Fullerton, CA - Acacia Elementary is a standout school in the Fullerton School District, and it has a reputation for high student achievement. More than half of the children who attend transfer in, and there’s a waiting list to enroll. In 2013, Acacia was even named the number one public elementary school in Orange County by The Orange County Register.
A series of fortunate events lead up to teachers like Tracey Anderson utilizing Big Universe in their classrooms at Acacia. First, the school was selected by the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING. This made teachers eligible to apply for a fellowship to receive advanced professional development. When Ms. Anderson, a second-grade teacher, was awarded the fellowship, she trained in the Lucy Calkins workshop model for teaching reading and writing. “We visited schools where this workshop was implemented, and one school was using Big Universe,” says Ms. Anderson.
When Ms. Anderson and the rest of the Acacia Fellows returned to school, they presented the Big Universe digital library to administrators. Some teachers began using the program in 2015-16, and now about 75 percent of the school’s 22 K-6 classrooms utilize the digital library.
Big Universe supports the school’s technology driven learning model, which gives every student access to an iPad. This push started about five years ago when the school launched a BYOD program in select classrooms. The first year was a success, and more and more classrooms joined the initiative over time. “Now Acacia is 1:1,” says Ms. Anderson. “We started with BYOD, but now 100 percent of our devices are provided by the school or the district.”
Ms. Anderson also believes Big Universe is the perfect complement to the Calkins reading and writing workshop model, which encourages students to read texts of their choosing at their individual reading levels. “To support this model, teachers must have hundreds of books in the classroom,” explains Ms. Anderson. She also points out that Common Core State Standards now demand more nonfiction content, which she and other teachers have few of. To collect the number and types of books necessary would take considerable time and a substantial budget. With Big Universe, Ms. Anderson and her students can access more than 10,000 eBooks for a fraction of the cost to buy them all.
Because the Calkins model is closely tied to reading level, all 32 students in Ms. Anderson’s class know their Fountas & Pinnell levels. During their daily hour-long reading workshop, or when they finish work early, students can log into Big Universe, filter book options for their reading level and search for the specific topic or type of text they want to read. “Students get to choose the books they want to read to practice a reading skill and strategy, and providing students with book choice is huge,” Ms. Anderson says. And when given the choice between bound books and digital text, “Many of my students prefer Big Universe.”