Monday, 6 December 2010

Moby & Me - How an orange robot helped my class' imagination to soar.


I’ve always liked using the web to find tools that help my class to learn – even if at first the learning takes a back seat to the playing!

I first discovered BrainPOP at BETT in 2010; where a fellow teacher, Tom Sale, was exalting its merits on their stand as a BrainPOPer. If I’m honest, there was a lot I didn’t understand or chose to ignore at first. I spoke to Chris & Eylan, two fanastically enthusiastic people, who convinced me to go home and trial it. I left BETT that day dazzled by the array of talented teachers that BrainPOP had invited onto their stand to simply talk about the impact it had had on their respective classes. With their testimonials & Chris’ sales pitch, I vowed to use it straight away.

I went back to my school, walked into the finance manager’s office to find there was no budget left until April (the school was in the final phase of rolling out laptops across all classes & with a school of 570 kids, there wasn’t much left). I also had the difficulty of being in Year 1. BrainPOP didn’t cater for children that young then, but I have recently been pointed in the direction of BrainPOP Jr, which is American, but as yet I haven’t trialled that. 

April came and went in a blur, the ash cloud stranded the Year 6 teacher in Australia and it was all hands to the pumps, I went from Year 1 to Year 6 to cover her absence and all my thoughts of developing digital content went out of the window. Then came TeachMeet Bpool, an event that Tom & I were organising. BrainPOP came straight onboard and were amazingly generous – considering how neither Tom or I had a subscription. That was the key turning point for me. This company has supported and encouraged teachers to use it, without catches. They suggest having month long free trials, are flexible when you want extensions and help you by answering questions – even though they have no real justification to. In short, they are passionate about helping teachers.

Orange Robots & writing

I, at this point, had been successful at interview for a job at a new school, a position with senior management responsibility & a in a position to implement change. A chance email to BrainPOP’s Chris alerted me to a competition that they would be running in November & December 2010. This competition involved creating a short film in 3 settings, Horror, romance or adventure. I organised a 30 day trial of BrainPOP and set to work:

Being in Year 5, I was able to slot this in perfectly to the Film Narrative unit & the class promptly set to work developing ideas (& a lot of cameo roles) that they could use. Since Halloween had just past, the class unanimously chose the ‘horror’ genre & set about walking around like extras from Shaun of the Dead. As I was about to berate them for knowing far too much about a film rated 15, a conversation started that drew me in.

“When you watch Tim & Moby, Tim always explains what Moby’s saying and he’s generally saying something a bit like a joke.” The person saying this was one of my reluctant boy writers. He was talking to his friend, another reluctant writer and full time daydreamer.
“Yeah, I like it when they hold up the letter” (enter lightbulb moment) “Hold on!” the boy in question got up and went to my higher ability, who were busy making notes about how we could turn our school into a tackier version of a student fancy dress shop.

I followed the conversation as closely as I could without being obvious in my eavesdropping and listened as he explained that we needed to, not only get the setting right, but think about the other BrainPOP videos & make sure our video copied the layout & style of theirs.

RIP Tim & Moby!
After hearing this, I collected the class & set them to work on their play scripts, ensuring that all the children had a chance to hear this lad’s suggestion.

They created fantastic work, with lots of original ideas, both quirky & straightforward. The children then drew their ideas together the next day, with me acting as scribe handpicking the great ideas that each of them had thought of. Somebody’s letter here; another’s stage direction there; until piece by piece a complete play script emerged from the collective work of all the children.

3 weeks in and the children have split themselves into production teams, one focusing on a different element required to complete the task quickly. A set design team, actors, stage & film crew & post-film editing. All the children chose the roles themselves & have been independently honing skills that will benefit them in their role. Even the more assertive of children were following instructions from others; they were taking turns and thinking objectively, knowing that they needed to work together.

My 30 day trial has run out, but I’ve signed up to BrainPOP for a 24/7 access subscription, as the videos are emotive & engage with the children. I can’t imagine they’d be happy not to have access to the fantastic videos and the consistently sarcastic beeping from Moby. They play ‘BrainPOP’ on the playground & the conversations it has generated have been worth the subscription cost alone.

The filming was last week, but the creative spark generated by the BrainPOP competition and the Orange Robot will last far into the academic year. Regardless of whether we win or not; the real winners are my Year 5s, who have gained both enthusiasm & the knowledge that they can achieve anything by working together & giving it a go.


  1. It's difficult to express how gratifying and joyful it is to see BrainPOP spark such successful learning experiences. We work hard to ensure our connection to schools and eductors is real and worthwhile. Simply put - what you have written about here is what keeps us (and Tim & Moby!) going.

    Please say hi to your pupils from all us BrainPOPpers and congratulations on what looks like some awesome work.