Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2013


Challenge top students with adaptive math and physics problems

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Teachers say (4 Reviews)
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7-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Kids have access to tons of problems at their level with immediate feedback.

Cons: Without a teacher dashboard, it's simply a resource for extra practice.

Bottom Line: This leveled physics and math problem site can be an exciting challenge for passionate students, but may be too much for struggling students.

You'll probably want to assign Brilliant's problems primarily for at-home practice, or challenge high-achieving kids to complete problems for extra credit. When you create your own account, you'll be able to post specific problems for your students; you can use hashtags to mark which ones you'd like them to complete. Encourage kids to post their own questions or share interesting problems they find on Brilliant with the class. Math teachers can encourage their students to check out the helpful Techniques section, which offers a succinct description of an idea like parallel lines accompanied by a few examples at the bottom.

Watch this video to see more ways you can use Brilliant:

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Brilliant is an online community (web and Chrome app) of learners who share and solve physics and math problems. Aimed toward high aptitude students, it's particularly useful to kids competing in Math or Science Olympiad contests. First, students choose a topic: Algebra, Number Theory, Combinatorics, Electricity & Magnetism, Computer Science, Mechanics, Geometry, or Calculus. They're they're given a choice of 5 problems, one at each of five levels. They'll solve the hardest one they can; this determines placement and the level of challenge from that point forward.

Each level is divided into ratings; kids who boost their rating by correctly solving problems will get “leveled up.” They'll get three tries to solve a problem, but if they still can’t figure it out, sample solutions are provided. And if they don't like the sample solution? Kids can request a clarification or dispute the answer.

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Brilliant is elegantly laid out and easy to navigate. It lets kids solve problems at their level while getting immediate feedback. Students will appreciate the choices they get to make -- they can pick the problems they find interesting. Even better, they can create their own problems to try to stump their friends. The site's existing problems are moderately intriguing; They're pretty similar to the types of story problems you find in traditional math and physics textbooks.

Like any online forum there are some safety concerns; make sure to talk to your students about digital citizenship. All users are asked to upload a profile picture, but kids can skip this step, using an avatar or a picture of a favorite animal. Brilliant also could be improved by adding a teacher dashboard to easily track student progress. Also, answers submitted don't require the use of units, which could be particularly problematic in physics. Note that this site is aimed toward "exceptional students," so it may not be appropriate for kids who are having difficulty with math or physics.

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Overall Rating

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

Brilliant is very user-friendly with a clean, intuitive design. The mathematical tasks themselves are about as fun as your average story problem.

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

Problems are leveled specifically for each student. You can also publish your own questions to puzzle other users.

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

Sample solutions may help kids who are struggling; there's also a FAQ section and information on specific problem-solving techniques. Brilliant is available in English, Portuguese, and Korean. 

Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

(See all 4 reviews) (4 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
David M. , Special education instructor
Special education instructor
Romney Middle School
Romney, WV
Engaging, thought-provoking math problems ranging from basic math skills to advanced math skills.

My overall opinion regarding this project as a teaching tool is that it, in the correct hands, could be a very beneficial teaching and learning tool. The free version is good enough for most unless you run into a problem that becomes difficult to solve. The solutions and solving process are only available via Brilliant Squared (a subscription plan of $4/month billed annually). It is a good tool when the students have practiced a topic via worksheets and just need some additional review prior to an assessment. In fact, the website would possibly make a good assessment vehicle: the kids could copy a problem onto their own paper, or take a picture of it with their phone, work out the solution in small groups or independently, then submit their agreed-upon solution to the site.
Also, I have used the site when creating short teaching videos of specific skill sets via the SmartBoard with iMovie on the iPad.

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