Guest Blogger Nili Bartley Puts a Spin on Professional Development

Posted by cemignano on

Guest blogger Nili Bartley from Hopkinton, MA is a 4th grade teacher who has taken a different approach to training and professional development. Read on to learn about how Nili’s students helped get her colleagues up and running with My BrainPOP. Don’t miss her previous posts from October and November!

I ended my last blog entry with the following line: “It doesn’t get much better than this.” And yet, it actually did. It was one thing to see students transform using BrainPOP and a whole different ballgame when four of them introduced its potential to teachers. I knew selecting and preparing students to assist me in running a BrainPOP training would be challenging. My goal, however, was to give teachers permission to become students and I couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish this other than having students become their teachers. And they certainly did.

We presented in early November to two groups of teachers, each session averaging ten attendees. With student excitement exploding in the air, both sessions were successful and feedback from teachers and administrators was extremely positive. Each student trainer took on one of BrainPOP’s newest features and prepared a tutorial. They also carefully selected work they were proud of and wrote a creative introduction explaining to teachers how BrainPOP has benefited them as learners. We kicked off each session with an Animoto created by a different group of students as way to introduce our BrainPOP journey so far. Although this creative group did a super job touching on the newest features, it was their conclusion that struck me as well as my colleagues. They left us with one thought: “Now we (the students) are pros on BrainPOP.” As the student trainers then began their introductions and continued with their tutorials, they proved just that.

Each of the four trainers proudly introduced themselves and spoke from the heart. To me, this was the best part of the training and I knew then that selecting kids to be a part of this wonderful experience was indeed a good decision. Each of their benefits pointed to increased knowledge, taking their learning to the next level, and boosting their engagement. The “Students Teaching Teachers” portion of the session, however, was certainly the most engaging as teachers listened without hesitation. They knew what was being presented was evidence of student learning with no argument.  We invited them to explore right along with us on their laptops, as again, the intention was to see BrainPOP through a student’s eyes. All features were demonstrated within the topic of nouns so that teachers could see how each feature works in asking students to apply their learning about the same topic.

Kid Trainers

Lex, our first student trainer, began with explaining how to use the Activities feature and thoroughly went through each potential tab. Teachers were particularly excited about the Primary Source feature as well as the ability to type, draw, and give feedback online. He displayed his nouns graphic organizer and explained to teachers that the idea was to differentiate between the types of nouns and provide examples. Teachers could see that the Activities feature asks students to not only demonstrate their understanding for a topic, but extend their thinking. And of course the biggest selling point was the idea that all work and feedback can be done without a printer.

Our second student trainer (parent has asked to hold student name) then stepped in with GameUp and this was certainly a treat for all of us as she asked teachers to join her in playing Sortify. It was amazing (as well as humorous for all) to see that she and her fellow trainers were more confident in their knowledge of concepts like abstract nouns than the teachers in the room. I believe it was at this point that teachers began to realize the power of BrainPOP in advancing student knowledge in such a short time. As she demonstrated the process of submitting bins, teachers were in awe that not only can a student submit an actual game, but that his or her results can easily guide instruction. She concluded by showing teachers her original submitted bins for nouns, explained where her misconceptions had been, and her progress since. You can’t can ask more from fourth graders in taking control of their learning.

Casey was next on the agenda to demonstrate Make-a-Map. There wasn’t a tool or option left out of her thorough explanation and once again, teachers couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They “oohed” and “aahed” when Casey showed them how to take a picture from the video and use it in their concept map. As she demonstrated connecting ideas with arrows, teachers quietly buzzed with potential ideas for their own students as it’s the connection between ideas that truly tap into higher order thinking. When it came time for Casey to show off her own Make-a-Map based on the different types of nouns, teachers were able to witness how Casey’s brain thinks right in front of their eyes and that as well left a lasting impression.

Student At Desk

It was finally Kylie’s turn to show teachers the foundation that binds it all together, My BrainPOP. She was able to show My BrainPOP in her own student account and once again, teachers were amazed. Whether she was highlighting a completed quiz, activity, game, or concept map, she navigated through her work with ease. Teachers were able to see that Kylie was not just showing them how to find different assignments, but that she could actually reflect on the growth she had made. With My BrainPOP being essential in creating and maintaining classes as well as keeping track of students, I had the student trainers take a well deserved break while I demonstrated the power of My BrainPOP as a teacher. This concluded each session leaving us a few minutes at the end to continue exploring with “go to” trainers right on hand.

Teachers left wanting more and couldn’t wait to create their own accounts. In fact, many logged in with their new teacher account information before they left and had set up their own classrooms by the next day. All student trainers were praised for a job well done and teachers are still giving them high fives in the hallway making them feel like rockstars. Their classmates have learned from them as well and we have all agreed together to keep spreading the word about the newest features on BrainPOP. We are now providing opportunities for one on one trainings where my students partner up with other fourth and fifth graders in the building. We were able to teach our switch class, for example, how to use Make-a-Map to show why immigrants came to Ellis Island. Since this was a huge success, we are scheduled to train four other classes on how to use Activities and Make-a-Map to extend their knowledge and thinking about Thanksgiving this week.

As I ponder next steps for my students, I believe that our second trainer stated it perfectly when she said, “BrainPOP has intrigued me to study topics I might not have otherwise been interested in such as (and this is when she turned to me and smiled) parts of speech.” So although we will keep our confidence growing by training peers, we will also use BrainPOP as a learning resource for any topic we encounter. I will do my best to incorporate the newest features and My BrainPOP as much as possible, but the greatest outcome from our Parts of Speech journey is that students are already starting to do this without me. They are, afterall, the experts.


A few words from the rockstars themselves:

  • “This experience was one of the best I have ever had in an academics structure. It made me a more confident learner and teacher.”
  • “It was really fun and gave me a lot of confidence for teaching other people. I felt unique and different, because not many students get to teach teachers. People who are older usually teach people who are younger and it was like I was a teacher and they were students.”
  • “It was a new experience for me. To go up there in front of teachers and teach them about Make-a-Map was a big risk I had to take.”
  • “It was a great experience, because I had never done anything like this before.”  

A final quote from a thoughtful student who wrote it when completing a BrainPOP reflection at the end of our Parts of Speech unit.

  • “I will probably use BrainPOP to get a job, because I can walk in with a Make-a-Map showing their company right now how much better it will be with me in it.”