Drive To Discover

Website makes math fun, easy to learn

Monday, January 04, 2010

Math is not everyone's favorite subject. However, one Bay Area group is making math more enticing for middle and high school students by offering free online help. It is not your typical online service.

How do you make math less intimidating?

"If you can find somebody who can explain the concepts to you in a simple, straightforward way, then you can learn it," said Jeff Marshall of Brightstorm.

Search no more, a Bay Area website called Brightstorm provides great teachers who are actually cool.

It is like going to Wikipedia and having a teacher explain math to you.

"Anybody who is confused with their homework can come to our site, search for the concept, find it really quickly, and then they can get an explanation that is concise and to the point from a really talented presenter who is also a great teacher," said Marshall.

Brightstorm's website was launched in October 2008. Today there are 97,000 students and teachers using the site. Most of it is free.

"When you have 32 kids, it's really difficult to make sure that all 32 kids are paying attention for your 50 or 55-minute classes," said teacher Brian McCall. "Developmentally, their attention span is about eight minutes."

Teachers record math concepts and problems in the studio. Then the creative team steps in to add what kids like -- graphics, colors, and music.

"Here you are comfortable, the site is designed to make it feel like, 'Hey, you are the only one here, feel comfortable, click through and learn,'" said Nicholas Da Silva of Brightstorm.

More than 2,000 short video lessons are now online.

"I went from C's to A's," said one student.

Middle school students say they enjoy the flexibility the website offers.

"If you don't understand a problem you can just rewind it and see how you can do it step by step all over again," said student Cecilia Lara.

This allows students to review the lesson several times.

"What we've done is we work with a player that you are able to pause; you are able to rewind to the step that you need and then play again," aid Danielle Delancey of Brightstorm.

So how does the site make money? While the math lessons are free, the company charges a fee for preparing students for the SAT, ACT and Advanced Placement courses.

Brightstorm says it wants to change the way people approach math.

"I'm just not good at math. It was never something that I enjoyed and so many people can nod their head around the table when someone says something like that and it becomes too acceptable, I think," said Marshall. "We need to turn that around."

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