On recent list of top edtech startups (Wired Academic) one noteworthy company stood out for its potential for making a big impact in the learning of English and Math skills at the elementary grades.
Brain Nook, as it’s called, is an “all-inclusive” learning resort for the students from Kinder to 5th grade. Featuring more than a hundred engaging games it is a robust and entertaining way for students to practice their academic skills.
But what seems truly remarkable is Brain Nook’s ability to put together the best “brain-rewarding” (see previous post) elements of the gaming universe and package them into a learning site that will be the envy of many start-ups and “been-ups” alike.
The premise for the game is a story: You, an alien cosmonaut, crash-land on earth. Stranded, you have to buy and collect badges, stars, unlock levels and ultimately find all the spaceship parts needed to get back to your home planet. Avoiding immigration does not seem to be an issue for the alien players who travel around the world challenging others to games, or accomplishing solo missions by practicing skills ranging from recognizing long and short vowels to counting money.
What makes the game so engaging is not only the fact that students can customize avatars and “purchase” additional items to decorate themselves and their rooms, but also because they can progress at their own pace and choose from a variety of games and lands.
The mission aspect of the game is reminiscent of what made Cyberchase such a popular game. Quests seem to add a whole new level to learning that engages students beyond the ability to solve a problem in isolation. The progress bar is an excellent motivator in this regard. When a student sees their progress moving up, never down, they immediately realize that it is within their power to move up, albeit at their own rate.
At first this seemed a bit confusing. The games after all, are adaptive, meaning they increase in difficulty if the user makes progress, so a student might feel like they lost, but in the end they still get to walk away with enough stars to add to their point total. They are thus motivated to continue playing, once they feel like the have a handle on a particular skill.
Another winning aspect of the game is the social component. Students can walk around and chat, challenge each other and become “friends”. When you add other people to a game, as any gamer knows, it adds another level of engagement. You are not just playing a game for yourself, but in front of a set of “game peers” united in your quest to get out of Earth. The dynamics of this and why its motivational has to do with neuroscience and we won’t get into that here, but the effect on a learner is remarkable.
It is also a great game for English Language Learners beyond the 5th grade. In fact that is the main reason zapaTECHISTA looked into this site. It is often the job of the late elementary teacher and beyond to fill the skill gaps of students whose first language is not English. Brain Nook offers students who have not had success focusing on class lectures, or who have missed school in earlier grades (here I’m thinking of a student from El Salvador who did not attend school from 2nd to 4th grade) or who need to work on skills below their grade level to feel successful at their own pace.
The only drawback so far is that Brain Nook only works on a flash-enabled device. Sorry iPad folks. I’m sure the developers are quickly working on an app version, or a lite version like BrianPOPs iPhone app. Also, some of the text moves off-screen too quickly for the youngest readers to keep up, especially the instructions to the games.
We’ll keep an eye out for this one and wish it well.