Review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2015

Brightstorm

Brief video lessons for kids who need a homework boost

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
  • College & Career Prep

Subjects
N/A
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
8-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

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Pros: Lessons are great for after-school review, and the teachers really know their stuff.

Cons: Lectures may not be dynamic enough for kids who are truly struggling; the site's tone is pretty negative about teachers.

Bottom Line: Short, digestible lessons on all the major subjects are helpful for mastery but not substantial enough for kids who need more help.

Brightstorm would work beautifully in a flipped-classroom setting. Kids can watch lessons at home and then come to class and discuss what they learned. It's also a great resource for kids who are struggling but aren't able to come in for tutoring. It could also be a real help if you just don't have the time or resources to give each student individual help. Brightstorm isn't perfect, but it's a good supplement to lessons taught in the classroom.

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Brightstorm is a website that offers short video lessons on various subjects within the categories of English, history, math, science, and test prep. Users can pay for a monthly, semiannual, or annual subscription, and then they can watch all the video content on their chosen subject. Videos are broken down by topic, and some directly correspond to textbooks kids may be using in class.

Each video is between five and 10 minutes long and covers a small piece of information related to a topic. For example, the section on Death of a Salesman has separate videos for exploring the play's theme, its meaning, and its symbolism, and math sections include lots of lessons and practice problems along the way. All lessons are taught by educators with either master's degrees or Ph.D.s, mostly in the subjects they're teaching.  All videos and content are also available through Studystorm, the iOS and Android app created by Brightstorm's developers.

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Although the company is based in Palo Alto, its founders and many of the staff are Estonian, and language on the site can be a bit choppy. It's understandable, though the translations aren't always perfect. The videos are generally great, and there's a diverse team of teachers who try to connect gently with their virtual students. Some of the teachers are outstanding, but they're not all equally engaging -- you need a lot of personality to teach well over video. Also, note that most (if not all) of the math videos are available for free through Brightstorm's YouTube channel -- a helpful alternative for families who might balk at the steep subscription price.

Struggling students might feel that watching these videos is too much like being in class, only with a different teacher. The site's tone doesn't help much: Testimonial quotes such as "You explained in 3 minutes what my teacher couldn't in 5 weeks!" may further undermine a child's confidence that he can be successful at school. Teachers might also be frustrated that this and other statements position the site as a positive alternative to school, not a partner or helper. If kids are having trouble connecting with their teacher, it's possible that they can access that same content more successfully through Brightstorm. However, the site's steep price tag and its pretty traditional approach make it unlikely to be a game changer for most students. Motivated kids may love it; those more on the fence may leave feeling uninspired.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

All the teachers are enthusiastic and easy to listen to, even if they don't all have the most engaging on-camera presence. Design is teen-friendly without being distracting.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Each video is a short review of a topic given by an engaging teacher standing before a TV screen or whiteboard; if kids respond well to this kind of presentation, Brightstorm could help them truly grasp their lessons. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

A FAQ list answers basic questions, and the site has a very active and engaging Facebook page with lots of giveaways. For kids who do better by reading, some lessons' transcripts are available.


Common Sense Reviewer
Polly Conway Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Loretta H. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Good videos for introductions or review of topics - great for flipped classroom setting!

My overall opinion about this product as a teaching tool is very favorable. I like the enthusiastic teachers, who are knowledgeable and break the concepts into small, manageable chunks that fit well into a high school student's attention span! My students come to class ready to complete activities and discuss concepts after viewing one of these videos as part of my flipped classroom homework assignments.

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