Guest Blogger

SEL Through the Seasons

Posted by jglassman on

By Jessie Erickson, CBE, Grand Forks, ND

Last month at ISTE, I had the honor of presenting for BrainPOP’s “CBE Tales from the Field”—a showcase of unique ways educators are engaging students using BrainPOP.  In my role as Curriculum Technology Partner at two schools in North Dakota, I help integrate digital and technology resources into the curriculum, and BrainPOP is one of my go-to and absolutely favorite digital resources. So when I have the opportunity to share that love with other educators, I jump at the chance! This past school year with social and emotional learning becoming  an emphasis in our district, I was drawn to the many and varied social-emotional learning (SEL) resources BrainPOP offers.

Nathan Twining, a K-8 school located on the Grand Forks Air Force base, serves students of military families. Like all students, those from military families have social emotional learning needs, but theirs are often magnified due to frequent moves and being away from deployed parents and extended family members. I decided the most effective and meaningful way to incorporate SEL lessons into the curriculum was to do so seasonally. This is what my year looked like through an SEL lens:

Back to School

Since military families move often, their children do not have the time to form long-standing relationships with peers, making back to school a particularly stressful time for them. Starting the year with BrainPOP’s Back to School movie provided a perfect springboard for students to share common concerns, celebrate strengths, identify supports in our school, and set goals for the upcoming year. After watching the movie and sharing ideas, students created a Make-a-Map to record their understandings and goals.



In September, we turned our focus to Digital Citizenship because this topic is so important to be mindful of all year long. I began the lesson by having class watch the movie Online Safety.  After discussing what they learned, I assigned Make-a-Map for students to show what they know about how to behave online. As a culminating activity, they created literal “digital footsteps” using Seesaw to take pictures of their feet and placing digital citizenship key words on their feet. Then they shared their footprints with family around the globe.   

At the end of October, while participating in collaborative and cooperative activities using Ozobots and BreakoutEdu games, I discovered that communicating disagreement was difficult for students. The teachers and I regrouped and used this experience as an opportunity to help the children learn how to work together. To do this, we shared Conflict Resolution topic with them. After watching the movie and engaging in class discussions, the students used Creative Coding, to code their learning. This opportunity to learn and process using BrainPOP’s resources led to more collaborative, cooperative, and successful communication when we brought the Ozobots and BreakoutEdu boxes back to the classroom.


As December approached, our thoughts turned toward the holidays. This time of year can be very stressful for everyone, but especially for students separated from families and deployed parents. Not only do they experience stress, but they can feel its effect on the adults around them. To help students understand and acknowledge what they were feeling, I showed the Stress movie and talked about managing stress as a class. Students then demonstrated their understanding by creating a Make-a-Map or Make-a-Movie—again, allowing for students to have voice and choice in creating while processing their new learning.

The new year is a great time to revisit the goals we set in August, and also the perfect time to set new goals for the remainder of the school year. To prepare, students watched the Setting Goals movie and then reviewed the goal-setting maps they created in August. BrainPOP’s individual student accounts made accessing their original maps quick and easy! Applying what they learned about SMART goals, they constructed new Make-a-Maps reflecting their learning and new or revised goals for the upcoming year.

In February, the seventh grade teachers invited me to work with students in their classrooms on the topic of Civil Rights. We decided to create a lesson in which students use BrainPOP resources to learn about any individual of their choice. Our focus was for students to understand that groups and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity and behavior. We provided the following  guiding questions:

  • How do people find the strength to overcome adversity?
  • Do you think pain and hardship makes people stronger?  Explain your opinion.
  • What role does optimism play in courage and perseverance? 
  • What personal qualities are important in those that thrive?  

As a culminating activity, students used a BrainPOP creativity tool of their choice (Make-a-Map, Make-a-Movie, or Creative Coding) to share  their new understandings with peers and teachers.



Students in grades 3 through 5 participated in learning about happiness during the International Day of Happiness on March 20. The BrainPOP Faces movie launched our class discussion about emotions, including happiness, and how they affect us. Students then created a Make-a-Map to reflect what brings them happiness. The unit ended with students collaborating in small groups to code Dash Robots to do a Happy Dance.  Imagine, students and robots in the hall spreading joy and happy dancing!

In April, the fifth grade students were learning about nutrition.  After watching the Nutrition movie  and discussing key concepts, I provided students with links to the topic. I directed them to review the movie independently, this time using closed captions and to slow it down or speed it up as they wished. I then encouraged them to explore other features, including Related Reading and Sortify. BrainPOP’s learning activities make differentiation easy and seamless!

Before I knew it, school was wrapping up for the year! For many children of military families, this can mean another assignment and move to bases as far away as Japan. For eighth graders it means a move up to the high school, which is both exciting and for some a little intimidating. Recognizing how emotional endings and new beginnings can be, the teachers and I decided to focus on the SEL concept of  Mindfulness.  We watched the movie in all of the grades, and then students had their choice of which creativity tool to use to reflect Mindfulness.  It was so much fun to see different student creations using Make-a-Map, Make-a-Movie, and Creative Coding. Once again, BrainPOP provided ease of differentiation, freedom of student agency, and voice and choice in learning—all by using bite-size chunks of reliable content delivered with a bit of whimsy.


If you haven’t seen BrainPOP’s new SEL landing page, I encourage you to do so today!  It’s a great resource that will help you easily embed SEL lessons into your curriculum year round!