Using ExploreLearning Gizmos to meet the Next Generation Science Standards in Kings Canyon USD

Kings Canyon Unified School District is a district with 22 schools and about 10,000 students in California that is an early implementer district for the Next Generation Science Standards. Lesley Gates, District Science Coach and Project Director for the CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative in Kings Canyon USD, spoke with us about how her district uses Gizmos to meet the challenges of the NGSS.

ExploreLearning: Your district was one of the eight districts in California chosen as an early implementer district for NGSS. What were some of the benefits that you saw for you and your teachers?

Lesley Gates: We had a unique opportunity to collaborate with other districts across the state of California. It also gave us some extra funding to support our transition to the NGSS and to really dig into it deeply. One of the important pieces are the lesson studies; teachers gather with their grade level teams and really examine the standards to try to focus on the three dimensionality of NGSS. We worked not only on the content that our middle school teachers are transitioning to, but also on the other two dimensions with the practices and the cross-cutting concepts.

ExploreLearning: What kinds of challenges did you face in your district and how did you use Gizmos to help you overcome them?

Lesley Gates: One of the things we noticed as we were transitioning is that the science and engineering practices that are laid out in NGSS really focus on the students doing science. How are they interacting with the content? And we were very excited about that. We really wanted the students to do science. We started evaluating all of the pieces that come along with that, including what supplies and materials we needed.

We started looking at our facilities. Some of our 6-8 grade teachers work at K-8 sites. Their classrooms are portable, and there’s no water or sink. There aren’t even tables that they could push together to form flat surfaces to actually conduct experiments, and there’s very little counter space. We struggled with how our facilities and time constraints would allow students to do science. And that’s when we came across Gizmos. It allowed our students to be doing science, but it also helps what we call, “maintain teacher sanity.” We felt like there had to be a balance between them, and Gizmos was the perfect solution.

ExploreLearning: How did you find out about Gizmos?

Lesley Gates:  I was a high school biology teacher, and I was having difficulty with experiments like growing plants, which weren’t always successful in my class, and with looking at more conceptual things such as DNA. Right after I found Gizmos, I was at a science conference and ran into a Gizmos representative. They mentioned that there were opportunities for having our teachers get a grant to pilot and work with Gizmos. We were able to get the grant and we soon had 20 of our middle school and high school teachers looking at Gizmos closely to see if it would meet our needs.

ExploreLearning: How did Gizmos help your teachers use the 5E model in their classrooms?

Lesley Gates:  When we really started looking at the 5E model, we realized that Gizmos actually fit in multiple 5Es. We could use a Gizmo as an engagement–having teachers show it on the big screen in the classroom, manipulate some things, and then letting the students start asking questions and wondering about what they were seeing in the Gizmos. The lessons that are attached to the Gizmos allow students to really put down their thoughts and explain their thinking and their data analysis. So, that fits really well with the explanation phase of the 5E.

We also started using Gizmos as an extension, which was really exciting because we didn’t want to take away from the actual hands-on science when we could do it. What we found is sometimes doing the hands-on and then allowing students to do something to extend their thinking in a similar fashion was a great experience. Doing the Gizmo allowed the students to explore the content a little more deeply than they could with a hands-on activity.

Our teachers loved the ability to have the students respond to a couple of questions that were attached to the Gizmos at the end of the exploration. The teachers could check it and make sure that they were getting the main idea. The content piece was a quick way for teachers to do a test for understanding along the way. Now as we’re building our 5E lessons, Gizmos are being used in multiple places in all of our grade levels.

No matter where we use the Gizmos and the 5Es, it increased student engagement in the content tremendously.

ExploreLearning: Can you tell us how Gizmos changed your teachers’ relationship to technology in your classroom?

Lesley Gates:  Our district has invested a lot of money in Chromebooks and almost every classroom in our district either has a cart or access to one. But what the students were doing with the Chromebooks was limited to research or typing up a paper or preparing Google presentations. Using Gizmos has allowed our students to use technology to learn in other ways.

This is a tool that this generation of students is comfortable using. There was no fear. The minute they got on a Gizmos, they would see what they could do and what were the different variables they could test and manipulate. They would jump right in and start manipulating and developing amazing questions about what they were seeing and what was causing those things to happen. Our teachers got the opportunity to use technology in a much deeper way with Gizmos, and they realized that technology can be extremely powerful–more so than just doing a PowerPoint.

ExploreLearning: Did you find that Gizmos helped develop their skills as part of scientific and engineering practices?

Lesley Gates: Students manipulate variables. They collect the data. They can graph the data. They have to analyze the data. What does it mean? What can they change and manipulate? There’s a lot of experiments that you couldn’t do in a classroom because of time constraints. Using Gizmos, the teachers were able to get to the meat of the content within a class period by allowing the students to actually manipulate the data and the Gizmos. Students were able to run multiple experiments in a short amount of time so they were getting much richer data and they were able to explore the content so much deeper because it is so accessible through the technology.

ExploreLearning: What are some of the things that you’ve seen as your students and teachers used Gizmos to teach STEM concepts?

Lesley Gates: Teachers have been using Gizmos in multiple ways. Some of our middle school teachers ask students a big question and then after exploring multiple lessons in content, they go back and they have to pull it all together. One teacher had them explore a Gizmo for two to three class periods, doing multiple things along the way.

We use interactive notebooks as a way for students to keep track of their learning. Students are just told that they need to use illustrations and color, and that they need to use words to summarize their thinking from all of the pieces of information that they’ve pulled together. What did they originally think about an initial question or a phenomenon? The information they record has been coming from everything from readings, from videos they’ve watched, from hands-on activities and now Gizmos. So, all of that information from all those different sources is put into the notebooks.

Sometimes the teachers will print out parts of the Gizmos student guide and we’ll have the students put pieces of it into their notebook. Or sometimes we’ll just pull some of the questions that are posed in the student guide. Teachers will write those really great driving questions on their board, and the students will respond to them in their notebook using pictures, color, and words. Then, of course, there’s a metacognition piece which is kind of what this page is showing that summarizes their thinking: what you used to think versus what you now think.

A Gizmo gives students great examples of what to draw in their notebook. We’re really trying hard to get students to do something like graphic notes or sketch noting because of the power of using illustrations and color in taking information from short term to long-term memory. A lot of times if the students are reading something out of a textbook there aren’t a lot of illustrations or pictures for them to pull from. What we’re finding is that the students use a lot of the things that they’ve seen in the Gizmo because it’s a very visual thing that they’ve experienced and very hands on for them. They’re able to use it and put it into their interactive notebooks so they’re able to explain their thinking better. The teacher can use the notebooks as a way to see whether the students are getting the content or not. The teacher uses the notebook to check for understanding as a kind of formative assessment along the way.

ExploreLearning: I know that you haven’t seen any test results yet, but did you see a difference in terms of student engagement and student understanding of concepts after using the Gizmos?

Lesley Gates: Some of our eighth-grade teachers reported that because the students had been using Gizmos in their class last year, they were manipulating the information on the CAST test very similarly to what they had been doing with Gizmos. The students were very comfortable doing the test. They weren’t asking teachers, “What do I do?” They knew that they needed to click on something or move something or click and drag something. They were super comfortable with all of those things because they had already experienced that using Gizmos.

It’s hard to judge at this point because it was just a pilot CAST test this year. But I think we will see some increase in their scores once the scores start coming out in another year or two because Gizmos allow the students to really get into the content, and it’s very similar to what they’re being asked to do on the CAST. When I asked the teachers if Gizmos is something that we want to continue to use in our classroom after last year’s testing, they said, hands down, “Yes,” because they saw Gizmos as such a beneficial piece of helping the students be successful on the CAST, not just with content but also with working with the interface.

ExploreLearning: Your teaching team had four different Gizmos workshops last year. How did the professional development help your teachers use Gizmos to implement NGSS?

Lesley Gates: I believe the training was a vital piece of the implementation. What normally happens with professional development or when teachers are given a new tool like this is that they’re given an hour of training. Here’s a new tool. Here’s some introductory pieces of it. Now go and see if you can figure it out. And what we find is that teachers go back and struggle. There isn’t time to do it. And so, they end up not using the tool. One of the things that was great about the Gizmos Grant Program was the check-in throughout the year that gave teachers more information.

After trainings, they were able to go back and start exploring with Gizmos and their students. And then when we had our next professional development they came with a lot of questions. What about this? And I’m thinking about this or what’s another strategy for this? They were actually able to get all those questions answered. They were able to go back into a classroom to play with it some more and know that there was going to be an additional check-in throughout the year. I think that really pushed the teachers to get in and to try Gizmos.

We had the same trainer leading all three of our professional development workshops. That was really great because we got to know the trainer and he got to know us. My teachers loved the fact that he was a teacher himself, and that he was doing these things in his classroom. He gave them very real examples of what works and what didn’t work, and that was just invaluable. There’s no other way to have gotten as far as we did using Gizmos without having that professional development.

Watch our webinar to learn more about Gizmos and Kings Canyon Unified School District.

If you’d like to try Gizmos in your district, sign up for a free account or contact us from more information.