HPISD Trustees Talk BrainPop Online Learning Tool

The Highland Park ISD board of trustees work session Tuesday featured a presentation on the online educational platform BrainPop.

BrainPop includes topics like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), social studies, reading, writing, and health. BrainPop is geared toward students in grades 4-8 and BrainPop Jr. is geared toward students in grades K-3.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive program,” HPISD’s director of instructional technology Amy Wood said. “It provides teachers with a multitude of engaging activities. It has instructional videos, quizzes, challenges, vocabulary, printables…games, comic strips, drawing activities, wordplay, writing activities, and coding activities that go along with each instructional topic.”

Wood added that BrainPop has been used by the district for 10 years, was requested by teachers, and is vetted by the district and campus instructional technologists (CITs).

“It is funded at the campus level, and when you look at our enrollment today, it’s actually $2.87 per student, which is less than $13,000 a year, to have access to all of these resources,” she added.

Some parents, though, have expressed concerns at other Highland Park ISD board meetings in recent months about content on BrainPop.

Back in April, Aimee Urista, who has an elementary-school-aged student in the district, said she was concerned about content about the Black Lives Matter movement on the platform.

 “Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. are two of more than 190 approved technology resources that are available to teachers for use at their discretion in their classrooms,” HPISD chief of staff/director of communications Jon Dahlander said at the time.

When trustee Bryce Benson asked about how the district handles parent concerns about “controversial topics that may be referenced in BrainPop videos” at Tuesday’s meeting, an HPISD staff member said he hadn’t received any complaints from parents, but has received questions about it.

Bri Riddell, an instructional coach at Highland Park Middle School, and Sara Meeks, an instructional coach at University Park Elementary, gave a presentation to trustees and said BrainPop is primarily used for whole group instruction.

“We would use it for whole group too to introduce a topic and to get the students excited,” Meeks said.

Highland Park ISD assistant superintendent for education services Lisa Wilson outlined the review process for supplemental resources like BrainPop.

“I think it’s important to remember that BrainPop is a supplemental resource, so it is not an anchor resource so it does not go through the full year committee review like an anchor resource would. The policy on supplemental resources as with anything, a book, a magazine, a newspaper article, an encyclopedia, anything would be that the teacher looks at it and chooses — is it right for the students in this class for the lesson that I’m teaching,” Wilson said.

BrainPop goes through additional vetting for things like privacy as a technology resource, she added.

Trustee Maryjane Bonfield said she’s heard from some people that they were concerned about how technology-based instruction became amid the pandemic.

“There was some real frustration for how technology-based we became, and so I love hearing that it’s just supplemental and it’s just to be a springboard, but I worry that that’s not always the case in reality of the day-to-day classroom,” Bonfield said. “I think there’s an expectation that when students come to school they’re coming to learn, not be online looking at videos and playing games, even if it’s learning.”

Trustee Stacy Kelly said she’s also heard from parents about the importance of student engagement.

“I also have heard from a lot of parents that their primary goal with their children is engagement and the ability to apply and so as we look at whatever materials are used, I think it’s really important that those stay at the forefront of determination,” Kelly said.

View the meeting here:

In other news:

  • Trustee Jae Ellis, who serves on the district’s pandemic response committee, said Superintendent Tom Trigg is going to add Athletic Director Johnny Ringo to that committee. Trustees Jae Ellis and Benson have also submitted names of doctors recommended to add to the committee. The committee consists of campus and district administrators, the district’s lead nurse, Sharpe and Ellis.
  • Trustee Stacy Kelly and Doug Woodward were charged with working with Dahlander to work on naming the multi-use building.

Rachel Snyder

Rachel Snyder, deputy editor at People Newspapers, joined the staff in 2019, returning to her native Dallas-Fort Worth after starting her career at community newspapers in Oklahoma. One of her stories won first place in its category in the Oklahoma Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in 2018. She’s a fan of puns and community journalism, not necessarily in that order. You can reach her at [email protected]

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