How a High School Science Teacher Uses BrainPOP to Promote Student Agency
Across the country, schools are now up and running and adjusting to a “new normal”— whether that be remote, in person, or hybrid. As educators work to create academically rigorous experiences for their classrooms, they must also contend more than ever with their students’ social and emotional needs.
To learn more about how teachers have been managing this unprecedented school year, we chatted with Certified BrainPOP Educator Amanda Pierman from The Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (which also happens to be her alma mater). Amanda teaches chemistry, advanced human anatomy, and human system biology to high school students.
Below, the CBE of the Month shares how she is easing students back into the school year and empowering them with ownership of their learning by integrating BrainPOP tools, including Make-a-Map and SnapThought, into her science lessons.
BrainPOP: How have you been using BrainPOP to prepare students for the new school year in a hybrid setting?
Amanda Pierman: The students are returning to campus with massive changes, fears, and overall uncertainty. There is a lot of anxiety and stress for everyone. I have students who are physically on campus and some who chose to stay at home and be videocast into the room.
This hybrid method has caused me—and everyone else—to change our teaching methods and employ more technology. To get my students up and running right away, I assigned the BrainPOP topic Back to School 2020. The assignment instructed students to first watch the movie and then choose one of the accompanying BrainPOP activities: Quiz, Graphic Organizer, Related Reading, or Worksheet. Surprisingly, most chose to do the Graphic Organizer, and some shocked me by doing more than one of the activity options.
The movie and its accompanying activities focus on strategies for setting yourself up for success whether learning from home, at school, or a combination. It was eye-opening to see how these kids needed to vent their frustrations by putting down on paper how they are going to normalize this craziness, and utilize mindfulness practices such as meditation and gratitude. Although this one assignment was intended as an introduction for how to use BrainPOP, their responses revealed that this topic and associated assignments fulfilled a need for my students.
Now that students know how BrainPOP assignments work, they are well prepared for the science topics that are to come.
What is one of the most memorable projects you’ve done with your class using BrainPOP resources?
Every year we cover a unit on fungi. I used to put together elaborate presentations and talk to my students about the topic. The test results did not reflect any understanding—clearly, I was not capturing my students’ interest in fungi! Then I started using Make-a-Map. I had students build the interactive concept maps and invited them to be the teacher and teach me about fungi. Test results were through the roof!
I’ve applied this same lesson structure online during this time of distance learning. We have had to condense every unit to cover them in a shorter period of time. Many teachers didn’t finish their core material, but I did, and that was thanks to BrainPOP.
Recently, we watched the Coronavirus movie synchronously followed by a class discussion. The movie helped to take the fear out of an unknown entity. Then, we used the related topic suggestions to dive into other viruses, such as SARS and Zika.
How has BrainPOP impacted your students?
When using Make-a-Map, students can drag in clips, images, and key words from the movie. Having these assets at their fingertips helps ignite ideas for some students, enabling them to make connections they wouldn’t have been able to do without the visual prompting. My students who struggle will struggle less when using Make-a-Map.
Since you teach science at the high school level, how do you set expectations with your students while using BrainPOP?
I teach an advanced class; most of my students are planning to enter the medical field. We use the BrainPOP game Guts and Bolts, which may look simple, but digs deep into human anatomy and how it works. I have my students use SnapThought to explain why something is or isn’t working, prompting them to apply their knowledge while allowing me to assess their understanding.
We will usually start by playing the game together, so I can demonstrate. I provide an example of a great answer that uses academic language and then share an example of a subpar answer.
One time, we used Meaning of Beep. You should have heard the squeals of laughter. The excitement was palpable, and they didn’t realize they were learning.
Now that your students are familiar with the Assignment Builder, what is the next step for using BrainPOP the rest of the semester?
I have to plan for both synchronous and asynchronous tasks. BrainPOP is going to be a lifesaver to reinforce or to introduce a topic. When we review Matter and Change, I plan to use the Assignment Builder to assign the movie, vocabulary, and other activities. With each class and activity, they will continue to build on what they’re learning.
When creating lessons on Assignment Builder, I assign the movie, then give students options for an activity, and conclude with the graded quiz. BrainPOP allows my students to re-do the information they get wrong; I want my students to know that it’s okay to fail. Let’s learn from our mistakes and move forward.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.