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October 31, 2013

Tracey McLaughlin: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month

Tracey McLaughlin has been teaching for 26 years. She teaches grades 7-11 including Science, English, and Drama. She teaches at St. Michael High School in the Western Quebec School Board. St. Michael’s High School is located in the rural village of Low, Quebec, which has a population of approximately 850 people.

With only 85 students at her school, one of Mrs. McLaughlin’s biggest challenges is keeping students engaged. Because of the rich visual support and hands-on learning Gizmos provide, they have been invaluable in supporting student learning. She was first introduced to Gizmos five years ago. Since then, she has been able to integrate Gizmos in all of her science classes. She really likes to use Gizmos with her interactive whiteboard during whole-class instruction because it improves student understanding. “Students’ grades have improved because they can ‘see’ the concept and better understand the material. I love using Gizmos!”

Density Experiment: Slice and Dice GizmoFor example, after using Gizmos, Mrs. McLaughlin’s 7th grade students had a much better understanding of density. She first used the Density Experiment: Slice and Dice Gizmo to create a conceptual understanding. In this experiment, students drop a chunk of material in a beaker of water and observe whether it sinks or floats. They can cut the chunk into smaller pieces of any size, and observe what happens as they are dropped in the beaker. The mass and volume of each chunk can be measured to gain a clear understanding of density and buoyancy.

Density GizmoThen students extended their knowledge with the Density Gizmo. This Gizmo allows students to measure the mass and volume of a variety of objects, and then place them into a beaker of liquid to see if they float or sink. Students learn to predict whether objects will float or sink in water based on their mass and volume. They can even compare how objects float or sink in a variety of liquids, including gasoline, oil, seawater, and corn syrup.

Thank you for your dedication Mrs. McLaughlin!

Posted by Heather Jones at 04:18 PM in Science, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

October 30, 2013

Celebrate Fall with New Lesson Materials

Et gizmoCelebrate the fall season with new Lesson Materials! Six of our math Gizmos have updated materials just in time for a little fall fun. 

Use the Elapsed Time Gizmo, along with its newly updated Lesson Materials, to give students an application of “borrowing” when subtracting, in a real context. (Perhaps you and your students want to calculate elapsed times after a class apple-bobbing contest?)

If Geometry is more your speed, try the Chords and Arcs Gizmo. The updated materials guide students as they explore how a central angle in a circle is related to the arc and its intercepts (and if the visual reminds you a bit of a piece of pumpkin pie, well, so be it). Students can also explore the relationship between chords and their distance from the circle's center.

Other Gizmos with updated Lesson Materials include:  Arc

Adding Real Numbers

Multiplying with Decimals

Adding Vectors

Geometric Sequences

Wishing you all a happy and safe fall season!

Posted by Heather Jones at 02:49 PM in Math (Real World), Site Announcements | Permalink

October 29, 2013

Gizmos bridge the gap between science and technology

“In the 21st century, technology is becoming more of a priority in the lives of our youth.  Gizmos are a great tool to implement technology with our students.  Gizmos have impacted the success of my students by allowing them to see the concepts come together in a visual manner. After the students are able to ‘see’ the concepts, it makes answering the higher-order questions on the Exploration Guide easier to do.  I love the design of the Exploration Guide. It chunks and scaffolds the information for the students, making it easier for all levels of students to enjoy and comprehend scientific concepts.  Gizmos are allowing teachers to bridge the gap between technology and science for our students!

--High School Science Department Chair, Miami-Dade Public Schools, Florida

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:20 AM in Testimonials | Permalink

October 24, 2013

“Gizmos are great for science…”

“Gizmos are great for science because they provide models for student use that could never be simulated in the classroom science lab.”

-- High School Science Teacher, Mobile County School District, Alabama

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:22 AM in Testimonials | Permalink

October 21, 2013

Expert Corner: Changes to Roller Coaster Physics

KurtKurt Rosenkrantz is a science curriculum writer and Gizmo designer for ExploreLearning. Kurt holds a Master of Science in Geology from the University of Cincinnati, and a bachelor's degree in Earth Science from Harvard. He taught high school and middle school science for eight years before joining ExploreLearning in 2005.

A while ago, a teacher named Joshua Buchman suggested a way to improve our popular Roller Coaster Physics Gizmo. In the Gizmo, a toy car rolls down a track, over several hills, and into an egg. The egg will either crack or not.

Rc physics gizmoIn the original Gizmo, the egg would crack if the momentum of the car was over a certain threshold value. Mr. Buchman pointed out that it was more likely that the kinetic energy of the car, rather than its momentum, would be the critical factor. He argued that the car would need to travel a certain distance into the egg, overcoming the resisting force of the eggshell, for the egg to crack. In other words, the car would have to do a certain amount of work to crack the egg, and the work it could do depended on its kinetic energy.

This argument made sense to us, but we wanted to check that it was true in practice before changing the Gizmo, which was designed with the help of real-world experiments that took place in the EL offices a decade ago. To investigate, I bought toy cars, a track, and several dozen eggs. I set up the track at a steep angle and went to work.

Rollercoaster2Right away I realized that I needed to establish a consistent definition of “egg breaking.” It turns out that a very tiny impact can cause a small fracture in the egg, and that the fracture grows bigger and bigger as the force of the impact increases. Eventually I decided that the most consistent criteria I could use was “eggshell breaks completely into two halves.” So, any fracture that did not go all the way around the egg was considered a negative result.

Rollercoaster3After several very messy sets of experiments using cars of different masses, I plugged the data into a spreadsheet. Sure enough, the minimum kinetic energy required to break the egg was much more consistent than the minimum momentum required to break the egg. With experimental results supporting the scientific argument, we decided to make the change. In the updated Gizmo, the car now needs to have a minimum kinetic energy of 0.25 J to break the egg. We have adjusted all of our lesson materials and assessment questions to reflect this new result.

We hope you enjoy the new-and-improved Roller Coaster Physics Gizmo, and thanks again to Mr. Buchman for bringing this to our attention!



Posted by Heather Jones at 08:47 AM in Math (Real World), Site Announcements, Using Gizmos | Permalink

October 17, 2013

Expert Corner: Whole Group Instruction- Part I

Laura Chervenak PicLaura 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.

Research has shown that effective use of simulations in whole class instruction significantly improves student understanding in science (Smetana, 2008). In a series of articles this school year, I will be highlighting whole group instruction with Gizmos, including best-practice strategies for maximizing student engagement and achievement.

We will begin with an exploration of lesson planning with Gizmos, including how to pull the best whole class instructional sequence from the Gizmo lesson materials to meet your needs. We will return in January, after the winter break, to focus on making your Gizmo lessons more student-centric, even when you have a single computer in your classroom. In February, we will discuss strategies for engaging all students in the classroom in your whole class lessons. In March, we will look at questioning techniques that foster inquiry, and we will look at the role of seatwork and homework in April. Finally, in May, we will wrap up the series with a discussion of what comes next — instruction beyond the whole group.

I’m looking forward to exploring all of the ways that a teacher can use Gizmos in a classroom with just one or two computers and a projector. I’d love to hear your ideas and strategies as well! If you have strategies related to whole group instruction with Gizmos to share, please comment below.

Posted by Heather Jones at 04:32 PM in Implementation Ideas, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink | Comments (0)

Niels Walkau: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month

WalkauNiels Walkau is a teacher at Coberg West High School in Ontario. He has been using Gizmos for 4 years and has been teaching for 18 years. He teaches 10th and 11th grade academic-level Biology and Chemistry.

Mr. Walkau facilitates students’ academic growth by focusing on learning goals. One of the most important resources he uses to achieve this is Gizmos. He tells students, “There are a variety of resources to help you meet each goal, but one thing’s for sure, if you use the assigned Gizmos, you will learn.” Since adding Gizmos to the curriculum, his students have responded well. “The kids just run with it. They love the freedom and independence Gizmos provide. It allows them to speed experiments up, change variables, and helps them learn at their own pace. Also, it’s interactive and digital, so it maintains students’ enthusiasm and engagement.”

Star Spectra
GizmoGizmos have not only been helpful to Mr. Walkau’s teaching practice, but they have also added new content to his curriculum. He explains, “I didn’t teach the concept of star spectra before Gizmos, but after seeing it in the Star Spectra Gizmo, something just clicked. I realized that students need to know where matter comes from before they can start talking about its properties and behaviors. I realized Spectroscopy would be the cornerstone for the unit. Spectroscopy is one of the most important tools for element identification, and it made perfect sense to use the Star Spectra Gizmo as an intro to the topic. After using the Gizmo, the kids did a hands-on lab and burned elements. They used real spectroscopes to observe elemental spectra, just like the ones shown in the Gizmo. With Gizmos, kids that had no background knowledge could test and play, and then do it for real. When it was all tied together, students began to understand where the elements come from—students’ eyes were opened! It even led to a class discussion about the Big Bang theory.”

Gizmos also rekindled Mr. Walkau’s love of astronomy. After creating the unit with the Star Spectra Gizmo, he joined an astronomy group and has even begun collecting a few telescopes of his own. Happy star gazing, Mr. Walkau!

Posted by Heather Jones at 02:29 PM in Science, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

October 16, 2013

New Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards Information on Gizmos Website

We are pleased to share that we have added new NGSS and Common Core sections to ExploreLearning.com.

The goal of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to provide students with critical knowledge and skills for success in t he 21st century. Gizmos help students of all ability levels to develop the deep knowledge that the Common Core's content standards demand, while enhancing their mathematical expertise, as outlined in the St andards for Mathematical Practice.

Common Core Link



The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a collaborative, state-led initiative to provide standards that are rich in content and practice. These standards are organized across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education. Our library offers hundreds of science simulations that integrate the three dimensions of NGSS.

NGSS link



Visit both of our new pages today to see how Gizmos can prepare your students for success!


Posted by Heather Jones at 12:11 PM in NGSS, Site Announcements | Permalink

Mobile teacher appreciates the flexibility of Gizmos to support instruction

“Gizmos add a new depth to learning for the students. It lets the students interact with the material being presented by the teacher. It allows the flexibility for the teacher to interact with Gizmos in a whole class setting via interactive tools or allows the students to interact with the program individually, paired, or cooperatively in small group settings. The versatility of the program is also ideal for today’s educational trend in guided inquiry.”

-- High School Science Teacher, Mobile County School District, Alabama

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:23 AM in Testimonials | Permalink

October 15, 2013

Gizmos are great on the SMART Board

“I adore Gizmo, they are a great way to involve the class in neat science experiments that they may otherwise not get the chance to do. I use Gizmo all the time to teach science, my students love coming to the SMART Board and participating in the experiments, when we are doing the gizmo as a group. They love seeing what will happen in the experiment and manipulating objects on the screen.  Furthermore, it is a great way to practice the scientific method because of the way the student labs are written up.  I will definitely continue to use this excellent learning tool and am looking forward to any new Gizmos that may be on their way!”

-- Science Teacher, Quebec, Canada

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:32 AM in Testimonials | Permalink

October 09, 2013

How Miami-Dade students learn about tides

368DET"I use Gizmos throughout my lessons to introduce and reinforce concepts. One of my personal favorites is the Tides Gizmo that explains the neap/spring tides. Gizmos help students develop an understanding of concepts that are not easily observed in our classroom."

-- Science Teacher, Miami-Dade Public Schools, FL

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:18 AM in Testimonials | Permalink

October 07, 2013

Algebra Lesson Materials Updated

The ExploreLearning curriculum team has been hard at work serving all your algebra-related needs!  We’re happy to report that we’ve updated the Lesson Materials for these Gizmos:

Direct and Inverse Variation

Standard Form of a Line

Absolute Value with Linear Functions108DET

Point-Slope Form of a Line

Solving Equations by Graphing Each Side

Cat and Mouse (Modeling Linear Systems)

Cat and Mouse (Modeling Linear Systems)- Metric

Linear Inequalities in Two Variables

Linear Programming

Arithmetic Sequences

We’re always trying to support real, conceptual understanding of these topics. For example, using a fun and playful setting, the Cat and Mouse Gizmo helps students connect real-world meaning to slope, y-intercept, and the intersection of lines.


Posted by Heather Jones at 10:49 AM in Math (Real World), Site Announcements, Using Gizmos | Permalink

October 04, 2013

Gizmos help students on Biology finals

"Last year my biology students told me that Gizmos helped them a great deal on the end-of-course exams. This year I continue to implement Gizmos as classwork and homework for the same reason."

-- Biology Teacher, Palm Beach Schools, FL

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:17 AM in Testimonials | Permalink

New! Number Sense Lesson Material Updates

Calling all elementary and middle school math teachers! Some of your favorite Gizmos just got an update. Check out our new Lesson Materials for each of these Gizmos:

Beam to Moon (Ratios and Proportions)

Beam to Moon (Ratios and Proportions) – metric98DET

Adding and Subtracting Integers

Adding and Subtracting Integers with Chips

Modeling One-step Equations

Modeling and Solving Two-step Equations

Square Roots

Mean, Median, and Mode

The Beam to Moon Gizmo uses the concept of weight differences between the earth and the moon to teach proporations. You can even use this Gizmo as part of an interisciplinary lesson to integrate related math and science concepts.

Posted by Heather Jones at 08:40 AM in Math (Real World), Site Announcements, Using Gizmos | Permalink