Educator Spotlight: Rebecca Ward

Rebecca Ward, a biology teacher at Alisal High School in Salinas Unified School District in California, first found Gizmos at a conference she attended. “I was looking for labs that would help students understand concepts like natural selection and came across a Gizmos workshop. I took my free trial back to show my principal how I could use it for my class.”

Her high school is a Title I rural school, and is 80.5 % Free/Reduced Lunch and 26% English Language Learner. The biology teachers at her school use Gizmos to supplement their teaching. “The biology Gizmos match the standards and topics that we need to teach. They provide virtual labs for concepts we can’t do in class. When we shared our successes with other teachers in the science department, they wanted to see how it could work in their classrooms. The chemistry teacher and earth science teachers wanted to use it in their classrooms as well.”

She has used Gizmos in a few different ways in her classroom. “I have had the students work individually on the assignment in the past and students tried to fly through it without really understanding the concepts. So I then had students work in teams of two. One student has the Gizmo open on the computer (Student A) and their partner has the assignment open on the other computer (Student B). Student B reads the question out loud to their partner. Together the students have to discuss the question and run the simulation. Then they discuss how to write the answer. Student B types up the team response. This process continues until the Gizmo is done. Before it gets submitted into Google classroom, the students give editing rights to their partner.”

When the students work in pairs, it “allows the students to have academic conversations about the content they are learning. They are able to practice using language skills. We (the teachers at Alisal) use Constructing Meaning. This gives students structured sentence frames for different academic conversations. I often give my students sentence frames based on the type of questions on the Gizmo lesson materials.”

Gizmos are great as a pre-lab activity as well. “When we introduce macromolecules to our students, we like to do an extensive lab requiring multiple lab skills. We saw students not following proper procedures and wasting materials. So we started to use the Identifying Nutrients Gizmo as a pre-lab in class activity. This allowed students to understand lab procedures, how to read results, and what the results actually mean in the test. Once the students complete the Gizmo, we do the actual lab in class. We have seen less waste and students understand the results when they get a positive or negative result. Now their explanations show understanding of the experiment and the results.”

She adds, “I see more student engagement with the content when students are using Gizmos. Student grades have shown more understanding of the topics. The chance for students to talk through the questions allows them to process the information. I hear more academic conversations about the topic then I would normally in a class of freshmen.”

Rebecca Ward has taught for 16 years. She taught middle school math for 10 years and has spent the last 6 teaching high school biology to freshmen. She has a B.A. and her teaching credential from the California State University, Fresno. She has a Master in Education from California State University, San Jose.