Expert Corner: Keep students engaged during the summer with Gizmos

It’s important not to lose momentum while school is out of session and to use the summer months to get students ready for fall. ExploreLearning Gizmos are great to help keep students engaged during the summer, and to use in summer school as enrichment, intervention, and STEM focused support.

Enrichment in summer school

Use Gizmos in Summer School to keep students engagedGizmos help reinforce skills learned in the past year while preparing students for future success by following a teaching model that aligns with your state standards.

Gizmos can support enrichment and instruction. Just browse the standards and grade levels on the website to find Gizmos that can help you teach specific subject matter.

During the summer, you can also start students on the upcoming school year standards. Third grade students can begin working on fourth grade standards, etc.

For example, if you’re using Common Core State Standards math content in fourth grade, you’ll find the following for decimals:

CCSS.Math.Content.4.NF.C: Understand decimal notation for fractions, and compare decimal fractions.

CCSS.Math.Content.4.NF.C.6: Use decimal notation for fractions with denominators 10 or 100.

To teach this, you can use Fraction, Decimal and Percent (Area and Grid Models) Gizmo or Modeling Decimals (Area and Grid Models) Gizmo. These Gizmos, as well as all the others, comes with Lesson Materials to help you prepare for class and teach the subject matter effectively.

Intervention in summer school

Gizmos work well for students who enjoy “hands-on” learning and provide opportunities for students to try new things without worrying about breaking beakers or burning up expensive materials. Students can hit reset and continue to experiment as they learn science. They also allow students to work individually at their own pace, repeating manipulations until they have mastered a concept.

Each Gizmo focuses on a related set of skills or concepts. Student Exploration Sheets are divided into activities that can be assigned one-by-one or together to cover the range of topics covered by the Gizmo. In some situations, the same Gizmo can be used to teach a variety of concepts. For example, there are three lessons that make use of the same Function Machines Gizmo: Functions and Tables; Functions, Tables, and Graphs; and Functions and Problem Solving.

For many topics, there are Gizmos that cover the topic in a very basic way and others that incorporate more sophisticated concepts and ideas. The wide variety of Gizmos to choose from also allows students to explore topics from a different perspective or using a different visual context.

Because Gizmos are open-ended and come with customizable lesson materials, teachers can use Gizmos in many ways to help students with a particular skill. They can use Gizmos at any stage of the learning process—to introduce a topic, practice skills, or for review; and with multiple instructional models including whole class, small group, and individual instruction. For example, students can be engaged in collaborative groups exploring different variables based on interest and readiness; or they can work individually at their own pace, repeating manipulations until they have mastered a concept.

Summer Programs designed to address students in need of promotion, intervention or recovery should include instruction that is explicit and systematic. This includes providing models of proficient problem solving, verbalization of thought processes, guided practice, corrective feedback, and frequent cumulative review. In the Gizmos Lesson Materials, the Teacher Guide provides discussion questions and additional word problems and activities to ensure students meet the lesson objectives and learn the standards being taught. All Gizmos come with a five question “check for understanding” assessment that is self-graded. Teachers can easily keep track of their students’ progress from one Gizmo to the next.

Teaching STEM in summer school

A great deal of national attention has recently been focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. STEM-focused programs, especially where engineering is present, provide many opportunities to teach students to use math and science knowledge, skills and experience to solve problems.

STEM simulations in Summer School

Additionally, new science assessments will assess students’ understanding of core ideas alongside their abilities to use the practices of science and engineering. This will require students to not only “know” science concepts; but also, to use their understanding to investigate the natural world through the practices of science inquiry, or solve meaningful problems through the practices of engineering design.

Gizmos are a perfect fit with STEM-oriented curricula in that students a) use interactive online simulations and accompanying curriculum materials in the ways that allow them to explore, hypothesize, experiment and develop conclusions about math and science concepts; b) cement knowledge and deep conceptual understanding; and c) apply knowledge to real-world situations and scenarios.

A Gizmo that hits on all aspects of STEM is our Trebuchet Gizmo.  Trebuchet is a fun and challenging Gizmo that lets students apply their scientific and mathematical knowledge to the engineering problem of devising a siege engine designed to hurl projectiles across large distances. Students need to work within the constraints — location, distance and height, materials available, and how much force is needed to break the wall — to be able to successfully knock down a castle wall. This is a great Gizmo to do both in small groups and individually.

We hope you and your students have a productive and engaging summer with Gizmos!

Charlene Hooper using Gizmos simulationsCharlene Hooper began working with ExploreLearning in January 2014.  Charlene’s education includes a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from San Diego State University, and a Master’s Degree in Secondary Science Education.  After an esteemed career in medicinal chemistry, she became a high school math and science teacher. With over 10 years of experience teaching and developing STEM-focused curriculum, Charlene understands the challenges teachers face in incorporating technology and supporting inquiry in science and math education.