New Review: BrainPop

BrainPopLearning List recently reviewed BrainPOP’s core content resources (i.e., science, social studies, mathematics, and English language arts) for grades K-8. BrainPOP is a supplemental program that supports instruction in the core content areas as well as technology, arts and music, and health. Resources are available online and include some printable materials (e.g., worksheets). Instruction uses engaging videos and interactive concept maps to address content.

BrainPOP organizes content in “Topics” that address a range of subject-area concepts (e.g., atoms, citizenship, writing skills). Topics include a short movie in which an animated characters named Annie (grades K-3) and Tim (grades 4-8) and their robot friend Moby explore a question (e.g., How do tornadoes form?). Movies provide background information, explore and illustrate key concepts (e.g., updrafts), and introduce and define new vocabulary.

After the movie, students can “Make a Map” and/or take a short quiz over content. Make a Map allows students to create a concept map using a set of premade map templates, such as compare and contrast, vocabulary, cyclical relationships, and problem/solution analysis. Tools also allow students to create entirely new concept maps. The quiz is a five-question multiple-choice check for understanding.

Other resources include content-related games, an “FYI” feature, and additional activities related to the video. FYI is a set of 5-paragraph, illustrated, informational articles and a related comic that extend students’ learning. For example, the FYI for a social studies topic addressing the California Gold Rush includes articles about traveling to California Trail and the Donner Party, John Sutter, and a comic addressing gold prices.

About BrainPOP*

BrainPOP was founded in 1999 by Avraham Kadar, M.D., an immunologist and pediatrician, as a creative way to explain difficult concepts to his young patients. Today, BrainPOP is used in 25 percent of U.S. elementary and middle schools, with rapid international growth. An in-house team of educators, animators, and writers produce and continually improve BrainPOP, incorporating valuable teacher and parent input.

*Information in this section is provided by or adapted from BrainPOP.

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Build Your Own …

This post is the second in the series, “Three Critical Trends in Instructional Materials.”

An increasing number of districts are forgoing comprehensive textbooks in favor of building their own resources. In fact, a California superintendent told us that he had put aside $7 million to pay his teachers to develop their own materials. Administrators in favor of building their own resources say the exercise will engender greater buy-in among teachers and produce better resources for students.  Others question whether the skills that make a person a great teacher are the same skills necessary to design instructional materials. As one person suggested, “I’m a good driver, but I couldn’t build a car.”

Having reviewed almost 2500 resources, Learning List staff have seen and learned much about instructional materials. If your district is considering or developing instructional resources, we share the following observations to help inform your methodology:
Magnifyer

  • Focus – Materials should focus on the major work of the grade.  Distracting content should be limited and the materials should include multiple citations (e.g., pages, lessons, videos) aligned to each priority standard. For example, if you’re in a Common Core state, do you have multiple citations for teachers to use to teach each Major, Supporting, and Additional standard or each of the Critical Areas of Focus? If you are in Texas, do you have at least a few citations addressing each Readiness, Supporting and Process standard?
  • Coherence – Citations should build and reinforce (within and across grades and subjects) a deeper understanding of concepts and skills articulated in the standards and their application in the real world. Does your material contain real world examples and activities to engage your students and show the relevance of the content and skills they are learning?
  • Rigor – The citations should be grade-level appropriate and rigorous, as opposed to difficult.
  • Horizontal and Vertical Alignment – Citations should be verified to be aligned to the standards. Alignment is a unique skill set.  Very accomplished teachers are not necessarily adept at doing alignment work.  Moreover, alignment is an inherently subjective endeavor. In order to ensure that the material your district is developing is aligned to the standards: (1) have at least two teachers, who are good at aligning material to standards, review the alignment of each citation incorporated in the material, and (2) have a method of reconciling differences of opinion among those teachers.
  • Adaptions/Instructional Resources – The material your teachers develop must be “accessible” to all students and teachers.  Consider whether/how the material will help teachers differentiate instruction for students with differing abilities. Consider also whether all teachers have the skills and knowledge to use the materials you are creating effectively.  For example, will professional development be necessary? Does the material have content supports and notes to help all teachers present the content in a similar way?
  • Maintenance –Teachers will quickly get frustrated if links in the material do not work and will lose faith in the material. It is imperative to the success of your Build Your Own initiative to have a regular maintenance schedule to ensure that the embedded links are working.

Building your own materials will be a time consuming and painstaking process. But, if done well, it is likely to produce resources that your teachers will use and that will prepare your students with the knowledge and skills the standards require them to learn.  Hopefully, the observations provided above will help you build an efficient and effective “Build Your Own” methodology.

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New Review: Trunity Integrated Concepts in Biology (ICB)

Book Cover

[source: Trunity]

Learning List has reviewed Trunity Integrated Concepts in Biology (ICB). ICB is a comprehensive product that supports instruction in Advanced Placement (AP) Biology courses. Content is available in digital format. Instruction is organized around ICB’s “5 Big Ideas” of biology: information, evolution, cells, emergent properties, and homeostasis. Each Big Idea is examined across a 5-level “Hierarchy”: molecules, cells, organisms, populations, and ecological systems.

Each chapter begins with a short overview of content, a table that locates content in terms of the biology Big Ideas and Hierarchy, a list of learning objectives, and questions that frame the titles for each chapter section (e.g., “What is the difference between stem cells and cancer cells?”). Chapter sections begin with a set of statements that summarize the (1) context (e.g., “Populations of cells perform different tasks within multicellular organisms.”), (2) major themes (e.g., “Cell structure relates to function…”), and (3) “Bottom line” (e.g., “Multicellular organisms contain various systems, each with populations of cells that perform specific functions.”) of what students will learn.

Most chapters include one or more Bio-Math Explorations (BMEs) and Ethical, Legal, Social Implications (ELSIs) features. BMEs develop quantitative reasoning, modeling, and data analysis skills in the context of biology. ELSIs are case studies and articles that ask students to consider the real-world ethical, legal, and social implications of biology. For example, a chapter titled “Evolutionary History” includes an ELSI addressing “Eugenics Yesterday and Today.”

About Trunity*

The Trunity eLearning Platform, using cloud-based technology, seamlessly integrates content creation, digital textbooks, and courseware solutions. The award-winning textbook content featured on the platform is delivered in a single, robust, interactive digital learning environment, simplifying access, course creation, and delivery.

For students, the textbooks featured on the Trunity eLearning Platform create a captivating educational experience, incorporating dynamic and interactive rich media content within a social and collaborative learning environment.

The powerful learning platform allows teachers to quickly and easily customize premium Trunity course content, organize course flow, and manage the course learning environment.

*Information in this section is provided by or adapted from Trunity*

Subscribe to Learning List for access to the spec sheet, full editorial review and detailed alignment report for this material.

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