Strawbees for Equity and Literacy

An article about using literacy to make sense of the world.

What is Literacy?

Literacy is an essential topic, especially in primary elementary school. However, teachers at the secondary level, including math teachers, all have a role to play in literacy education. The Oxford Dictionary defines literacy as the “ability to read and write.” In the 21st-century, it is necessary to dig a little deeper and ask the questions, “Read what? Write what? And how, and why?” While literacy has traditionally been about reading chapters of a book for an assignment or crafting a 5-paragraph paper on a topic, literacy is the full spectrum of reading, writing, and speaking as effective communication in order to make sense of the world.

[1] Reading is a pillar of literacy.

Language Development

Although reading itself is a very complex process, The Simple View of Reading helps break down this facet of literacy for educators and non-educators alike. Reading is language comprehension and word recognition. In the United States, there is no universal literacy program or language development program, although both are foundational to reading.

[2] Language development can occur at home or in schools.

Therefore, it is important that educators at every level are prepared to facilitate the language development of students.  Hands-on activities such as the projects offered by Strawbees are excellent ways to develop language. Students are constructing and playing with geometric shapes in their hands, then building and creating larger structures and designs. As they do so, they are talking with their peers and teachers, learning vocabulary and language structures through these natural social interactions. Not only that but they are internalizing the math and scientific concepts they may read about in another class, leading to greater comprehension in all subject areas.

Equity in Literacy

Every student deserves an education that is relevant to them. Transcend Education, a leader in school redesign for equitable 21st-century learning, notes that all learners deserve an education that is relevant to their interests, goals, and communities. All Strawbees activities are child-centered and open-ended, meaning that each learner is empowered to go in the direction that they choose. Lessons within Strawbees Classroom are tied to Common Core standards. Since the lessons are both Common Core aligned and student-centered, the lessons are both rigorous and open-ended.

[3] Lessons are designed to be rigorous and open-ended for driving student-centered learning.

Invention Literacy and Self-Efficacy

Creating with Strawbees revolves around the concept of Invention Literacy. Jay Silver, founder of JoyLabz has made a great argument for literacy going beyond traditional reading and writing with Invention Literacy. As students become used to being innovators and being recognized for their work, it leads to self-efficacy. John Hattie, the top name in measuring influences and effect sizes for student achievement listed self-efficacy as a whopping 0.92 effect size, where an effect size of 0.4 corresponds to one year of student growth. This means that when students develop self-efficacy they are able to show two years worth of growth every year. Schools must recognize the urgency of developing self-efficacy in their students.

Invention literacy is the ability to read and write human made stuff, from toasters to apps.
Jay Silver, Founder of Joylabz and Makey Makey

[4] Inventors inventing their set of building blocks.

"Inventors don’t perform magic. Understanding the world around us means being able to deconstruct it as building blocks of inventing."[5] Schools should be labs where students practice innovating and are empowered to take charge of their own learning.

Strawbees in Literacy Instruction

  • Strawbees allows for student-centered learning, rather than teacher-driven instruction.

  • While there are many ways to do “hands-on learning” there are very little construction sets or edtech products which allow students to so quickly prototype their ideas, design and redesign. Strawbees is relatively low cost, allowing for stakeholders to invest in children, gaining a lot of return for little cost. 

  • Strawbees allows kinesthetic learners to focus on the tasks and also motivates students to complete other tasks in order to get to the hands-on learning. Hands-on learning is immediately calming for all students. Students need exposure to working with their hands and improving spatial reasoning in multiple domains.

  • Every student can be successful with the hands-on learning Strawbees provides.

    • This helps teachers see students beyond their data points, and really see into their future (what they will become vs. where they are now based on their data)
    • Students build self-efficacy. Strawbees has a short time with frustration, allowing students to persevere through challenges, design, redesign, and build confidence and self-efficacy. 
  • Students begin their work with Higher Order Thinking skills, rather than building towards it. Due to time limits in subject areas, some students will never get to the Create sections of Bloom's Taxonomy.

    • Students should be creating in every major content area, every day.
    • Strawbees can be incorporated into problem-based learning, which is also backed by Hattie’s visible learning.
  • Piaget programs - Reading and writing tasks and activities are still abstract for young learners. Creating with hands allows students to form concepts in their hands and create meaning. For example, students may build different types of settings such as houses, castles, forests, etc. rather than simply reading and answering questions about the text 

  • The new Strawbees Classroom contains non-fiction texts presenting the latest research on each NGSS topic.

[6] Bloom’s Taxonomy, an overview of cognitive processes, often asked of students.

Five Ways for Incorporating Into Literacy

Creative Stations

One of 5 stations during a reading literacy block for students to build something from the story they are reading.

Narrative Design

Students create characters and settings for narrative writing prompt thus teaching students to write through hands-on ways, rather than in the abstract.

Pair Text

Pair informational texts with Strawbees lessons for an authentic way to teach informational text standards.

Design Challenges

Using Strawbees to make an argument or design a solution for problem/solution texts and cause & effect texts.

Story Prompts 

Have students first pick a card from the Pocketful of Ideas, then build and write a story around the challenge.


  • Public schools face ongoing legal challenges that show that they are not meeting the needs of every student. An example is the Leandro case in North Carolina, an ongoing legal challenge since 1994.
  • Standards being taught do not always line up with what is needed in the workforce, so students are not being prepared for their future, according to Dr. George Land in his TED talk on investigating creativity.
  • Classrooms need to be redesigned in accordance with universal design for learning. Are classrooms really designed for every learner, or are they mostly still “teaching to the middle.”

References and Credits

Media Credits and Citations


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