School: Metcalf Lab
Grade: 7th and 8th
BrainPOP Every Day
The Indispensable Resource
Mike Jones works under a microscope. As a teacher at Metcalf Lab School on the Illinois State University campus, his work with 7th and 8th graders is on display, every day, for aspiring teachers. He’s an incredibly capable teacher and, accordingly, a lot is asked of him.
As part of its mission, Metcalf Lab takes on students with low-incidence disabilities when their local schools don’t have the resources to support them. As such, Mike’s classroom is composed of students with a great variety of needs. Some come from low-income families or have been diagnosed with conditions like visual impairment or hearing loss.
“When you think of the accommodations they need, these kids are so different from one another. When we’re studying physics and motion, I know my blind students need to feel the experiment in their bodies. They need it to be tactile and they need to hear it. Compare that to my deaf students, for whom it’s all about the visuals.
“In learning how to connect with each of my students, I’ve found that BrainPOP has become an embedded tool in my instruction. I could lose other resources in my classroom and I’d be fine, but I use BrainPOP every day.”
“In learning how to connect with each of my students, I’ve found that BrainPOP has become an embedded tool in my instruction. I could lose other resources in my classroom and I’d be fine, but I use BrainPOP every day.
Mike’s classroom employs two levels of differentiation.
“Part of the differentiation in my classroom is done by me. Sometimes I say ‘You get these movies, and you get those.’ But my students also differentiate for themselves. BrainPOP helps me with both methods.”
For the former, BrainPOP offers the ability to differentiate without stigma.
“If you’re passing out books and Johnny gets the blue book, and everyone else got the red book, we all know why Johnny got the blue book.”
But BrainPOP makes differentiation in a one-to-one classroom more anonymous.
“If we’re doing a project about animals, a student might need to start with BrainPOP Jr., which has a lot of great content about animals. In my classroom, a 7th grader can use content that was designed for much younger students without feeling judged or self-conscious.”
BrainPOP also helps students overcome language barriers. A student once joined Mike’s class having recently immigrated to the U.S., and he communicated almost exclusively in a language that no one else at Metcalf Lab spoke.
“When I showed him BrainPOP [in his native language], he was overwhelmed. He looked at me as if to say, ‘How is this possible?’ He had been feeling so isolated, and finally he was able to learn alongside his peers.”
Wait a Second … Why Do Double Rainbows Happen?
Mike’s main focus, however, is on creating classrooms in which students take the lead for themselves. Metcalf Lab promotes a heavy emphasis on Universal Design for Learning. In Mike’s classroom, kids have tools to make their own decisions. First among them is BrainPOP.
“My lessons always start with a question, a phenomenon, or something we’re trying to figure out. We might use primary source material, or we might watch a movie and ask something like ‘Why do double rainbows occur?’”
The key, Mike said, is self-awareness.
“When a student understands that they’re struggling — maybe because they’ve taken a quiz and they can see they’re not doing well — BrainPOP allows them to find content and activities on their own that will help them develop their comprehension.”
“When a student understands that they’re struggling, maybe because they’ve taken a quiz and they can see they’re not doing well, BrainPOP allows them to find content and activities on their own that will help them develop their comprehension.”
“It’s also a great place for enrichment where kids can just explore and make connections,” Mike told us. “When we’re studying heat and temperature, I often see students branch out to learn about fire and combustion, just because that movie looks (and is) interesting and they want to watch it.”
And with BrainPOP, exploration can happen in a safe environment, free from the dangers of the open internet.
As is the case in any classroom where students take the lead, formative assessment is what makes it all possible.
“I tell people I used to fail on concept maps. It was something I used to do on a Monday and then have [students] turn it in on Tuesday. But now we spend two weeks on one concept map.”
Mike’s students use the Make-a-Map tool to revise and add to their concept maps every day, demonstrating their learning and giving Mike the data he needs to support them.
“It’s probably the richest piece of formative assessment I have on students.”
Whether a given student understands double rainbows all the way, part of the way, or not at all, they understand their progress, and so does Mike.