Guest Author - Alissa Moy
Brain Pop is a catchy name and an interesting method for online learning. Many homeschoolers have access to a computer and the internet regularly. This makes Brain Pop a viable option to your teaching "bag of tricks". How useful is it, however? Please find my honest review of this site below. Keep in mind this is my opinion, and I always encourage others to check it out firsthand before deciding if Brain Pop might work well for your homeschoolers.
The home page for Brain Pop brings up seven subject areas. These are Math, Science, English, Technology, Art & Music, Health and Social Studies. If you are teaching using your state standards as a guideline, there is a handy state guideline drop down menu to utilize. This is not to say that the only lessons that are suggested which correlate with your state standards are all you can do. This is just to offer an outline of what lessons on Brain Pop are specifically geared for your state standards, which are labeled as such. Being a Florida resident I checked out the area for grade 5 "Sunshine State Standards". The selection, while not huge, was decent. The majority of standards defined were in the subject of Health, and these topics ranged from 1996 standards to 2008 standards. Topics like CPR, Burns and Nutrition were named, among others. There were a few standards for Reading and Language Arts, such as prefixes, suffixes and paraphrasing. Math did have a substantial offering, from multiplication to geometry and fractions. However, the lessons within these topics were not plentiful, maybe one or two within some subtopics. Science seems to touch on a little of everything, but nothing in great description. Weather, planets, matter, energy, ecosystems and The Scientific Method are all explored in a general sense. For those folks who are not happy with the theory of evoloution being taught, there are a few lessons within Science that are about these theories. These lessons, I am supposing, are for every state's set of standards, and not just Florida. Social Studies offerings include Ancient Civilizations, early Americans, Native Americans, explorers and the colonial period. I use the Houghton Mifflin Social Studies curriculum for grade 5, and these lessons seem to go along nicely with this text. They can be effective for review work, after the textbook chapters are completed. The Music and Arts category offers simple instrument type instruction, as well as Art and Music History. The selection is rather small if I were to choose lessons using just Florida state standards as my guideline. There are no Technology standards for Florida listed. However, I did check out other states and there are quite a few that have state standards for Technology, with corresponding lessons. Do check out your state standards and what Brain Pop lists as compatible for you and your homeschool curriculum.
I decided to explore Social Studies with my son, and I selected the World History subtopic. There were 50 lessons offered, which surprised me. We chose the explorer themed lesson on Christopher Columbus. After a kid friendly 5 minute mini movie (a cartoon really), we had seen a short review on Columbus and his voyage. The characters in this cartoon short are "Tim" and his robot pal "Moby". They are fairly likable, mild mannered and kind, albeit a bit goofy at times. After the program a quiz is offered, as a graded or review quiz. Select printed quiz as a choice if you wish to have the paper graded and printed. Each lesson also offers additional work to print and use with your homeschooler. The Columbus lesson also had a review worksheet, including map skill work, as well as a graphic organizer and vocabulary words. Many lessons also offer "Q&A", with questions to ask your child, and the answers, too. For older children this can definitely be an independent learning experience.
Many fellow homeschool moms have asked me if I would use Brain Pop solely as a "teacher". My answer to that is surely no. I would utilize Brain Pop purely as a review tool for already taught lessons. I would use the mini movie, and possibly the additional resources as well. I don't think either "Tim" or "Moby" is a good substitute for real, live teaching. But as a review resource this is is a good option, especially if your child enjoys learning in this fashion. My son liked the lesson/cartoon, but he thought the characters were a bit odd. I can see a possibility of the mini flicks becoming mundane after awhile, and some children losing interest. There are a number of free movies, but the vast majority are subscription based. The cost for a Homeschool family is $195 per year. If you plan to have one child using the program at a time you can opt for "solo access" for $99 per year. Brain Pop Jr. (for younger elementary grades) and Brain Pop in Spanish are also offered for a package with Brain Pop at $255.00 per year. Some homeschool groups choose to buy into a school or group subscription together, getting the cost to as low as $5.00 per student. Check with your support groups for their input, too.
Try a few free movies and decide if this would be a useful and productive way to spend not only your money, but also your time and energy on.