Website review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2015

Brightstorm

Brief video lessons for kids who need a homework boost

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
Community rating
Based on 2 reviews
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Grades
8–12 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
Communication & Collaboration, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking, College & Career Prep

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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.

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.

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?

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 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?

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 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?

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

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Featured review by
Shannon H. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Informative,quirky videos that showcase difficult concepts in Biology.
The Brightstorm videos are informative and provide students with an appropriate level of insight for each topic. The presenters are effective and quirky which the students like. I like the simple analogies that the presenter often uses to show difficult concepts such as using a pair of scissors for enzymes and activation energy. The videos lend themselves to a flipped classroom environment and can easily be assigned for homework. I used the enzymes video with small groups as part of a stations lab on en ...
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