Educational website makes middle school brains pop

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published November 20, 2013

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EASTPOINTE — Students at Kelly Middle School have been able to get a little extra help in everything from world history to photosynthesis using some advances in technology and a website called BrainPOP.

The website provides students with videos and activities that can be used both in class by teachers and outside of school by students to help them understand new concepts and ideas, Principal Ryan Melrose said.

“This is actually our third year of using the program,” Melrose said. “The first year we had it, not a lot of teachers used it, but the word of mouth spread it around to other teachers on how they felt it was effective, so a lot of other teachers are using it now.”

Diane Peters, a science teacher at the middle school, was the one who initially suggested that the school look into the program after trying it at a graduate class. Melrose said the school had a free trial to get some teacher feedback on it, and enough was positive that the school administration went forward with a subscription.

Peters said she tried it and loved it. She said the appeal for her is that it takes difficult concepts and breaks them down for kids to grasp.

“If you ever had to teach cellular respiration to a group of 13-year-olds, it’s a tricky concept,” Peters said. “But this breaks down the concept, and then you can expand on it.”

She said the website covers practically all school subjects, including music, social studies, math, science, technology, art and languages. It works by showing a short cartoon about the topic, followed by a quiz and other information students can use.

Melrose said the school has logins for staff and another one for students to use at home. In the classroom, teachers can decide when and how to use the website, first checking to see if there is anything relevant to what is being taught and then working it into the lesson if the teacher decides to use it.

Peters said she uses it at the beginning, middle or the end of her lessons, based entirely on what is being taught, and students can interact with the material during class using the school’s interactive whiteboards. She may even add the website address and student login information on a handout for students to do additional homework.

Since Kelly Middle School students can access the website at home, Peters said it is helpful not just for homework, but for getting a better handle on the subjects by revisiting the material. She added that it has been helpful for kids studying for tests.

“We have little educational games they can play, like a game on circuits, health and nutrition, and math games,” she said. “There’s probably 30 games in here that are all educational, so these kids that all have subscriptions, they can go home and play these all at home on their devices.”

BrainPOP also updates the website with topical information, Peters said, such as noting on Nov. 13 that astronomer Galileo Galilei was born that day, or doing a spotlight on the Iroquois nation for the November Native American month.

The short cartoons, generally featuring a teenager named Tim and a robot named Moby, include little snippets of related pop-up information as the characters help students learn the subject matter, Peters said. As an example, she said a video about the Earth’s geological layers includes information about an extremely deep hole — known as the Kola Superdeep Borehole — that the Russians drilled into the ground during the 1970s and ’80s.

Kelly Middle School pays $1,500 for the year for website access, which comes from its Title I fund. Melrose said it has proven user-friendly for the students, staff and “all parties involved,” adding that it has proven to be a supportive way of helping teachers get the material across in the classroom.

“It’s probably one of the easier things we’ve implemented that teachers can use,” he said. “It doesn’t require a lot of professional development to utilize what it offers.”

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