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BrainPOP: Tech Expert Module

Module by: Christine Ammirati. E-mail the author

Summary: Review of BrainPOP, an award-winning website featuring brief animated educational films for grades 4 to 12 that span a full range of instructional content and are aligned with and searchable by state curriculum standards.

BrainPOP Overview

BrainPOP is an award-winning website featuring brief animated educational films for grades 4 to 12 that span a full range of instructional content and are aligned with and searchable by state curriculum standards. Avraham Kadar, a pediatrician and allergist, developed BrainPOP in 1999 to explain complex medical issues to his young patients. Based in New York, BrainPOP has now expanded to include BrainPOP Jr for grades K to 3 (launched in 2006), a Spanish language version called BrainPOP Español / Latino America (2006), BrainPOP UK (2008), BrainPOP Israel (2005), BrainPOP ESL (2008), and BrainPOP Educator which has registered more than 100,000 members since its launch in September 2008. In press releases, BrainPOP states a goal to continue this expansion, specifically aiming to extend BrainPOP ESL’s two levels and to increase the number of films available on BrainPOP Jr.

BrainPOP is privately owned and does not have advertising or sponsored links to other websites. It features a rotating selection of free movies and offers free trials for a brief five-day period. BrainPOP’s various platforms are available in different bundles and as multi-tiered subscriptions for families, classrooms, media labs, schools, and 24/7 school-home connections. Annual rates run from $115 to $2100. The website reports that it has more than 8 million website visits a month.

BrainPOP receives consistently excellent reviews by educational and technology media critics. Among its many awards, it has been recognized by Edutopia, Forbes Magazine, and Technology and Learning, and has most recently been named by the American Library Association as one of the “25 Best Websites for Kids.” BrainPOP is noted for its ease of use, story-telling narratives, compatibility with whiteboards, PCs, and MACs, and the fact that it requires no special hardware, installation, or downloading. In September 2010, BrainPOP was announced to be one of the founding outreach programs in the White House’s newly-launched National STEM Video Game Challenge.

BrainPOP lessons are structured around 3 to 6 minute animated movies featuring a conversation and some light humor between two main characters. Tim is BrainPOP’s teenage narrator and Annie is a younger elementary student who narrates the BrainPOP Jr films. Moby is a robot friend of both Tim and Annie who communicates with the human characters through bleeping noises and flashing lights. The cartoons integrate text definitions, labels, maps, and short bulleted explanations. The films are appropriate for group and individual use.

BrainPOP is designed for older elementary through high school students. The site includes more than six hundred films organized into seven searchable content areas (social studies, reading, science, math, health, art, and engineering and technology) that are subdivided into smaller sections (e.g., social studies’ units of culture, economics, historical figures, geography, US government and law, US History, and World History). Designed for grades K-3, BrainPOP Jr has a smaller but expanding inventory of movies organized as science, health, reading and writing, social studies, math, and arts and technology. On both platforms, each film lesson is supported by quizzes of four or five questions that can be printed out or completed online as a pre-test or post-test. Closed captioning is available for additional support. In addition, activities, games, cartoons, and jokes are prominently displayed for student use. Background information, lesson plans, and extensions are provided for both teachers and parents. Each platform’s home page provides a direct link to BrainPOP Educator and information on state standards. BrainPOP Jr provides a” bulletin board” for student information exchange, lesson planning guides, and graphic organizers.

How to get started with BrainPOP

  BrainPOP is easy for anyone to use. The only equipment needed is a computer and internet access. Several different package options are available with greater cost effectiveness derived from bundling more packages together. Teachers can purchase their subscriptions for 12 months at a time, with discounts for combination packages and multi-year subscriptions. Teachers can choose from BrainPOP, BrainPOP Jr., BrainPOP Español, BrainPOP ESL, or any combination thereof. BrainPOP Educator can be used by anyone and is a free subscription. In a single classroom, up to three computers can be used in one package. BrainPOP can also be used via a projector, classroom TV’s, and interactive whiteboards. Students only have access to BrainPOP between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., whereas teachers have 24 hour access. BrainPOP ESL is the only site that offers 24 hour access for everyone. It includes nine units and 45 lesson plans options.

When setting up a subscription, a log-in name and password are required. A free trial subscription is only good for five days. Setting up an account can be tedious due to the volume of material to look at and go through. At BrainPOP “Store,” the subscription type is selected from one of eight choices: school, media lab, Public Library, family, School District, classroom, and virtual or home school. All of the packages are set up differently and cost different amounts of money, so you need to pay attention to what you choose. For example, the “family” subscription, offering 24 hour access, can be purchased annually or monthly and can only be used on one computer, whereas the “District” package is purchased annually, priced per school, per student, and is only used in a single school district. The “homeschooling” package is another option offering 24 hour access and use on three computers.

For the subscription order, different order forms must be completed for K-3, third grade and up, Español, combinations of BrainPOP, BrainPOP Jr., and ESL. The ESL subscription is the least expensive package. A one-year BrainPOP Jr. subscription, for K-3, in an individual school costs $785.00. The subscription is activated within 24 to 48 hours of the order receipt.

BrainPOP also partners with other well known websites such as netTrekker, Project K-Nect, National Geographic Kids, The McGraw-Hill Learning Network, Teacher Matters and AOL@School. If you just want to try out BrainPOP without purchasing a package, “free” movies, quizzes, and activities are available everyday.

Classroom Examples

Reading and Language Arts: In BrainPOP Jr, students can explore almost four-dozen short films about Authors, Study Elements, Phonics, and Reading and Writing Skills. Nouns are addressed in the Word section. Annie and Moby label the nouns in a classroom and park as they discuss each category of noun (person, place, thing, or idea). Annie distinguishes between common and proper nouns and proper capitalization as well as singular and plural nouns and when to add an “s”. Text support is provided throughout the lesson and Annie models writing common and proper nouns in a note to Moby. At one point, she erases a lowercase letter and replaces it with an uppercase later explaining that this proper noun requires capitalization. At intervals during the lesson, the pause button below the movie flashes red to signal an appropriate time for the teacher to stop the movie and guide a discussion with students.

Students may choose between a “hard quiz” or “easy quiz” as a pre- or post-test. Other available activities include a cartoon and joke that both reinforce the definition of a noun, a coloring activity, a tetris-like game, and a word wall.

Social Studies: BrainPOP Jr’s “American Symbols” movie is one of thirty-two options in the Social Studies module. This animated film addresses the meaning and function of a symbol and reviews specific objects that stand for the United States. Annie is assembling a package of American symbols for a relative who is considering moving to the United States. She and Moby discuss the composition of the American Flag and the meaning behind its thirteen stripes and fifty stars. They also review the symbolism of the bald eagle, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, and important buildings such as the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the White House. Moby plays the national anthem on the flute and Annie packs an apple pie. This movie is closely linked to the Virginia Standards of Learning for third grade and would have strong application for the classroom.

The “hard quiz” option asks higher-level thinking questions such as” “Rhode Island is known as ‘the ocean state.’ What is on Rhode Island’s state quarter?” Answers include “the Statue of Liberty” and “a sailboat on the water.” This lesson’s activity is coloring Moby in a Statue of Liberty costume; its game is a memory card game of US symbols.

Arts and Music: BrainPOP’s “Harlem Renaissance” movie is one of the more than three dozen Arts and Music offerings that are cross-referenced with social studies. The original BrainPOP site is designed for older students and begins each 3-5 minute film with a written question posed in a letter to Tim and Moby. Wearing an emblem on his tee shirt that matches the topic, Tim reads the letter aloud. Like the BrainPOP Jr movies, the film incorporates text labels and also uses annotated maps to augment the narration. After the movie, students can choose to take a quiz, access additional resources, examine a timeline, review questions submitted by other students about the Harlem Renaissance, or attempt one of three activities: a comprehension worksheet, a graphic organizer, or a vocabulary list.

BrainPOP Math: All of the BrainPOP activities can be explored through BrainPOP.com. “Calculators and Computations” has a free “angles” activity. When this movie starts, viewers will see an angle on the front of Tim’s shirt. Tim reads a question in reference to measuring angles and then goes into detail about how to measure angles, such as angles formed by the hands on a clock. For example, the hands at 2:00 would form an acute angle, at 4:00 it would be an obtuse angle and at 6:00 it would be a 180 degree angle. Moby draws these examples on a clock.

The student can then choose to take a graded or review quiz with ten questions. A sample question is: “A straight line is a to a ruler as an angle is to A) cosine B) two rulers C) a protractor D) calculator,” with the answer being B) two rulers. Students can then choose “Try the Activity,” “FYI: READ MORE,” and “Questions and Answers,” all of which pertain to angles. A vocabulary section is also available with 10 words to define such as “vertex,” “ray,” “ protractor,” and “acute” and “right” angles.

Science: Third grade BrainPOP Science offers the choices of cellular life, earth systems, energy, space, scientific inquiry weather etc. “Earth systems” is divided into 44 subsections such as: volcanoes, salt, shark attacks, tundra, taiga, underwater world, crystals, ice-age, greenhouse effect etc. In the “Jane Goodall” movie, Tim and Romy appear; Tim has a picture of Jane Goodall on his shirt, with a monkey in the background. A question is asked about Jane Goodall being a Primatologist and an Anthropologist, and Tim gives a short autobiography about her life. Detailed pictures are shown and some of her discoveries are discussed such as: chimps use tools too like humans do to feed themselves, Jane Goodall named all the monkeys she observed, and in 2002 she was named “Messenger of Peace.” The graded or review quiz follows the movie along with other activities such as a word scramble, “Think About It” short essay questions, and a vocabulary list.

Engineering and Technology: Engineering and Technology are not frequently taught at the primary grade levels but the content list includes familiar topics such as communications, transportation, energy technology, and simple machines. “Communications” contains subsections of “cell phones,” “e-mail and IM,” “Radar,” “TV,” and “cyber bullying.” BrainPOP addresses the hot topic of cyber bullying with a movie featuring Moby spray painting his face green because someone has texted him a mean message about orange being “ugly.” Tim defines cyber bullying, gives examples, and tells viewers “not to play the game,” “don’t fight back;” and “don’t text anything you wouldn’t want someone to text to you.” He explains how to delete, ignore, or block a bullying message, how to document evidence, and the importance of always telingl an adult what happened. The quiz follows with questions like: “Cyber bullying generally doesn’t involve physical violence. What does “physical” mean in this case? A) severe B) body-related C) emotion or D) mild, with the answer of course being B) body-related. Activities are available for students following the quiz.

Assessing for the classroom

Pros

  • BrainPOP is very simple to use and offers a large variety of choices for any classroom.
  • BrainPOP can be used at individual computers, or on an overhead or smartboard, making it easier for the teacher to choose what she wants to do. The site is appropriate for individual use as a review and reinforcement tool.
  • BrainPOP Educator is a very useful tool for teachers offering worksheets, lesson plans, and access to state standards. Good for quick overview and introductions.
  • BrainPOP is popular and appealing to students. Increased motivation and engagement might enhance understanding and retention.
  • BrainPOP is aligned with state curriculum standards.
  • BrainPOP Español offers a language alternative for ELL students.

Cons

  • BrainPOP can be expensive and not all school districts or individual schools will be able to afford it or want to spend the money on it.
  • BrainPOP offers such a variety of choices, that it makes it difficult sometimes to know where to look or what to choose.
  • BrainPOP’s movies offer limited depth and breadth on the subject material.
  • Animation and vocal inflection are flat. Therefore, the movies may not be engaging for all students. Teachers might want to be judicious in using BrainPOP in order to prevent boredom.

Considerations for Teachers

--Teachers can use BrainPOP as a center, but they should always have a back-up plan in case the website is down.

--Teachers will have to monitor activity at the computers to ensure students are staying on tasks.

--Teachers will have to remember the log-on name and password.

--BrainPOP has so much to offer, that teachers will have to really explore and play individual movies in order to find everything.

--BrainPOP is always expanding, offering new packages such as BrainPOP ESL, so teachers will need to check and stay on top of all options.

-- BrainPOP is versatile, offers a variety of tools, and can be very helpful to teachers as well as students.

 

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