New science Gizmos: our latest—and how they’re developed

Now that our entire Gizmo library has been converted to HTML5, we can shift our focus to what we really love—building new Gizmos. More specifically, we’ve been adding to our offerings in Earth Science and Chemistry, to more fully support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and other state standards.

To create new Gizmos, we begin by looking for areas in which we can improve our coverage, or at topics that educators request frequently. We spend time reviewing the standards, curriculum, assessments and textbooks to make sure the Gizmo design addresses the appropriate scope and learning objectives. And of course we research the science or math concepts themselves, developing the expertise necessary so that we can design simulations that will build conceptual understanding of those topics. And just who has a hand in developing our Gizmos? The ExploreLearning team includes professionals with advanced degrees in a variety of fields, as well as numerous former educators.

Once we’ve come up with an idea for the Gizmo itself and it’s approved, it’s on to the designer, who creates a detailed spec for the artist and developers to create the Gizmo. Then it is off to the development process, which includes programming, testing, writing curriculum materials, and publishing the new Gizmo. Every step in the process is tested by Quality Assurance to ensure complete usability prior to launch.

We don’t stop once we’ve launched a Gizmo, either. We continually solicit user feedback and those same experts who develop our Gizmos monitor changes to standards, curriculum and textbooks to ensure that every one is always up-to-date.

In 2016, we released three new science Gizmos:

Big Bang Theory—Hubble’s Law: In this Gizmo, students recreate the scientific evidence that led to the discovery that the universeNew Gizmos Big Bang Theory, Earth Sciences was expanding. This involves two major advances in early 20th century astronomy: Henrietta Leavitt’s method to measure the distances to other galaxies using Cepheid variable stars, and Vesto Slipher’s observations of redshift in other galaxies. Students use Leavitt and Slipher’s methods to recreate Edwin Hubble’s discovery of the relationship between distance and recessional velocity of other galaxies. This was the first observational evidence that the universe is expanding.

Carbon Cycle: Carbon is an essential element for life on earth. The bodies of living New Gizmos Carbon Cycle, Earth Sciencesthings are made of carbon-based molecules, and the breakdown of these molecules provides energy. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is used by plants to build tissue and acts as a blanket that helps to warm Earth’s surface. People use fossil fuels for power, heat, transportation, and many other uses. This Gizmo helps students understand the many ways in which carbon is exchanged between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere. In addition, it provides a simplified quantitative model of carbon movement that allows students to estimate how human activities and other factors affect amounts of atmospheric carbon.

Chemical Changes: This Gizmo introduces key chemistry concepts including conservation of mass, balanced New Gizmos Chemical Changes, Chemistrychemical equations, and classification of chemical reactions. Best of all, most of the chemical reactions shown in the Gizmo can be demonstrated in the classroom.

This year, we plan to release Gizmos on transition points (melting and boiling) of different substances, weathering and erosion, energy changes in chemical reactions, types of cells, weather, climate, nuclear reactions, and the senses.

We’re always eager to hear your ideas for topics to cover and Gizmos to create—or your feedback on our existing Gizmos. If you have an idea for a new Gizmo (or any other Gizmo questions), you can fill out a Support Form and let us know!


Kurt 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.