For those of you that are having a hard time keeping up with the ever-growing educational technology field, here is a great cheat sheet to keep you abreast of current trends.
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Why are kids so opposed to learning? I must have been a very unusual child because I was always begging my parents to take me to the museum, science center, or library. Of course, that was all we had back then. Technology was hardly a thought when it came to education, heck the Internet hadn’t even been invented yet. Nowadays it seems like young people only want to play video games or watch television, I know my kids do. If only there was a way to make even the most boring subjects fun and interactive. Luckily there is.
I recently came across a website called BrainPop.com, an educational site that teaches important concepts in core curriculum subject areas through short on-line movies, quizzes, and other activities. Although the main site has more advanced topics that are geared toward grades 3 and up, there are branch-off sites that include BrainPop Jr, BrainPop Español, and BrainPop ESL. I believe the site effectively uses animation and web technology, but there are some pitfalls.
– Cartoons will always be appealing to youngsters. The site is crammed, almost to the point of a migraine, with brightly colored, graphic images designed to engage kids. I’m not sure if the high school kids will relate to it as much, but overall animation is very cool and eye catching for kids and teens. I also like the consistency of the characters Moby the Robot and Tim.
– Monthly access is pretty cheap at only $9.95 a month and there are many free videos.
– BrainPop boasts to be an award-winning educational resource.
– The site includes animated movies, interactive quizzes, and activities. Students can explore hundreds of topics within the subjects of Science, Math, Social Studies, English Language Arts, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Music, and Health. Everything is organized according to subject area. There are also subjects about teen issues such as bullying and drug awareness. I also found that the search tools and easy-to-read buttons made it simple to navigate through the site.
– BrainPOP is accessible directly from Google Apps.
– Teachers who subscribe to the site can automatically track student progress on BrainPOP quizzes and integration with Google Spreadsheets instantly pulls quiz results into a teacher spreadsheet. Pretty awesome. Another plus for educators is the State Standards search tool.
– All the products are fully compatible with interactive whiteboards, learner response systems, projectors, Macs, and PCs. Not need to download, install, or purchase special hardware. Nice.
– I’ve said this before, but free is always king. All options require a monthly or annual subscription. The annual price is $100 dollars, which can be a little steep for families who aren’t certain they’ll be able to make their child sit down and watch the videos.
– There is just one quiz at the end of the video. It would be better to have multiple quizzes for students to choose from. It also seems like the quiz is more of a suggestion, rather than the interactive part of the video it was probably intended to be.
– BrainPop and BrainPop Jr only have a five day free trial. Whatever happened to the 1 month free incentive?
– There are 600 brief animated movies, but some of them are incredibly too brief and do not go into enough detail about the subject.
– I’m not 100% sure this site works for older or advanced students who may require more of a challenge. BrainPop claims it serves K-12, but from my experience 12th graders aren’t that interested in cartoon robots anymore (especially those who don’t blow anything up and only say “beep.”)
– There are also some pretty strange sections of the website like “How to with Gary and Gary” where students can take advice from a father and his son on “How to change a diaper.” The Infancy lesson will even teach kids how to take care of a baby. Of course there are older siblings who need to take care of younger brothers or sisters, but in my opinion, too many high school students drop out of school because of unwanted pregnancies. I think students in grades K-12 shouldn’t worry so much about the needs of infants.
– Then there is Bob the Ex-lab Rat… which is disturbing in and of itself. First off, I disagree with animal testing and wouldn’t want my child watching a video hosted by a bandaged and neurologically impaired sewer rat.
– I also found that the few videos hosted by female characters were about puberty and menstruation. Why can’t BrainPop feature girls (or girl robots) in more of their videos.
– Technical requirements for running BrainPOP are an Internet connection and the Macromedia Flash Plug-in. That can be a drawback for those living out in the middle of nowhere where speedy internet service isn’t always available, but you can view some of the videos on an Iphone.
All in all, I watched maybe two or three free videos and felt like I learned a little something. My last thoughts on BrainPop are simple. If the moving icons and bright colors on the homepage don’t pop your brain, the thousands of things you can potentially learn about probably will.
– Dr. Drew
MathTV.com provides free online video lessons to K-12 and college math students to explain steps and concepts. Users watch teachers solve math problems on a whiteboard and can rewind and replay as much as they want. Students can see as the teacher goes step by step through the problem on the screen. In textbooks, these steps are often explained in words, which is much more difficult to follow. Compared to just reading a textbook, seeing and hearing the problem can help the learning process. Neither of my kids have tried using MathTV (they’d rather just watch real TV), but I’ve still put together a review based on my own research and time spent on the site. Here’s what I found:
– Like I’ve said before, free is always a good thing when it comes to educational materials, especially when they are also of quality. Overall, MathTV presents some decent videos.
– Homeschoolers, especially on the high school level, will probably find this site extra helpful. My wife and I don’t homeschool our children, I believe they would miss out on valuable social training, but I definitely sympathize with families who are stuck at home with their kids all day. I could imagine that, unless you used to be a professional engineer, homeschooling moms (and dads) struggle with teaching high school math because they might have forgotten it or never even learned it correctly. I certainly have trouble helping my kids with their homework involving absolute value equations or trigonometric identities.
– The instructor and founder Charles P. McKeague is the oldest guy on the site, everyone else is young and engaging. But, McKeague has many years of teaching experience and education under his belt. He is also an author of several math textbooks and a truly inspirational speaker. While watching, I found his style of teaching to be very clear. The way he writes on the board is also very clear.
– I like the simple format of the website, no bells or whistles and it works.
– There are also several instructors who will explain the problems in different ways, which caters to different learners. There are even instructors who deliver the lessons in Spanish!
– You can even look up videos by textbook.
– The teachers explain specific problems but don’t really branch off into generalizations about that type of math equation. Unless you’re working on a problem that is almost identical to the one on the screen, you may have trouble working on a similar problem on your own. It would be nice if they spoke about the math concepts in general as well.
– You also can’t ask your virtual instructors for help.
– MathTV was created in 2000. After 12 years they could have done a lot more with the site in terms of aesthetics (simple is one thing, but boring is another) and maybe added some more engaging features.
– Videos on the site are free, but the E-books and XYZ Homework cost 30 dollars for a 12 month subscription. That isn’t too bad, but free is always king.
MathTV is a pretty good website with a lot to offer. There is tons of variety, especially for those who get tired of listening to only one person speak for an hour or two. I would recommend this site to anyone who needs to practice their math skills and needs a good, clear teacher to walk them through it. However, I would say the biggest advantage would be the Spanish lessons. I’m always trying to work on my foreign language skills and may just watch a few lessons for the Spanish practice!
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
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