February 27, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Marilyn MacDonald
A 27-year teaching veteran, Marilyn MacDonald is currently a third grade teacher at Donald Elementary School. Mrs. MacDonald had a career in Marketing and started a family before settling into her career in teaching.
Marilyn MacDonald has seen many changes during the time she has been a teacher, but nothing as dramatic as the changes that have come with technology. She explains, “With technology, there has been such a shift in the way teachers teach. Education is much more collaborative now between teachers and students. Of all the new technologies, Gizmos are one of my favorites for math and science. They provide a way to incorporate technology in my lessons and allow for students to apply knowledge in new ways. Gizmos are one of the most effective tools I use to support and enhance instruction.”
At the beginning of the year, she helps students set up their accounts. She has each student fill out an index card that she keeps on a ring. Each time students need to log in, she passes out the cards and collects them at the end of the class. By the end of the year, most students have memorized their logins.
The first Gizmos she used this year were Cannon Ball Clowns and Rounding Whole Numbers because they are a great fit with the curriculum and are really great examples to introduce students to Gizmos. She continues, “Cannon Ball Clowns is fun because they are able to launch a clown out of a cannon. They estimate where their clown is going to land. It’s great because they can make predictions and then adjust their errors—it’s just a fun way to learn.”
At the beginning of the lesson, she has students complete the Prior Knowledge Questions on the Student Exploration Sheet. She says, “This is a great way to get students thinking about the topic and activate prior knowledge.” She then models using the Gizmo on the interactive whiteboard, and then students use the Gizmo on their own. While it’s an inquiry-based lesson, “it’s important that students can follow directions,” she shares, and she really likes how the Student Exploration Sheet activities reinforce these skills.
She also likes how Gizmos can be used in various ways, including whole-group, individual exploration, and even collaborative pairs. She explains, “I often pair students up, and they take turns completing the assignment and manipulating the Gizmo. From the Lesson Materials to the teacher demos, it’s very well thought out.” The demo videos available are available on all elementary Gizmos on the bottom right corner. “They are helpful to teachers and the kids LOVE a walk-through! The way the lessons are structured is just fabulous.”
The most convincing feedback for Mrs. MacDonald is from the students. When she tells students they are using Gizmos today and they exclaim, “Alright!”, she knows she is making the right choice to encourage learning with her students. She continues, “The students love using Gizmos. They can manipulate variables, make predictions, and check their predictions—it is engaging and fun as they learn. They are all smiles when they get to use them.”
Mrs. MacDonald encourages all of her fellow teachers to use Gizmos. “If teachers just take the opportunity to try them, they would love them.”
February 24, 2014
Gizmo of the Week: Titration
Titration is a common lab method used to determine the concentration of one material that is dissolved or mixed within another.
During the process of titration, a chemist slowly adds an acid (or base) solution of known concentration to a base (or acid) solution of unknown concentration, called the analyte. An indicator changes color when the analyte is neutralized, and the concentration of the analyte can then be determined.
With the Titration Gizmo, students learn to calculate pH and explain the shape of titration curves. Students use titration to determine the concentration of an acid or base and explore titration of weak acids and bases, too.
After practicing with the Gizmo, your students will become whizzes at titration in no time!
February 17, 2014
Gizmo of the Week: Critter Count (Modeling Multiplication)
Designed for younger learners, the Critter Count Gizmo provides students a fun and engaging introduction to multiplication as repeated addition. For example, 2 × 3 means “two threes,” or 3 + 3. This example in the Gizmo would be modeled with 2 leaves and 3 critters on each leaf.
Once students are comfortable with using repeated groups to model multiplication, they can click the Array button to rearrange the critters in a rectangular array. Using the example above, 2 × 3 would be modeled with 3 critters in 2 rows, arranged neatly as a rectangle.
Students can choose the type of critter, the number of leaves, and the number of critters on each leaf. It’s simple and fun, and drives home the concept of “multiplication as repeated addition.”
In addition, the Gizmo begins to form a connection that will serve students well as they progress in math – namely, the connection between multiplication and area of a rectangle.
February 14, 2014
Expert Corner: Whole Group Instruction- Part V
Laura Chervenak has been with ExploreLearning since 2010 as the VP of Professional Development. She has taught high school science, and is the founder and former director of GOAL Digital Academy. Laura is National Board Certified in Science/Adolescence and Young Adulthood, with a B.A. in Zoology and an M.S. in Anthropology.
Students can easily become disengaged during a lesson in a whole class setting. Students who are not called on to answer a question can passively wait for the answer to be given to them, rather than thinking it through for themselves. Teachers usually seek ways for all students to participate so that they are actively thinking and learning during a whole class lesson.
One of the simplest ways to help get all students actively thinking about a whole group activity is to provide think time for questions and ask them to write their answers down before calling on one student to answer aloud. Many questions and challenges in the Gizmo lesson materials have multiple correct answers. This format is a great opportunity to ask pairs to devise a solution and then have them come up one at a time to share their solutions on the Gizmo.
If the Gizmo calls for students to design an experiment, have pairs or small groups work together to create plans at their desks. Each group then presents and defends their plan to the class for the privilege of performing that experiment on the Gizmo.
You can also have students use physical manipulatives similar to the Gizmo at their desks. This will allow them to follow along and explore even when they aren’t using the Gizmo directly. In the User Lesson Materials for Toy Factory, the contributed lesson from Elsie Rivard includes a page of toys from the Gizmo created by using the snapshot tool. Students can cut out and use the toys to participate in a whole class lesson. Recently, I purchased pencil toppers in the shapes of animals to use similarly.
There are even more ways to ensure that all students are participating rather than zoning out during a whole group instruction lesson.
• When one student answers a question, ask the rest of the room to give a thumbs up if they agree, thumbs down if they disagree or a thumbs sideways if they don’t know.
• Use individual whiteboards to have all students respond to questions.
• Use mobile devices so that students can answer the Gizmo assessment questions individually, or use iPads so that students can manipulate the Gizmos with our new iPad app!
Want more ideas? Check out the outstanding book, Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner by Pérsida Himmele and William Himmele.
Statistics Gizmos Lesson Material Updates
"As a scientist, you're not supposed to make decisions without the data.”
— Francis Collins, American physician-geneticist
The ability to understand and fairly represent data is becoming more important in math and science education. Check out the updated Lesson Materials for these Gizmos. They are great for teaching students about statistics and they provide students new ways to share results from their science experiments.
For example, the Histograms Gizmo helps students explore data using histograms, which show how many data values are in each interval. Some popular classroom applications include looking at patterns of birthdates, growth patterns or even frequencies of M&M colors in a bag!
Educator of the Month: Thais Garcia
Thais Garcia has been a teacher for over 25 years and was the 2009 Region I Teacher of the Year. She currently serves as the Science Department Chair at a Title I middle school in Hialeah, Florida.
Mrs. Garcia is an enthusiastic and positive teacher who helps to motivate students and get them excited about learning. She has a wide range of students, from gifted to special education, but she finds a way to reach them all with Gizmos.
She explains: “Just recently, I used the Solubility and Temperature Gizmo to teach inquiry. I guided students through the whole scientific process; including forming a question, devising a hypothesis, designing an experiment to test that hypothesis, identifying variables, conducting the virtual lab and collecting data, analyzing that data, and deciding if the data/evidence supported the hypothesis. Finally we completed a Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning template. I was able to complete this activity with both my eighth grade gifted students, and also with my co-teach class which is composed of Special Education students, English Language Learners and low level readers.
"To reach all students, we must present the same material, but in different ways. Whether I do them with the whole class or the students do them individually, Gizmos work! Sometimes we complete the Gizmo as a whole class activity with each student taking a turn joining up to the interactive whiteboard. This method gives me an opportunity to detect misconceptions and address them immediately. Other times, I have student groups rotate through stations, which feature several activities based on the same topic.”
She concludes, “Gizmos are an excellent way to engage students and infuse technology into my lessons. I see all my students participating when we do Gizmos. And, since we have been consistently using Gizmos, our district interim scores have risen!”
February 11, 2014
Gizmo of the Week: Free Fall Tower
Galileo Galilei was born 450 years ago: on February 15, 1564. Often called the father of modern science, Galileo was the first to use the telescope to observe the skies.
He discovered the Moon’s cratered surface, the moons of Jupiter, and the phases of Venus, proving that Venus orbits the Sun. Galileo described the motion of falling and accelerating bodies, formulated the law of inertia, and correctly predicted that, in a vacuum, all bodies will fall at the same rate.
One of the most famous legends about Galileo describes how he dropped cannonballs of different masses from the Tower of Pisa. You can explore this experiment with the Free Fall Tower Gizmo.
In the Gizmo, you and your students can drop a variety of objects from a tower, with or without air. You can even deploy parachutes to further emphasize the effects of air resistance! This Gizmo provides an excellent introduction to free fall and acceleration.
February 06, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Penny Holland
Penny Holland is a National Board Certified Teacher with over 20 years K-6 teaching experience. She is currently completing her Masters in Learning and Technology at Western Governor’s University. She now teaches 6th grade science at Old High Middle School in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Gizmos originally were introduced into the Bentonville School District three years ago through a middle school grant program. After her initial-training workshop, Mrs. Holland said she “fell in love” with Gizmos. She feels the Gizmos are so powerful because they support so much of what is required with the new Common Core standards, such as inquiry-based learning and the development of higher-level thinking skills.
Mrs. Holland’s students come from a variety of backgrounds and opportunities. She feels that by providing access to technology in the classroom, all of her students have the opportunity to be included in the types of learning environments that are exciting and engaging to them. She likes to see how young learners light up with Gizmos. “With Gizmos, students become mesmerized… Students even beg to come in during recess to finish their Gizmos.”
Mrs. Holland has many favorite Gizmost that she likes to use in her lessons—Growing Plants , Reaction Time, Mystery Powder Analysis, Density, and Force and Fan Carts are just a few of them. But the Circulatory Gizmo is at the top of her list because students have a lot of “ah-hah moments” when they use this Gizmo. At the start of the lesson, she has students complete the warm-up together, and then she models using the Gizmo on an interactive whiteboard. Then, depending on her students’ level of understanding, they are assigned Activity A or Activity B of the Student Exploration Sheet. Activity B can be assigned to students who are interested in going the extra mile or show a higher level of interest in the subject.
She continues, “Gizmos are great for differentiation and the Student Exploration Sheets makes it easy. Gizmos help students move along at a steady pace while ensuring thoughtful processing. Students have to figure out why things are happening. They manipulate variables, measure results, and make conclusions based on the evidence they see with the graph and data tabs. Comparisons are easily made when students use screen shots for evidence of their claim. Students can even make their own data charts, which help them compare the organ’s functions.”
Mrs. Holland emphasized that with either of the activities, “higher-level thinking is the norm with Gizmos.” Students can even complete the extension activity at home if they have access to a computer. “Parents enjoy seeing their students ‘do’ labs at home instead of just hearing about what they did in class,” she added.
Mrs. Holland hopes that she and the other teachers in Bentonville “can use Gizmos for years to come because it's such an excellent resource.” Also, for any teachers looking to become a NBCT, “Gizmos are a perfect way to show NBCT evaluators that you are focused on student learning!”
February 05, 2014
Happy Digital Learning Day!
Across the nation, teachers and students are celebrating Digital Learning Day with the goal to “support the effective use of technology to improve education for all students.” As part of the celebration, all Hillsborough middle and high school math and science classes will be using ExploreLearning Gizmos in their lessons for the day. MaryEllen Elia, Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools will be sharing her district's plans at the national showcase event and virtual conference being broadcasted live from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Read more
The 3rd largest school district in Florida and the 8th largest district in the nation, Hillsborough County Public Schools has been a pioneer in providing a 21st century learning environment for students. They first implemented Gizmos in 2007, and currently have a subscription for all middle and high science and math teachers, with more than 1,000 teacher-users. Since the launch, students have increased their conceptual understanding of math and science concepts through the use of our innovative educational technology. For example, Michele Yarish, a 7th grade science teacher feels Gizmos contributed to her school having the highest Physical Science exam score in the county.
Larry Plank, Hillsborough’s K-12 STEM Director feels Gizmos “are a magnificent tool for everyone to use.” He appreciates the collaborative relationship ExploreLearning has with Hillsborough to prepare and support teachers. He continues, “They are an educational partner, and that’s what makes ExploreLearning different from my perspective.”
We hope you have a great Digital Learning Day celebration, and we’d love to hear how your school is celebrating!
February 03, 2014
Gizmo of the Week: Modeling the Factorization of Quadratic Expressions
Factoring polynomials can be tricky to understand. The Modeling the Factorization of x2 + bx + c Gizmo uses algebra tiles to help with this process. First, students model the given polynomial using the tiles. Then, students arrange the tiles to form a rectangle. At that point, the area of the rectangle is the given polynomial, and the sides of the rectangle are its factors.
This is one of many Gizmos we have that drive home a “big idea” in math: that multiplying things together can be represented in a physical way, as area of a rectangle (and dividing, or factoring, gives you the side lengths of that rectangle).
The interactivity in this Gizmo makes it a great fit for an interactive whiteboard.