by offering a variety of ways to tackle science concepts and by making science applicable to students from all backgrounds and from all levels of achievement.”


Check out TAKScopes and learn more about STAARscopes, by visiting can preview the site by logging on with ID: guest and password: guest.



For more information about the Rice Online Learning Experiences (K12) Project, please or call us at 713-348-5433.


The Science Teachers Association of Texas



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