Review by Christie Thomas, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2014

STEM Builder

Usable STEM content and practice diminished by dated interface

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Math
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3-12
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5 images

Pros: With definitions and dynamic visuals in science, math, tech, and engineering, the site’s online dictionary is a solid resource.

Cons: Navigating the site to locate related content can be frustrating; without blending content to show STEM connections, the site misses the mark.

Bottom Line: Valuable experiments, immense vocabulary lists, and math practice all provide worth, though maybe not enough to outweigh the poor usability.

STEM Builder won't be an instructional go-to for most teachers, but it can be a place to find some bits of valuable educational material -- a keyword search will likely be the easiest method. In this manner, vocabulary (with grade level labels) can be identified, as well as any related activities (organized by type). Kids won't need to make accounts, log in, or even search the STEM Builder site, as an "export URL" feature allows teachers to paste links into classroom webpages or posts.

Science teachers can preview online experiments with the whole class prior to completing a lab. Alternately, students can work in groups to design related spin-off experiments to test themselves. In self-paced math classrooms, instructional videos can be used for some content, though most students will need teacher-created graphic organizers as a guide.The practice exercises and games can be used as follow-ups to instruction, or as extension exercises for students who need an extra challenge.

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STEM Builder offers digital resources in science, math, technology, and engineering. Once logged in, users can select one of these four sections, choose a resource type, or locate vocabulary words from the list. Topics can also be found by keyword, grade, or standard.

Each of the thousands of vocabulary entries includes a dynamic visual component. Changes upon mouseover or click include a second image, labeling, or animation. Many words are defined in Spanish, some in Haitian Creole, and some contain audio. Beyond vocabulary, there's minimal engineering and technology content, mostly consisting of measurement tables and basic computer programming information. The science experiments include simulations ranging from beginner (freezing water) to advanced (differential amplification). The math section has the widest array of resources, including instructional videos and guided practice, among other activities -- all encompassing major topics.

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STEM Builder's greatest benefit to learning is its vocabulary section -- words are coordinated with meaningful imagery to truly deepen the context of their definitions. Some terms offer more than one definition to help meet the needs of different grade levels. Generally, though, language tends to be geared toward older students.

Unfortunately, beyond the vocabulary, the site stumbles. Without a premade learning path, and due to difficult and inconsistent organization, finding and matching usable content can be challenging. Though some of the vocabulary words link to coordinating learning components, these may not be geared toward the same age. Further, mismatches exist within single activities; the freezing water science demo is designated for youngsters, but the background information is much more advanced. The math practice and games provide little in the way of directions or instructional feedback. Overall, the site's formatting and design are clunky and outdated, limiting its usefulness.

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Overall Rating

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

The visual vocabulary components will intrigue kids, but activities and experiments tend to be clunky and monotonous. Interactivity -- even within the games and practice -- is minimal. There aren't rewards or progress charts to help motivate.

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

Though there's lots of content, there's no clear learning path or sequence. Definitions are clear but short, leaving aside deeper explanations. Variability, even within individual sections of the site, makes planning difficult.

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

Navigating this site can be daunting, and directions for interactive tasks are minimal. Support is wanting; the site's math tutorial doesn't match its current design. Spanish definitions and audio aren't consistent.


Common Sense Reviewer
Christie Thomas Classroom teacher

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