November 09, 2012
Kay Stephen: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Kay Stephen teaches a variety of science courses at St. Pius X High School in Ottawa, Ontario. She has been a science teacher since 1996. Mrs. Stephen is an active science blogger, curriculum developer, and textbook writer. In 2011, Mrs. Stephen served as a judge for the Google Science Fair and was selected as the Smarter Science® Secondary Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Stephen believes that science teaching needs to be less about the regurgitation of facts and more about discovery, inquiry, and collaboration, so she has become a devoted fan of Gizmos.
Mrs. Stephen has been using Gizmos for four years and considers them an invaluable resource. She uses Gizmos to enhance her students’ real-world scientific explorations. Mrs. Stephen uses Gizmos to introduce topics, to reinforce learning, and to experiment in ways that that normally would not be possible in a secondary school science lab.
Some of Mrs. Stephen’s favorite Gizmos are Building DNA, 2D Eclipse, 3D Eclipse, Circuit Builder, Germination, Circulatory System, and H-R Diagram. She has found that these Gizmos promote inquiry and collaboration in her classroom, can be used by learners of all levels, and provide instantaneous experimental results.
A great example of how Mrs. Stephen blends hands-on and virtual investigations is described in her blog. Realizing that many of her students had little experience with nature, Mrs. Stephen initiated a plant growing project. The students began the project by planting marigold and tomato seeds. As the seeds were germinating, they spent a class period working with the Growing Plants Gizmo. Mrs. Stephen’s students jumped right into the Gizmo and spontaneously began a “Who can grow the tallest plant?” contest. Students were then able to design and run controlled experiments to understand the effects of each variable on plant growth. The results of the virtual experiments informed the real-world investigations students were doing with their plants.
Expert Corner: Building Understanding of Fractions
Thom O'Brien has been with ExploreLearning for ten years in a variety of roles, including working with teachers to integrate Gizmos into more effective teaching in math and science. Thom has a Master's degree in Instructional Mathematics and he taught 7th grade math before joining EL.
For many teachers and students, fractions are a struggle. It’s a topic that comes around every year, but how can you present fractions to your students so that they really “get” them?
ExploreLearning offers several Gizmos designed to help students build real understanding of fractions. Two of our most popular are the Fraction Artist Gizmos 1 & 2. (The difference between the two is the Lesson Materials: the first is introductory, while the second provides more challenge.)
Both Fraction Artist Gizmos provide students with a blank canvas, which they can divide up and “paint,” loosely modeled after the style of artist Piet Mondrian.
For example, you or your students could make a painting like the one to the right. You could then ask students, “What fraction of this painting is red?” This is a good “fraction basics” question. To answer, students need to see two things. First, the painting is divided into 3 equal-sized pieces, so the denominator of the fraction needs to be a 3. Secondly, there is one red piece, so the numerator is 1. Putting it together, this painting is 1/3 red.
Students can continue dividing the painting up, and adding other colors to it. (And as they do, the fraction questions can get a little more interesting.) For example, suppose students divide the red section again (divide 1/3 into thirds), and then add some yellow, as shown to the right. So, here’s a new question: “How much of this painting is yellow?”
In fact, the painting is 1/9 yellow. Could your students explain why? The Gizmo’s “Inspect sections” feature can help illustrate why. (Note the blue overlay in the 3rd image to the right.)
Mathematically, what this shows is that 1/3 of 1/3 is 1/9, or in other words, 1/3 • 1/3 = 1/9. (This is a nice way to provide some understanding behind the oft-quoted saying, “’of’ means multiply.”
You could also ask students, “How much of the painting is red now?” The answer is 2/9. Each red section is one ninth (1/9), so two of them is two ninths (2/9). In other words, 1/9 + 1/9 = 2/9. (You can find answers like this in the Gizmo by using the “Inspect colors” option.) This helps illustrate why, when adding fractions, numerators get added but denominators do not.
So in this short “mini-lesson,” we’ve touched on at least four important fraction concepts – the meaning of the numerator, the meaning of the denominator, multiplying fractions, and adding fractions. (And obviously, we’ve only barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. There are plenty of other ideas in the Lesson Materials.) Not bad for a fun, simple painting Gizmo!
November 07, 2012
ExploreLearning Reflex wins Tech and Learning Award of Excellence!
ExploreLearning Reflex was named a New Product winner in the 30th annual Tech & Learning Magazine Awards of Excellence! We are honored to receive this award for Reflex. The program honors software, hardware, network, and Web products, and includes innovative applications that break new ground as well as those that added significant enhancements to proven education tools. A panel of more than 30 educators chose the winners.
Gizmos won the award twice in 2008 and 2009.
Look for more details on the award in the December issue of Tech & Learning magazine.