Stuart Merves teaches Biology and Introduction to Physical Sciences at Timber Creek Regional High School in Erial, NJ. A graduate of Clemson, Mr. Merves just started his fourth year of teaching. He has been an avid Gizmos user since 2010.
This article will also appear in the New Jersey Science Teachers Association Newsletter.
Mr. Merves loves how Gizmos enable him to maximize the limited time he gets with his students and still allows them to have interactive lab experiences. Gizmos are also great because they can be used at home, allowing students who are absent to stay caught up. Students gravitate to the Gizmos because they “feel like video games” and they love being able to manipulate the variables any way they like. Mr. Merves also appreciates the framework provided by the Student Exploration Sheets, and he often modifies them to more closely match his lesson objectives.
In all of his classes, Mr. Merves starts the year with the Growing Plants Gizmo, which teaches experimental design. In addition to teaching students about the best conditions for plant growth, the Gizmo helps students understand how to successfully design experiments for optimal results. With four variables to manipulate (seed, light, water, soil), students can come up with hundreds of unique combinations as they try to grow the largest plant. “Students are always amazed that the plants never grow the exact same way, even in the same conditions. I tell them ‘Well yes, it’s just like real life!’” Mr. Merves reports.
One of the highlights of the year in his Introduction to Physical Sciences class is a project in which students get to design their own roller coasters. After discussing the concepts of potential and kinetic energy in class, Mr. Merves lets his students loose on the Roller Coaster Gizmo. The Gizmo demonstrates how kinetic and potential energy are related to mass, height, and speed, and demonstrates the principle of conservation of energy as the roller coaster car moves over hills. Based on what they learn in the Gizmo, students then design their own roller coasters. Depending on their design, they have to calculate the potential energy, kinetic energy, and velocity of the car at several points along the track. Students then present their designs to each other in class.