Michelle Miesko
In the mind of a CBE

Out With the Old, In With the New!

Posted by cemignano on

We hope that through the Certified BrainPOP Educator program, we’ll inspire educators to reflect on our features and tools and ultimately come up with manageable ideas for replacing and improving past practices. To guide candidates to consider new approaches, we task them with identifying an “Aha Moment” for which BrainPOP’s offerings would be an effective option. Regardless of your intent to become a Certified BrainPOP Educator, reflecting on how you can improve past practices can be a helpful exercise for everyone and we want to share an inspiring “Aha Moment” from one of our newest CBEs, Michelle Miesko.

1) Tell us your BrainPOP “AHA moment” from the certification process. What specific use or application of BrainPOP excited you during this course? How did it change your expectation for using BrainPOP in your teaching practice?

I have been using BrainPOP in my classes for a number of years. I was excited to learn about so many new features through the workshop. I really like how BrainPOP is integrating these new features. I will admit that my use of my BrainPOP subscription was limited. I used the videos to provide information to my students because it was not only engaging but also age appropriate for my 5th graders. My students got excited when they heard the “pop” as the site launched on my computer before it was displayed and played via the classroom projector linked to my desktop CPU. I have used the quizzes, activities, and shared a lot of the FYI information in the past. However, now I am ready to take it to the next level.

The workshop, in a way, was the beginning of my Aha! Moment. The kind and supportive educational staff took me down a new rabbit hole, and just like Alice, I was eager to see what wondrous new adventures I could craft for my students. Would it be adding some new educational games to support Social Studies lessons? I fell further down and discovered Make-a-Map. This is a wonderful way to brainstorm and make connections to more complicated ideas and concepts or to just provide a step to lead students on a journey of their own creativity allowing them to construct and own their knowledge. I fell even further and discovered 191 videos with links to primary source activities and documents covering everything from Lincoln’s Inaugural Address to historic photographs of NASA astronauts in training for the Apollo mission. I landed softly at the bottom only to be greeted to the equivalent of Alice’s “eat me” and “drink me” treats in the form of the Make-a-Movie. As I made images grow and shrink and fed my words into the computer, a magical thing happened. I created a movie!

While falling down the rabbit hole was an amazing experience, my greatest adventure is yet to come! I am excited to start sharing my knowledge with my students and colleagues. That will mean bringing exciting new projects in the classroom for my students as well as having some great one on one chats or discussions with my team to describe and demonstrate these new tools. BrainPOP has become so much more than a collection of informative and entertaining videos. It is now a lesson planner, a movie maker, a graphic organizer and creative planner, a resource for primary sources, a trustworthy educational gaming site, and more. I hope to see my excitement mirrored in the faces of my students, the conversations with colleagues (perhaps a tea party is in order), and the projects that we will create individually as well as collectively.

2) What is a specific lesson or unit you’ve taught in the past that you can re-formulate to bring in the new tools, features, or content associated with your “aha” moment? Describe what you “used to do” here.

Teaching history can be a challenging yet extremely rewarding job. Our history is full of triumphs, but it also has its share of tragedies and injustices. Approaching those at an age appropriate level sometimes means walking a fine line. You must not only acknowledge and discuss what happened, but you also need to remain vigilant in educating a new generation on the past. For example, It might be the first time a student discusses a World War or the Holocaust. You need to provide information and encourage students to not only seek knowledge, but construct their own understanding and connection to this newly acquired knowledge. What does this mean to me? Do I have a personal connection to this event or issue? How has my life been affected by these issues or events?

To that end, I can see utilizing the BrainPOP resources like lesson plans, primary sources, and Make-a-Maps to learn about and engage in discussions about World War II. I discovered some new BrainPOP videos on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as one on Alan Turing. I can envision using the Make-a-Map to compare and contrast the fateful decision to drop the atomic bombs. There are also code lessons that will help students understand enigma and code cracking skills better. I would also give that a 21st century twist and relate it to the coding that we do now with computers. This would be a good cross curricular activity to tie in what they are learning in their computer skills class.

In the past, I have pulled resources from a variety of sources including magazines, websites, video clips and documentaries, and even some great “show and tell” with historical artifacts the students have shared. We read articles, viewed videos, and answered a variety of questions addressing both comprehension as well as critical thinking. I see the BrainPOP resources not as a replacement for the resources of the past but rather as an ally to bolster understanding, provide another outlet to construct knowledge, and address the different learning styles of my students.

3) How will you integrate BrainPOP’s new features and tools to replace what you described above?

The biggest change will probably be in my assessments. I am looking to expand my assessments to include more project based learning and critical thinking. I want the students to be excited and engaged in their studies and not simply memorizing a series of facts for a test. Facts are soon forgotten, and events are deemed irrelevant because they happened in the past. We can learn a lot from our past to improve our future but only if we hold onto that information by making it meaningful and relevant. This can be accomplished by using some of BrainPOP’s tools.

To promote and assess critical thinking, the Make-a-Map is an excellent option. I would begin with a class concept map to ascertain what students already know and follow it up by having students watch the BrainPOP video on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Students could take it to the next level by creating a compare and contrast map in Make-a-Map about the decision to drop or not to drop the atomic bomb based on the simpler sample class version. Students will then research this information from approved and appropriate sites to construct their knowledge of the event with a partner. The BrainPOP video and the FYI sections are great places to start.. These collected facts will then become the basis and support to complete his or her concept map as well as to help form his or her opinion to debate this issue in class. I would like to use the Make-a-Map as a springboard to have the students go beyond comprehending the facts to actually questioning history and applying what they have learned in a way that is more than correctly identifying facts on a written test. I would like to engage the students and create some great discussions and debates about this issue making it more meaningful and relevant.

We could continue to utilize BrainPOP resources like lesson plans and activities to learn about and discuss the other facets of war like codes with the Alan Turing video. I enjoyed the code breaking activities with the secret message. I could use that as a class example and then have students devise a code. Students could then try to break each other’s to uncover the encrypted messages for the project based learning aspect. Maybe their messages could tie into an historical timeline of key events. Taking it a step further, the code could be used for a type of spy scavenger hunt to find and uncover hidden messages in a type of team based challenge. I could also incorporate the GameUp game, Blockly Maze, to engage the students on another level and provide a link to the 21st century skill of coding. Another project might include writing a poem or a time traveler’s journal about the war as a blog post to make an additional cross curricular connection to English class.