4 Educator Insights that Shaped BrainPOP Science, Our New Middle School Solution
One of the best parts of leading product development at BrainPOP is creating the tools and content I wish I had 15 years ago when I was a classroom teacher. BrainPOP Science, our new middle school science solution, is exactly that robust and engaging resource.
BrainPOP’s mission to empower kids to shape the world around them and within them aligns perfectly with the practice of science, which is all about asking questions to help understand the world and ourselves. BrainPOP Science helps students develop the skills to inquire, seek knowledge, make observations, and ultimately reach new discoveries—starting with exploring real-world phenomena.
We built BrainPOP Science to embody learning science research and reflect what we have learned over the last two decades from our work in inquiry-based instruction. Our new product, designed by former science teachers and researchers, also incorporates wisdom and insights from an advisory panel of leading science education experts. Current middle school science educators tested the product throughout multiple stages of development.
Their guidance, which directly informed the product approach, can be distilled into four key takeaways:
1. Science teachers need support to meet rigorous standards and new assessment requirements
Our advisors and product testers talked about the challenges of implementing multidimensional standards, like the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), in the classroom.
Donna Falk, a middle school teacher in New Jersey, used an early version of BrainPOP Science during the 2020-21 school year with her students, all of whom were learning remotely. She was relieved to discover that the product is aligned with her content standards. But she noted it’s not usually that easy. District leaders and product developers can do more to help teachers integrate new tools.
“Once a teacher finds a good resource to use during a lesson, they generally must spend a bunch of time figuring out how it aligns with content standards,” Falk said. “Lack of support shouldn’t make a teacher not use a new digital tool.” That’s why BrainPOP Science offers in-product teacher support, embedded teacher guides, and live professional development opportunities.
Advisory panelist Dr. Stephen Pruitt, who helped develop the NGSS, pushed us to go beyond standards alignment to create assessments that measure students’ ability to perform across challenging or abstract concepts. “Show a comprehensive picture of three-dimensional science learning, not just how students meet individual standards.” BrainPOP Science is our first product to include comprehensive assessments and reports to deliver these powerful insights to teachers and administrators.
2. Students are naturally curious about phenomena and want to explore and discover the world around them
Karen Betz, a sixth-grade life sciences teacher at Crestview Middle School in suburban St. Louis, helped test early versions of BrainPOP Science. She initially introduced one of the data manipulatives that lets students analyze the survival rates of Peppered Moths over time while developing their data literacy skills. “I gave them a few minutes to manipulate the graphs and they immediately became engaged,” Betz said. “It was so much better than looking at a flat graph.”
Each investigation places students at the center of learning. It starts by piquing their interest with a phenomenon and an essential question, guiding them to collect evidence, and empowering them to build and apply their knowledge of scientific concepts and practices.
3. Inquiry-based science instruction prepares students for the real world
Science education is no longer about memorizing facts or following steps to complete a cookie-cutter experiment. Practicing real science equips students with transferable skills like collaborative problem solving and analytical reasoning. Students are empowered to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and design new solutions.
“These are the most important skills that kids need as they grow up and enter the workforce,” said Brandi Stroecker, advisory panel member and director of the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network. “When students learn within the context of authentic problem-based challenges, they can see the impact of their learning. That kind of authenticity builds engagement. In my classroom, I noticed this approach takes students from the groans of ‘when will I ever use this?’ to a place where they genuinely connect the skills they are learning and applying.”
4. Students need diverse role models in science fields
Teachers play an essential role in channeling kids’ innate curiosity into a lifelong love for science. They are also in a unique position to reinforce the notion that everyone can excel in the science classroom and the real world. Advisory panel member and former teacher Jackie Smalls emphasized that students need to know that scientists come from all backgrounds. She is the chief programs officer for Code.org, which aims to teach computer science to every child in America.
“Popular culture tends to portray scientists a certain way, which sends the message to students that those avenues aren’t open to them,” said Smalls during a presentation at the National Science Teaching Association’s annual conference. “Science teachers can become myth busters by finding heroes in science who reflect the diversity of their students.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why we’re continuing to increase diverse representation in our science and engineering resources.
We are grateful to the many dedicated teachers and expert advisors who have helped us build BrainPOP Science. We’re excited to get into classrooms this fall and can’t wait to support our partners as they inspire kids to embrace scientific thinking and achieve meaningful learning outcomes.
Karina Linch is chief product officer at BrainPOP. A former New York City Public School teacher, Karina joined BrainPOP in 2005 to spearhead the creation of BrainPOP Jr. She oversees the development of a robust suite of products that empower kids to strengthen their critical, computational, and creative thinking: GameUp, Make-a-Movie, Creative Coding, and beyond. Karina is a mom of three and a friend of Moby.
Learn more about BrainPOP Science, a new solution designed to help 6-8th grade science teachers navigate recent shifts in science, engineering, and technology standards, assessments, and learning environments.