Website review by Christie Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2016

BirdBrain Science

Leveled readings provide curricular literacy, but content lacks depth

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Pros: Science articles that contain the same content at different reading levels are valuable tools for teachers.

Cons: Science content won't ensure student understanding; scope is often too broad, and story lines can distract.

Bottom Line: Hard-to-find differentiated literacy options for science are a great idea, but content needs work.

Upper-elementary and middle school teachers using a flipped approach may be able to use BirdBrain Science for individualized, independent content reading. Assign articles to be read online from home, or print them for individual kids (although print quantity is limited). Then use online assessments to help gauge initial understanding. You may want students to take notes or provide them with a vocabulary sheet. Pay attention to kids' comments to help ensure they're grasping the "right" ideas, and definitely continue the learning with your own classroom/lab experiences. Though high school articles exist, they don't contain science content desired for advanced classes.

The interest articles are a great feature, allowing teachers to provide access to related concepts or to extend topics. If your topic is the human body, for example, provide kids with access to articles on the human ear or add readings on galaxies to a unit with planet-related standards. Kids who have extra time or extra interest will especially appreciate the extensions.

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BirdBrain Science offers leveled science articles with corresponding assessments. Articles range across science topics and provide the same content and vocabulary words at seven levels, from grades 3–4 through 11–12. Vocabulary is bolded but must be defined through context. Articles at higher levels are longer and more complex. Accompanying quizzes (multiple-choice, optional free-response) also vary with level. The site grades multiple-choice responses immediately, providing students with a score (but no question-specific feedback), and quizzes can be retaken.

Student accounts can be created by the teacher or by the student, but students can only view assigned articles. Teachers can set a student's reading level or let the site establish it using diagnostic articles and quizzes. BirdBrain Science monitors students' quiz scores and uses them to adjust students' reading levels up or down.

Starting kids at their current level is an ideal strategy for increasing reading achievement; to this end, BirdBrain Science offers something many teachers yearn for. Students will enjoy the relaxed tone and injected humor. Unfortunately, the site falls short in the important area of content. Each short article could more clearly reach its point, and most would benefit from images beyond cartoon clip art. Further, science inaccuracies (e.g., "in photosynthesis, sunlight is changed to sugar"), may fuel major misconceptions.

Users will wish for more constructive feedback. Students aren't notified of which quiz questions they get wrong, nor are they prompted to reread specific paragraphs. In addition, the site doesn't provide glossaries or vocabulary sheets to support learners. Also, in an era when students track their own academic data, it's surprising that reading levels and goals aren't available to kids.

Overall Rating


Cartoon clip art, goofy humor, and a conversational tone may grab kids, but interest may fade as students passively read articles. Additional interactivity could boost engagement.


Science articles imparting the same content at different reading levels is a valuable idea, but many users may wish for Lexile- or SRI-connected literacy data. Science content lacks depth and includes some errors.


Good teacher-facing tutorials, and a clear system for teachers to individualize readings for students. Students don't have ready access to their progress or current level. Audio features could further support struggling readers.

Common Sense reviewer
Christie Thomas Classroom teacher

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