Porter, TX – Big Universe’s popularity has spread quickly throughout the halls of Valley Ranch Elementary in Porter, Texas. In 2014, only one teacher, Library Media Specialist Cathy Tooley, used the digital library. Now it’s available to all of the school’s 700 K-5 students. In that short time, Big Universe has not only become a must-have resource for classroom teachers, but also one administrators rely on to support technology initiatives and achieve school-wide academic goals.
Big Universe at School
A shift in Valley Ranch’s technology initiative prompted Ms. Tooley to pilot Big Universe with her students. “I knew we were going 1:1 during the 2014-15 school year, and I wasn’t sure how to incorporate that into the reading and language arts classroom I was teaching at the time,” she explains.
Ms. Tooley discovered that Big Universe offered her and her students access to a large library of high-quality, high-interest text comparable to what she’d seen in similar but more expensive programs. Plus, her subscription didn’t just buy her unlimited, simultaneous access to more than 11,000 eBooks; she liked the numerous reading and writing tools built into the program, including advanced search, leveled text, standards-aligned quizzes, a writing and publishing tool, and built-in lesson plans and downloads.
The work Ms. Tooley and her students did within Big Universe soon caught the attention of new principal Carrie Garza, and she decided to expand its use when she joined the Valley Ranch team in 2015. If Big Universe could provide such strong instructional support in a single ELA class, it could surely be used throughout the school to supplement teaching in other subjects and strengthen academic skills across the curriculum. After all, Big Universe offers 11,000+ fiction and nonfiction text in every subject, from English and math to science and social studies.
No matter the classroom, teachers now assign and encourage independent reading from Big Universe, and Ms. Tooley offers access to eBooks in her library. “We are a balanced literacy campus,” Ms. Tooley says. “And part of that is independent reading. As a school, we understand the importance of independent reading and having our students have a love for reading.”
Big Universe in the Classroom
Tools within Big Universe have helped build literacy in classrooms throughout the school. In the lower grade levels, student enjoy following along in picture books. In upper grades, teachers use Hi-lo text to motivate at-risk students to read with eBooks about topics they want to explore.
Approximately 25 percent of Valley Ranch students are English language learners (ELL). Dual-language teachers find Big Universe effective for engaging students with Spanish text while gradually building their English literacy skills. Big Universe offers these students an expansive Spanish-language library to choose from. “The Valley Ranch library is only 15 – 18 percent Spanish,” Tooley says. “Big Universe has a lot more than that.”
Big Universe Creates Big Growth at Valley Ranch
Students are enjoying reading on Big Universe since the digital library became available school-wide. Their personal bookshelves are filled, and they collectively read as many as 8,000 eBooks each month. Teachers love it too, since it gives students access to fiction and nonfiction that they’re excited to read while helping enrich instruction and improve student outcomes. Administrators such as Ms. Garza are especially pleased with students’ academic growth, which she highly attributes to Big Universe.
“We take the STARR tests, which measure four indexes,” explains Garza. “The second is student growth.” Out of the entire New Caney School District, Valley Ranch Elementary has the highest level of student growth across all subjects compared to every other school, which Ms. Garza believes has a lot to do with Big Universe and the independent reading students are doing on it. After all, she knows the power that literacy has to not only improve ELA scores, but scores in other subjects, too. “We all know that math and science tests are reading tests, too,” she says.