Website review by Mieke VanderBorght, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2013

BrainNook

Cute alien-themed virtual world falls flat on learning potential

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
Community rating
Based on 1 review
Privacy rating
Not yet rated Expert evaluation by Common Sense
Grades
2–5 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Math, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

Take a look inside

5 images

Pros: It's got a creative and attractive premise, and the virtual world is very safe to explore.

Cons: Repetitive, sometimes senseless-seeming game design may leave kids frustrated and discouraged.

Bottom Line: Kids may have fun exploring with their alien avatar, but a push towards more adaptive, engaging content will ensure that meaningful learning happens.

Play is best suited for individuals as homework, or in class in a computer lab. Since teachers can assign students particular games based on specific learning goals, they could conceivably use the games as a fun way to review topics covered in class. Teachers can see progress by class, student, or topic to assess strengths and weaknesses and plan future lessons accordingly.

Continue reading Show less

Kids help their alien avatar explore the planet Earth and find parts to a broken spaceship that will take the alien back home. Kids move their avatar around “worlds,” click to learn about and/or chat with other kids who are in the same world, or earn stars by playing math- or language-based games, all of which are aligned to Common Core standards. Kids get challenges to do new things and badges when they complete them (e.g., try a math game). As kids play the games, they also fill their math and language meters, which takes them to ever-higher levels and unlocks more worlds. Teachers can create class lists, give assignments, and see progress reports organized by student or topic.

BrainNook is a creative idea that allows kids to have fun while safely exploring a virtual world. While it's got a lot of problems, it's not all bad. Kids will find it fun, and the teacher features are nice; you can personalize assignments for kids, and once they complete games, you'll get reports that help pinpoint which kids are having trouble with which topics.

However, BrainNook’s main goal is ostensibly that kids learn math and language concepts. With its poor game design and nonsensical leveling, meaningful learning is unlikely. For example, play is against the clock, which allows kids little time for reflection, and game design is repetitive and lacks creativity. Game topics may be appropriate (dividing decimals, etc.), but the approach to topics is often off-base (e.g., quick, divide 367.87 by 5.4 in your head before the clock runs out and draw a line from the equation to the right answer without getting eaten by a floating bug and before the answer choices disappear). Help! Though games increase in difficulty in a single session, games available to play seem random, uneven, and not based on age of player or level reached. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Kids will like exploring the fun, alien-themed world and will enjoy personalizing their avatar, buying things, and interacting with others. However, relatively unsophisticated design brings the experience down a notch. 

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Topics are suitably aligned to Common Core standards, but more diverse, adaptive games would enhance opportunities for meaningful learning as opposed to often repetitive content.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Kids track their exploration of the virtual world with badges, stars, and items they “buy.” There is some navigational help but none in games to assist with finding the right answers. Offline learning connections aren't available.


Common Sense reviewer
Mieke VanderBorght Researcher

Community Rating

Write a review
Featured review by
Darren D. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Cottonwood Creek Elementary School
Englewood, United States
More suited for intermediate students and above.
Students were initially drawn to the site by the engaging graphics. They quickly found the games to be challenging and the site difficult to navigate which resulted in confusion. Directions on how to play the game were unclear and also confusing. Students complained about the need to complete a level (game) before moving forward. One nice component of the site is the ability for students to make friends with other players in the virtual world. However, students were frustrated and impatient when friend ...
Read full review

Privacy Rating

This tool has not yet been rated by our privacy team. Learn more about our privacy ratings