Brendan Finch is the Founder of Bird Brain Science, an online platform that aims to teach science content in a more accessible manner. We chatted with Brendan about how his platform improves learning outcomes for students in science and its various tools and features. We should also note that Brendan and his team have a product available for social studies teachers called Bird Brain History (more on that below)!
Bird Brain Science is a one-stop shop where science teachers can find standards-aligned passages and articles that are tiered to meet each student’s reading level. It aims to bridge the gap between the curricular goals and objectives of a science classroom and the reality of students’ reading and comprehension skills.
And it was created by Brendan himself, who taught in a middle school science classroom for several years.
Brendan, after recognizing how his students’ reading abilities were limiting their science performance, started spending his own time finding (and in many cases writing) articles that would be more accessible. And then it occurred to him – he was onto something. “I specifically remember this moment when I was in the classroom. I wrote an article and gave it to my students and they read it in class. And I had some kids who had been failing readers for a very long time and they had this glow in their eyes. They had this newly found sense of confidence because they had just successfully read and understood a science article for the first time in years.”
Right now, the platform’s passages cover science standards for 4th through 8th grade, but it accommodates reading levels that range from 3rd to 12th. Between the science and history platforms, Bird Brain has over 500 articles available. And every single one of them is tiered for 7 distinct reading levels. It’s also expanding its content into high-school, where it’s working to align its pieces to the NGSS standards.
Brendan also discussed with us how teachers commonly use the platform. It used to be that science teachers would open a textbook and that would be their main source for curriculum, labs, readings, and assessments. However, given the growth of the internet and the availability of different resources, teachers are increasingly going to the internet first. Still, the one thing that teachers rarely have access to is quality reading material. Now teachers can quickly find supplementary readings or access passages that better target objectives. All without having to think about the accessibility of the content – Bird Brain does all of that!
So, how does Bird Brain’s tiered reading system work?
At the beginning, all students take a quick 15-minute diagnostic. They read an article and take a short-quiz, including questions on inference and main point. Based on reading time and accuracy, the computer will take a student a grade lower, a grade higher, or keeps them at the same level. This happens a total of 3 times. Through this process, the system hones in on the student’s zone of proximal development – providing content that is both challenging and comprehendible – and starts them there. Then, over the course of the year and as students grow, the platform gradually increases the reading difficulty.
While the adaptive learning functionality of Bird Brain is definitely our favorite, it does offer many other cool features. Every passage is tied to multiple choice and free response questions, teachers can create reports on student performance, and all that data can be quickly exported into a gradebook!
While the site isn’t free, it’s pricing is very reasonable. For $4/student, teachers can access all the science articles on the site for the whole year. That’s $100 bucks for a class of 25. And for $3/student more, you can also gain access to all the history passages. That makes teaming up with a social studies teacher an excellent idea! Brendan also mentioned to us that many of the schools who’ve purchased licenses often do so after getting a recommendation from a literacy or ELL coach. So it’s definitely worth looking into what literacy funds you could tap into at your own school to pay for a subscription!
For the most part, science teachers are concerned with teaching science content. That’s their goal. And for teachers who’ve struggled doing that because of student reading abilities, there’s now a platform that has solved the problem. Check Bird Brain Science out now!