I have two children, one in high school and one in middle school, and both are struggling students. They are creative, funny, fantastic athletes, and great at abstract thinking. However when it comes to standardized tests or math homework, they are pretty average. I’m always on the lookout for helpful educational tools that will give them a boost. Abigail, my oldest, is preparing for college soon and I’ve been looking for ways to help her study for the SAT and ACT at home, at her own pace. I started researching Brightstorm.com a few months ago and am writing this review to share the pros and cons of the service with other families.
After clicking on a subject, the first thing Abigail noticed was the textbooks. She immediately spotted one of her chemistry books and was very excited about the variety. Brightstorm users can click on and see where Brainstorm videos fit into that textbook. You can even search by page number. She also commented on how young and friendly the teachers seemed to be. I, on the other hand, initially noticed the amount of test prep material. The lessons are pretty comprehensive, well-taught, and Brightstorm has the major high school tests. There are even flashcards to practice SAT vocabulary and a diagnostic test that shows the topics your child needs to work on. Along with the flashcards, many of the videos are supplemented with interactive challenges, pop-up quizzes, and other bonus material. Abigail also really got a kick out of the instant math application (all talk more about this later), which basically does any math problem for you and then shows you the steps, as well as, the video that goes with it. However, you can only view the steps and video with a subscription.
Speaking of subscriptions, after the free trail, there is a monthly fee of about 30 dollars. There are over 2,000 free math videos however, in order to take advantage of the in-demand test prep videos users have to pay 100 dollars. I found the subscription information and billing process very confusing. Major drawback! I initially thought the price was only 30 like all the other videos. I found 100 dollars for only about 6 hours of video time to be a little steep, especially since they weren’t going to mail her a book to go with the lessons. I felt like everything should have been the same price. Most sites offer at least one month of free usage, but Brightstorm only offers 3 days! After doing some more investigation, and being told I had to subscribe in order to finish watching a video, I found out that you can get all of the math videos on their YouTube for free. Don’t let them interrupt your viewing with a subscription ad, you can easily go on Youtube and see all the math videos there.
In addition, after I started entering my credit card information for the test-prep videos, I noticed that there wasn’t anything that vouched for the website’s security measures. I should have been paying better attention, but then it is the website’s responsibility to make that information very clear. It would have been nice to see something about how my information was going to be protected. For now, I’m only going to invest in the SAT videos.
Some More Dislikes
I would say one of the biggest drawbacks of this site (aside from the prices) is the handwriting on the board. What’s the point of having teachers use a whiteboard if their writing is tiny and illegible? Another con would have to be the navigational tools on the site. Abigail might be quicker at figuring it out, but for less computer savvy people like me, it was a bit more confusing and time consuming. It is hard to jump ahead, go back, or pin-point exactly where you want to go in the video. It is also nice that they have a literature section that hits the big high school texts, such as The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mocking Bird, but it could have more titles in it. As I mentioned previously, my daughter thoughts the instant math tab was pretty cool. However, what she didn’t know is that anyone can use that exact same feature on other websites such as Basic-mathematics.com. Nothing new going on there… but don’t take my word for it, check out and compare these photos below:
All in all, Brightstorm is helpful and even though she has said that “some of the intro videos are pretty cheesy,” I believe Abigail has learned a lot from watching the lessons. She is taking the SAT for the first time in a few months and, although using Brightstorm doesn’t guarantee anything, I feel pretty confident that she will get a high score.
As for my other child, he says there’s no way he’s going to waste the afternoon inside watching educational videos online. We’ll see about that!
– Dr. Drew