April 16, 2014
Educator of the Month: Elise Gordon
Elise Gordon is the Math Resource Teacher at a Title I school in Palm Beach County School District in Florida. She has her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Palm Beach Atlantic University and has been teaching for the past ten years. Prior to teaching, she was a physical therapist for 20 years, and has her BS from the University of Connecticut in Physical Therapy.
Elise Gordon runs her school’s math lab where students in grades 2-5 visit once a week for an extra hour of math focusing on building, drawing and writing about mathematics. Many of her lessons incorporate Gizmos. Elise feels that the rich visual support and varied levels of activities provide students with “just the right challenge.”
Lantana Elementary uses Gizmos as part of a Title I initiative to help support the needs of economically disadvantaged students. Elise shares, “Many of our students have parents or guardians who work two jobs, and they have limited involvement with the school. Also, students often don’t have access to computers outside of school.” Her role helps provide these students with the extra support they need to help close the achievement gap.
In the computer lab, Elise incorporates Gizmos in her lessons in various ways. To model a process or concept, she will often use Gizmos in whole class instruction. For example, she uses the Quilting Bee Symmetry Gizmo to demonstrate finding lines of symmetry and whether a shape has rotational or line symmetry. “Gizmos use technology as a bridge between pictorial and abstract mathematics allowing the children to manipulate the math.”
She also uses Gizmos during partner work and for enrichment of students who need a further challenge in a specific topic or extra practice. She shares, “I have created lessons around the Finding Patterns Gizmo where the students build, draw, and write to continue the pattern started in the Gizmo. Gizmos allows the students to ‘experiment’ with cause and effect in mathematics and gives them non-punitive feedback. The Gizmos quizzes are of high quality, too.”
A big thanks to Elise for all she does to support student success with Gizmos!
If you would like to share your experience with Gizmos to be profiled in upcoming blog posts and/or newsletters, fill out our teacher spotlight questionnaire.
April 11, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Jennifer DeMik
Jennifer DeMik teaches 7th and 8th grade math at Liberty Middle School in Tampa, FL. She is the math subject leader and is the school’s SAC Chair. She received her BA from Eckerd College and her MA in Sociology from the University of South Florida.
With over seven years of teaching experience in Hillsborough County Schools, Jen has been through numerous annual evaluations. This year’s annual review was scheduled during her “most difficult” class, but she wasn’t worried because her lesson plan had a secret weapon… Gizmos! Her whole group Gizmo lesson scored “Exemplary” in all domains of evaluation, which included demonstrating knowledge of content and pedagogy, designing coherent instruction, organizing physical space, showing professionalism and using assessment in instruction.
Jen used the Percent of Change Gizmo during her lesson, which allows students to apply markups and discounts using interactive percent rulers. “The full lesson spanned over a 3-day period. The Gizmo reinforced concepts such as percent of change, sales tax, tip, discount and markup as one great big global concept.” As a result, students were able to improve number sense for percents with this dynamic, visual tool.
The lesson description below was taken from her peer-evaluation: “She effectively planned and utilized the Gizmo to further student learning as well as demonstrated a wide range of effective pedagogical approaches during the lesson. Students were strategically paired and then adjusted as needed for the lesson. Students were provided opportunities to peer and self-assess when comparing responses, checking with the calculator and viewing the Gizmo.”
If you are considering using Gizmos with your students, Jen has one thing to say, “If people don't believe this stuff works, they clearly haven't used it enough or even tried it!”
Try Gizmos today to see how you can take your students’ learning to the next level!
March 13, 2014
Educator of the Month: Carla Hogar
Carla Hogar teaches math and science to grade 5 and grade 6 students in a level 9 NANS school in Québec. She studied Elementary Education at McGill University. She has been teaching for six years and has taught abroad.
With international teaching experience, Carla Hogar has seen a broad variety of learning and teaching resources. Two of her favorite are Reflex and Gizmos. With ExploreLearning's best-of-breed products, “learning is interactive and students can explore concepts on their own, so learning isn’t so teacher-directed. Also, Gizmos and Reflex take pressure off the teacher because you don’t have to develop extra materials.”
In Carla’s math classes, she uses stations. Her stations include Reflex on laptops, a strategy station, and a manipulative station. Students travel between stations, spending fifteen minutes at each. Carla shares, “The students really enjoy the Reflex station, and they just get so excited to go on it. It’s not like I am throwing them in front of a website that throws facts at them. They can play games, they can purchase things, they are intrigued... and they are learning at the same time! Even with students that have demonstrated mastery, I just find that I have such smoother classes because they already have the facts in mind.” She is working on including Gizmos as part of her math stations soon, too.
In Carla’s science classes, she uses Gizmos that complement each of the themes she teaches. Once she selects an appropriate Gizmo, she models how to use it. She explains, “All the kids sit in front of the interactive whiteboard and experiment together for 5-10 minutes.” Then she lets the students work independently. “For younger grades, they explore the Gizmo in pairs, for grades 5-6 they do it on a laptop and complete it on their own.”
In addition, if the vocabulary is too difficult for some of her students, she says “it’s easy to change because all the Gizmo Lesson Materials are customizable,” which is great for her English Language Learners. Although she is in an Anglophone school board, she still has many bilingual students primarily from French speaking families. “ESL students have special requirements,” she explains, and “Gizmos are able to bridge the gap in vocabulary.”
One of her students’ favorite Gizmos is the Weight and Mass Gizmo because they can compare the weight of objects on earth and measure the mass of objects on different planets including a pumpkin, a flower pot, a baseball, and even a puppy. “They really like that part, and I like that it’s a cross-curricular concept.”
Carla is always sharing new Gizmos with fellow teachers because the simulations are “such great tools that go along with our curriculum guidelines. It is not like Gizmos are something extra, they complement what we’re supposed to be teaching.” Carla is always looking for new and exciting ways to integrate Gizmos, and shares, “as with any good teacher, I am always in the process of learning and improving my practice.”
February 27, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Marilyn MacDonald
A 27-year teaching veteran, Marilyn MacDonald is currently a third grade teacher at Donald Elementary School. Mrs. MacDonald had a career in Marketing and started a family before settling into her career in teaching.
Marilyn MacDonald has seen many changes during the time she has been a teacher, but nothing as dramatic as the changes that have come with technology. She explains, “With technology, there has been such a shift in the way teachers teach. Education is much more collaborative now between teachers and students. Of all the new technologies, Gizmos are one of my favorites for math and science. They provide a way to incorporate technology in my lessons and allow for students to apply knowledge in new ways. Gizmos are one of the most effective tools I use to support and enhance instruction.”
At the beginning of the year, she helps students set up their accounts. She has each student fill out an index card that she keeps on a ring. Each time students need to log in, she passes out the cards and collects them at the end of the class. By the end of the year, most students have memorized their logins.
The first Gizmos she used this year were Cannon Ball Clowns and Rounding Whole Numbers because they are a great fit with the curriculum and are really great examples to introduce students to Gizmos. She continues, “Cannon Ball Clowns is fun because they are able to launch a clown out of a cannon. They estimate where their clown is going to land. It’s great because they can make predictions and then adjust their errors—it’s just a fun way to learn.”
At the beginning of the lesson, she has students complete the Prior Knowledge Questions on the Student Exploration Sheet. She says, “This is a great way to get students thinking about the topic and activate prior knowledge.” She then models using the Gizmo on the interactive whiteboard, and then students use the Gizmo on their own. While it’s an inquiry-based lesson, “it’s important that students can follow directions,” she shares, and she really likes how the Student Exploration Sheet activities reinforce these skills.
She also likes how Gizmos can be used in various ways, including whole-group, individual exploration, and even collaborative pairs. She explains, “I often pair students up, and they take turns completing the assignment and manipulating the Gizmo. From the Lesson Materials to the teacher demos, it’s very well thought out.” The demo videos available are available on all elementary Gizmos on the bottom right corner. “They are helpful to teachers and the kids LOVE a walk-through! The way the lessons are structured is just fabulous.”
The most convincing feedback for Mrs. MacDonald is from the students. When she tells students they are using Gizmos today and they exclaim, “Alright!”, she knows she is making the right choice to encourage learning with her students. She continues, “The students love using Gizmos. They can manipulate variables, make predictions, and check their predictions—it is engaging and fun as they learn. They are all smiles when they get to use them.”
Mrs. MacDonald encourages all of her fellow teachers to use Gizmos. “If teachers just take the opportunity to try them, they would love them.”
February 14, 2014
Educator of the Month: Thais Garcia
Thais Garcia has been a teacher for over 25 years and was the 2009 Region I Teacher of the Year. She currently serves as the Science Department Chair at a Title I middle school in Hialeah, Florida.
Mrs. Garcia is an enthusiastic and positive teacher who helps to motivate students and get them excited about learning. She has a wide range of students, from gifted to special education, but she finds a way to reach them all with Gizmos.
She explains: “Just recently, I used the Solubility and Temperature Gizmo to teach inquiry. I guided students through the whole scientific process; including forming a question, devising a hypothesis, designing an experiment to test that hypothesis, identifying variables, conducting the virtual lab and collecting data, analyzing that data, and deciding if the data/evidence supported the hypothesis. Finally we completed a Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning template. I was able to complete this activity with both my eighth grade gifted students, and also with my co-teach class which is composed of Special Education students, English Language Learners and low level readers.
"To reach all students, we must present the same material, but in different ways. Whether I do them with the whole class or the students do them individually, Gizmos work! Sometimes we complete the Gizmo as a whole class activity with each student taking a turn joining up to the interactive whiteboard. This method gives me an opportunity to detect misconceptions and address them immediately. Other times, I have student groups rotate through stations, which feature several activities based on the same topic.”
She concludes, “Gizmos are an excellent way to engage students and infuse technology into my lessons. I see all my students participating when we do Gizmos. And, since we have been consistently using Gizmos, our district interim scores have risen!”
February 06, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Penny Holland
Penny Holland is a National Board Certified Teacher with over 20 years K-6 teaching experience. She is currently completing her Masters in Learning and Technology at Western Governor’s University. She now teaches 6th grade science at Old High Middle School in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Gizmos originally were introduced into the Bentonville School District three years ago through a middle school grant program. After her initial-training workshop, Mrs. Holland said she “fell in love” with Gizmos. She feels the Gizmos are so powerful because they support so much of what is required with the new Common Core standards, such as inquiry-based learning and the development of higher-level thinking skills.
Mrs. Holland’s students come from a variety of backgrounds and opportunities. She feels that by providing access to technology in the classroom, all of her students have the opportunity to be included in the types of learning environments that are exciting and engaging to them. She likes to see how young learners light up with Gizmos. “With Gizmos, students become mesmerized… Students even beg to come in during recess to finish their Gizmos.”
Mrs. Holland has many favorite Gizmost that she likes to use in her lessons—Growing Plants , Reaction Time, Mystery Powder Analysis, Density, and Force and Fan Carts are just a few of them. But the Circulatory Gizmo is at the top of her list because students have a lot of “ah-hah moments” when they use this Gizmo. At the start of the lesson, she has students complete the warm-up together, and then she models using the Gizmo on an interactive whiteboard. Then, depending on her students’ level of understanding, they are assigned Activity A or Activity B of the Student Exploration Sheet. Activity B can be assigned to students who are interested in going the extra mile or show a higher level of interest in the subject.
She continues, “Gizmos are great for differentiation and the Student Exploration Sheets makes it easy. Gizmos help students move along at a steady pace while ensuring thoughtful processing. Students have to figure out why things are happening. They manipulate variables, measure results, and make conclusions based on the evidence they see with the graph and data tabs. Comparisons are easily made when students use screen shots for evidence of their claim. Students can even make their own data charts, which help them compare the organ’s functions.”
Mrs. Holland emphasized that with either of the activities, “higher-level thinking is the norm with Gizmos.” Students can even complete the extension activity at home if they have access to a computer. “Parents enjoy seeing their students ‘do’ labs at home instead of just hearing about what they did in class,” she added.
Mrs. Holland hopes that she and the other teachers in Bentonville “can use Gizmos for years to come because it's such an excellent resource.” Also, for any teachers looking to become a NBCT, “Gizmos are a perfect way to show NBCT evaluators that you are focused on student learning!”
January 29, 2014
Educator Spotlight: John S. Wilson III
Mr. John Wilson III retired from the U.S. Army Air Defense as a Lieutenant Colonel. He is now a 6th grade science teacher and the Science Department Head at Dulles Middle School in Sugarland, TX.
Mr. Wilson, also known as “Colonel”, begins his year by reinforcing a simple statement, “You CAN learn—You WILL learn.” Gizmos help make this possible in his classroom. With Gizmos, he is able to support learning in a way that is engaging and student-centered. For each Gizmo activity, students are assigned specific sections of the Student Exploration Sheets. He differentiates assignments based on student interest and specific learning needs. In addition, “Students can view higher-level or lower-level Gizmos to review a previously learned concept or extend their learning of a specific science concepts” by browsing the Gizmos library right on ExploreLearning.com. Gizmos are great for remediation and inquiry learning, and students really seem to enjoy the hands-on interactivity they provide.
One specific Gizmo Mr. Wilson finds most helpful when studying force, motion, and energy is the Distance-Time Graphs Gizmos. He explains, “Graphing motion can often be confusing. With the Distance-Time Graph Gizmo, students can observe examples of motion and how changes in motion are reflected within a graph.” Students create a graph of a runner's position versus time and watch the runner complete a 40-yard dash based on the graph they made. Students can even add a second runner (with a second graph) and connect real-world meaning to the intersection of two graphs.
As the Science Department Head, Mr. Wilson encourages other teachers to use Gizmos to support student learning based on his own students’ successes. He is excited about integrating Gizmos in each of the learning units this year. HOOAH!
January 24, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Tracy Ferguson
Tracy Ferguson graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2001. She is a science and writing teacher at Horne Elementary, a Title I school in Houston, TX. She is starting her 12th year in education and serves a diverse population of students including Special Education and ELL students.
Tracy was first introduced to Gizmos three years ago when a colleague showed her the advantages of using them in the classroom. Since then, she has “been hooked.” She feels that each year she has progressively gotten better at integrating Gizmos. Gizmos are now an integral part of her classroom instructional model. Tracy teaches using stations, and Gizmos are the interactive lesson that students use at the technology station. Students use Gizmos on a daily basis at the technology station or on their laptops.
Tracy’s favorite Gizmos are the astronomy Gizmos, “because it is difficult to teach astronomy in a hands-on way. The Gizmos provide great simulations of outer-space.” The Solar System Gizmo is particularly helpful because it helps students explore our solar system and learn the characteristics of each planet. Students can compare the sizes of planets and their distances from the Sun. They also can observe the speed of planetary orbits and measure how long each planet takes to go around the Sun. It’s a very comprehensive Gizmo that brings together many aspects of the topics and easily accommodates differentiation.
Even Tracy’s students are excited about using Gizmos. She explains, “My students enjoy competing using the Growing Plants Gizmo to grow the tallest plant. I have also heard my students refer to the Gizmos on tests, checkpoints, and in class discussions.”
January 15, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Wendy Swanson
Mrs. Wendy Swanson is a learning team facilitator and science & technology resource teacher at Diamond View Elementary School in Greenacres, FL.
Mrs. Swanson was first introduced to Gizmos at a district sponsored Science Symposium three years ago. When she watched a demonstration of the Growing Plants Gizmo, she was hooked! She immediately began to incorporate Gizmos in her professional development workshops and introduce them to other teachers.
While the “early adopters” took Gizmos and ran, there were still some teachers that weren’t using them to their full potential. That’s when Mrs. Swanson invited ExploreLearning's Desirée Sujoy to the Professional Learning Community meetings she leads at her school. Mrs. Swanson shared, “I had no idea how much support ExploreLearning provided. It was really cool! As the teachers were looking at data and coming up with strategies to improve instruction, Desirée matched Gizmos to each grade’s common assessments.”
Teachers also have access to ExploreLearning’s comprehensive textbook and state standards correlations right on the explorelearning.com website. This helped teachers incorporate Gizmos in a relevant and meaningful way. Teachers were motivated and “it was exciting seeing teachers use Gizmos in their class the very next day!”
In addition to being a learning team facilitator, Mrs. Swanson runs the science lab at her school. Students in grades 3-5 visit her lab for an hour of collaborative hands-on fun with science and technology. Gizmos are an integral part of the instruction and have been invaluable in helping differentiate learning for the schools’ diverse student population. After adopting a project-based learning model that includes Gizmos, the school saw a 12% increase in Science FCAT scores in the first year.
January 08, 2014
Educator Spotlight: Angela Escobar
Angela Escobar is a math teacher at Deerfield Beach Middle School in Broward County, Florida. She is a Gifted Endorsed, National Board Certified Teacher, and has her Masters in Mathematics Education. She serves a diverse set of students from International Baccalaureate to struggling learners at her Title I school.
Angela Escobar is a “think out of the box” teacher. Starting her 13th year teaching, she began the school year by telling students, “This isn’t going to be one of those classes where I lecture and you take notes. No, you are going to be moving. This is a hands-on class.” Within the first week of class, students were outside, observing the world around them, and journaling about math!
One of the reasons Mrs. Escobar appreciates Gizmos so much is that they help her to integrate math and science concepts. Working with Suzy Pinnell, the science teacher on her team, Mrs. Escobar uses Gizmos to reinforce shared concepts. For Example, during an integrated curriculum lesson, Mrs. Pinnell’s class used the H-R Diagram Gizmo to arrange and classify a group of stars based on their color, temperature, luminosity, radius, and mass. Later, students worked with Mrs. Escobar to learn how to graph the information with the Graphing Skills Gizmo. Using this Gizmo, students were able to create a variety of graphs based on the data. Graphs included bar graphs, line graphs, and scatter plots. The Graphing Skills Gizmo also allowed students to title the graph, label the axes, choose a scale, and check for accuracy.
Mrs. Escobar has seen the effects of Gizmos on learning at many levels. The interactivity and “hands on” nature of Gizmos helped her students to remember concepts months after they were taught. Students also appreciated the freedom Gizmos gave them to experiment without fear of getting the wrong answer. Also, because many of the concepts covered by Gizmos also appear on state tests, Mrs. Escobar has observed a major positive impact on student FCAT and EOC results.
Mrs. Escobar looks forward to another year of engaging students with Gizmos, and we hope she has a great year!
November 25, 2013
Educator Spotlight: Kenya Allen
Kenya Allen has been teaching high school for 16 years. She received her B.S. from Virginia Union University, her M.S. from Virginia State University, and her M.Ed. from Virginia Commonwealth University. Currently she is an instructor with the Performance Learning Center (PLC) at Armstrong High School. The PLC is a successful alternative education model for urban school systems that uses self-paced curriculum to help students catch up and prepare for post-secondary education options.
Mrs. Allen shares that when she was first introduced to Gizmos she thought, "Wow, this will really enhance my instruction. The students I teach want to be challenged and they like to visualize the subject matter.” For example, when she used to teach protein synthesis, she found, “the old way of cutting and pasting the nucleotides to a piece of paper was too abstract for some students. Now, with the RNA and Protein Synthesis Gizmo, students can simulate the process more closely to what happens in their own bodies.”
In addition, Gizmos are ideal for reviewing for benchmark assessments and preparing students for EOC exams. “Students worked diligently on Gizmos in class and at home. Last year was the first year for the new technology-enhanced questions on the Biology EOC. The simulations were great to get the students ready for these new questions. Overall, my sixth period class did very well on the Biology EOC. Most students passed on their first attempt!”
November 07, 2013
Educator Spotlight: Scott Redding
Scott Redding is a science teacher at Citronelle High School in Mobile, Alabama. He graduated with his Bachelor’s from Auburn in Science Education, and is currently finishing his Master’s Degree in Education at Arkansas State University. Scott played baseball in college, and is now the baseball coach at the high school.
Scott Redding has taught a variety of courses during his six-year teaching career at Citronelle High School, including Zoology, Botany, Biology, Physical Science, and Marine Biology. As a graduate of Citronelle, he understands the students and where they are coming from. He tries to incorporate Gizmos wherever they are applicable because “the kids love them. It gets their attention. They like the interactivity and really get into the material.”
Scott also appreciates how flexible Gizmos are. Students use Gizmos during whole-group instruction with interactive whiteboards, in small groups, in the computer lab, for home assignments, or even to keep up when they are sick. To reduce the use of printed copies, Scott’s students complete the Student Exploration sheets on their own computers and turn them in via email.
Scott’s favorite Gizmos are the Photosynthesis Lab and Cell Energy Cycle Gizmos. His students often struggle to understand the reactions in which plants use the Sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide and water to glucose and oxygen, and how animals (and plants) use oxygen to break down glucose and generate energy. With these Gizmos, students can compare the photosynthesis and respiration equations, balance each equation numerically, and see how various factors affect the rates of these processes.
Using these simulations helped Scott’s students gain a much stronger understanding of the interdependence of plants and animals, allowing them to “breeze through” their unit test. Great job Scott, and best of luck this school year!
November 01, 2013
Gizmos Help Close the Achievement Gap
The VISTA professional development model, which includes using Gizmos to support inquiry, was found to have a statistically significant positive impact on the achievement of economically disadvantaged students.
VISTA (Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement) is a statewide partnership among 70+ Virginia school districts, six Virginia universities, and the Virginia Department of Education. Its goal is to help shift K-12 science instruction toward hands-on science, student-centered inquiry, the nature of science, and problem-based learning.
Based on their findings, researchers stated that “It appears that the VISTA treatment has the effect of reducing the gap in 5th grade science SOL test scaled scores between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged groups.” Further, teachers’ science content knowledge and confidence in teaching science increases by doing hands-on science, inquiry-based teaching, and problem-based learning.
Read more about the research behind Gizmos.
July 26, 2013
SETDA Case Studies: Gizmos Improve Teaching and Learning
SETDA, a non-profit group representing state and national education technology leaders, recently published a series of case studies to demonstrate how ARRA EETT grant funds have impacted teaching and learning. The following case studies highlight powerful examples of successful programs that improved teaching and learning.
A SETDA case study of over 3000 Arkansas classrooms found that with effective professional development, Gizmos had a positive impact on student understanding and engagement, according to teacher reports. Read more
A SETDA case study of Rapides Parish School District in Louisiana found that a technology enriched learning environment that included Gizmos had a positive impact on teacher proficiency and student graduation rates. Read more
A SETDA case study of Thomasville City Schools in Georgia found that with a technology enriched learning environment that included Gizmos, students were more engaged in learning and more quickly visualized complex mathematics concepts. Read more
July 15, 2013
Jonte Lee: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Jonte Lee is in his first year of teaching high school in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and is off to a running start. He is engaging students in innovative ways by using Gizmos as the platform for virtual science fairs. He first tried them out this fall, and the feedback was overwhelming. Science fair visitors from around the community and local universities were amazed with the Gizmo experiments. He is replicating the experience this week for his summer school students. Mr. Lee explains, "with the use of Gizmos, experiments and analyses that would normally take days or weeks to complete are possible in a fraction of the time".
When planning for the science fair, Mr. Lee asked his students to choose from a list of appropriate Gizmos. He explained that, "this is key in helping students take ownership of their own learning. With the use of Gizmos, learning became student-driven. They were asking more questions, asking each other questions, and I became the facilitator of their learning experience". Students even began using scientific vocabulary with more frequency during class.
One of Mr. Lee's favorite Gizmos is the Disease Spread Gizmo. This Gizmo allows students to observe the spread of disease through a group of people. The methods of transmission can be chosen and include person-to-person, airborne, and foodborne. He shared, "the kids were able to read a graph as the simulation was happening, so students were able to understand the graph, and this is something that I really struggled to teach before using Gizmos."
Mr. Lee was first introduced to virtual simulations when he taught Biology for the University of Phoenix. With courses lasting only 9 weeks, he had to find practical ways to demonstrate science concepts in a short time. When he moved to teaching at DCPS, he attended a Gizmo professional development workshop. He instantly knew this was the best simulation tool for his new high school science students as well.
Mr. Lee looks forward to the start of school in the fall and finding new opportunities for his students to explore science concepts more deeply with Gizmos.
June 07, 2013
Shawn O’Hara: ExploreLearning Educator of the MonthShawn O’Hara has a degree in Geology and spent 13 years working in the environmental industry. She is currently a chemistry teacher at a high school in Lewisville ISD, Texas. In 2006, she was named Creek Valley Middle School’s Teacher of the Year, and Lewisville ISD Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Shortly after Ms. O’Hara began teaching in Lewisville ISD nine years ago, she learned about a new program called ExploreLearning Gizmos that the district was implementing in middle and high schools. Since she began using them, she has experienced the tremendous growth of the Gizmo library and lesson materials available to teachers and students. Gizmos continue to be an integral part of the successful science experience she provides her students.
A couple of Ms. O’Hara’s favorite Gizmos are “Distance-Time and Velocity-Time Graphs” and “Phases of the Moon.” Students struggle with the concepts of distance-time, velocity-time, acceleration-time, and all that goes with these topics. “I would have them first do an activity with a motion sensor and then follow that up with the Gizmo. Doing the Gizmo really reinforces the learning, especially when they have to write about the motion relative to the created graph.” With the Phases of the Moon Gizmo, “students can manipulate the motion of the moon and see views from Earth and space.” Being able to manipulate variables allows students the ability to test their hypotheses and answer their own “what would happen if…” questions.
When her students are struggling, absent, or miss a lab, Ms. O’Hara has no trouble finding a Gizmo to fill in the gaps and support their learning. “If a student has a long-term absence and has Internet access at home, he/she can keep up by using the support materials.” She also loves the assessments and thinks that they provide the perfect quick check of student understanding. She has immediate access to the results, and at a glance she can see who has mastered the concept and who needs more support.
“Lewisville ISD has identified Gizmos as a powerful resource for teachers and has continued to make an investment in making them available to all science and math teachers.” Ms. O’Hara looks forward to continuing to give her students the opportunity to explore science with Gizmos.
May 09, 2013
Scott Lehman: ExploreLearning Educator of the MonthMr. Scott Lehman has taught for 18 years, and has a B.S. from Pennsylvania State University and an M.S. in Science Education from Nova Southeastern University. He teaches 5th grade science in a Palm Beach County public school.
Mr. Lehman began to use Gizmos when he taught at Village Academy in 2007. He had the opportunity to participate in a Gizmos initial training workshop, and was immediately “hooked.” He found Gizmos both exciting and educational, and saw that the simulations would work as another tool to help his students study science.
His students are excited to learn using Gizmos, and Mr. Lehman uses them to spark interest in the topics they study. Gizmos help start a discussion at the beginning of the lesson, and often the conversations among students continue throughout. He finds that Gizmos help students gain a better understanding of the topics they discuss in class and how they connect to one another.
Mr. Lehman’s students often have a hard time grasping the concept of energy conservation. Using the Energy Conversions Gizmo helps his students understand the different pathways that can be created with energy. Mr. Lehman spends time introducing the Gizmo, and, after the students work through the simulations, the discussion questions encourage the students to talk amongst themselves. The Gizmo helps the students gain a better understanding of energy.
Mr. Lehman has observed that both students and teachers get excited when they use science Gizmos. He finds that the best part of using a Gizmo is the “Ah-hah” moment. Students will recognize something in class and tell him that they learned it before when they were using a Gizmo. “When students look at you and realize what they are learning is exciting, fun and educational, that’s what makes teaching worth it,” says Mr. Lehman.
April 17, 2013
Julie DeBoer: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Julie DeBoer is a 5th grade science teacher at an elementary school in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Texas and has been teaching for six years.
When you enter Julie DeBoer’s classroom, you will often find the students engaged in exploring science concepts with Gizmos. This consistent use of Gizmos in her classroom is the reason why Ms. DeBoer has been awarded the title of Cy-Fair’s Outstanding Elementary Gizmo User for the past two years. Ms. DeBoer‘s students have found great success in developing their conceptual understanding of science through the meaningful explorations Gizmos provide.
Ms. DeBoer loves that Gizmos allow her to simulate an experiment that they might not be able to do in class. “The students love doing Gizmos because they get so much out of it, and the lesson is no longer just me talking and telling them about science concepts,” she says.
One of her favorite Gizmos is“Seasons: Why do we have them?” The Gizmo shows students how rays of light affect the temperature on earth, and why it is hotter in the summertime. “As soon as we do the Gizmo together and they are on their own, the students understand direct and indirect rays and how those rays are associated with the seasons.” She also likes to use the Moon Phases Gizmo since it helps her students understand the relationship between the moon phases and how they change.
Ms. DeBoer uses Gizmos every day in her Science Rotations. She makes sure that her students encounter science concepts in a multitude of ways. Through the various uses of Gizmos for introductory, exploratory, conceptual building, and refresher experiences, Mrs. DeBoer brings science learning to life throughout the teaching and learning cycle. By varying the means in which students experience Gizmos, including as an individual, as partners, in small groups, and as a whole group, every student has the opportunity to work within his or her optimum learning style.
Ms. DeBoer successfully brings together tried and true teaching strategies, ongoing and varied learning opportunities, and the power of ExploreLearning Gizmos to provide the best learning scenario for her 5th grade students.
March 08, 2013
Desiree Hurtado: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Ms. Desiree Hurtado teaches Biology, Biology Honors and Physical Science (9th and 10th grade) in a high school in Miami-Dade. She has been teaching for two years.
Ms. Hurtado uses Gizmos to both reinforce lab experiments and to increase understanding with alternative activities in class. With the Plants and Snails Gizmo, she first had students do a hands-on experiment in class. Students prepared four beakers with water and bromothymol blue indicator. Students added Elodea plants to the first, Elodea and snails to the second, snails to the third, and nothing to the fourth. Students collected data from the experiment, and then discussed the relationship between photosynthesis and respiration.
Ms. Hurtado then led them through the Plants and Snails Gizmo, and students were able to immediately understand how to manipulate the variables in the simulation. The Gizmo helped students see how carbon is essential to the function of organisms, and why organic compounds are required by organisms to live. Then students completed the quick, 5-question assessment online for practice with individual reading and comprehension. The Gizmo helped students see that oxygen produced by plants is essential for animals, and how carbon dioxide produced by animals is essential for plants.
Ms. Hurtado finds it both fun and easy to get creative with Gizmos. With the Dichotomous Keys Gizmo, she first used the Gizmo in class as a technology-based lab. She provided the students with the student worksheet, and introduced dichotomous keys. After Ms. Hurtado modeled the first organism, she had students come up one-by-one to identify the next organism, as the other students annotated the genus and species of each.
Then she asked her students to create their own dichotomous keys using the images from the Gizmo. Students took "screen shots" of the organisms with the Gizmo camera tool and created their own dichotomous keys on colored paper. Students presented them in class, and then Ms. Hurtado displayed them on the walls. Students from other classes became interested in the dichotomous keys made by their friends, and they played around with identifying the organisms from other classes.
Ms. Hurtado feels that Gizmos are excellent for engaging students, especially since students today are so comfortable learning with technology. She finds that students retain more information after seeing the images and manipulating the variables on the screen. Gizmos allow students “to see things and open up their eyes to ‘that which is invisible.’”
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February 13, 2013
Clayton Ellis: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Clayton Ellis OCT, is head of science at David Suzuki Secondary School, Peel District School Board in Brampton, Ontario. He has taught for 16 years, and has collaborated with colleagues to support science teaching in the province. He has been the primary author on several science and biology textbooks.
Years ago Mr. Ellis was looking for innovative technologies that would engage his students. After one of his classes tried out Gizmos for the first time in 2004, he became convinced that he had found an extremely effective supplemental tool for teaching science.
When Mr. Ellis teaches genetics to his high school students, he uses the Human Karyotyping Gizmo. In the past, his students had started the learning process on this topic by cutting out 46 photocopied chromosomes. Inevitably the students would lose some of the pieces of paper, and the activity that should have taken only 45 minutes stretched out to two days. The Human Karyotyping Gizmo allowed students to see the colour coded chromosomes and determine the disorders after a thorough analysis.
Without having to cut out the karyotypes on paper, the students had the additional time they needed to do the analysis. Mr. Ellis was then able to incorporate a genetic disorder roundtable into his class, and students included a karyotype of a problem in their presentation.
Mr. Ellis plans to run a Science Olympics competition later this year where students will compete against each other in a variety of science activities. One of the planned activities will involve the Mineral Identification Gizmo. The students will be using the Gizmo to compete against each other to see how quickly and accurately they can identify minerals.
Using Gizmos also has allowed Mr. Ellis to accommodate the needs of various learners in his classroom. He finds that some students need a great deal of time to initially grasp fundamental concepts, while others are quickly ready for more complex tasks that allow them to gain a deeper understanding. Gizmos are perfect for this type of differentiation and have become a fundamental part of Mr. Ellis’ layered lessons for all students.
January 09, 2013
Christine Nolan-Dack: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Christine Nolan-Dack is a technology resource teacher for grades 3-5 at Boca Raton Elementary School. She has been a teacher for 16 years and has taught a variety of classes, including technology, art, ESE, and ESOL education.
Mrs. Nolan-Dack has used Gizmos for three years and Reflex for one year. She coordinates with classroom teachers, choosing Gizmos that expand on what students are learning in the classroom. Mrs. Nolan-Dack reports that Gizmos provide opportunities for practice, hands-on learning, and enhanced understanding. By collaborating with classroom teachers, she has been able to provide individualized instruction with Gizmos, allowing more students to master difficult concepts.
Mrs. Nolan-Dack’s students particularly like some of the math Gizmos that mix humor with a clear presentation of concepts, including Fido’s Flower Bed (Perimeter and Area) and Cannonball Clowns (Number Line Estimation).
Boca Raton Elementary also adopted ExploreLearning Reflex last year as part of a pilot project. Mrs. Nolan-Dack started using Reflex with only a few students, but demand from teachers and students quickly increased. Before long, 192 students were enrolled in Reflex. Students talked about the program to each other, and parents called to find out more. Mrs. Nolan-Dack says she has never seen an educational program engender a response like that before! Over the course of the pilot, students' overall math fact fluency rose by an average of 40 percentage points.
Thanks in part to Gizmos and Reflex, Boca Raton Elementary had some of their strongest FCAT scores ever, with scores rising over 25% from the previous year. It was also impressive that scores rose most prominently for those in the lowest quartile. Mrs. Nolan-Dack is thrilled to be a part of these gains and is looking forward to another great year!
December 07, 2012
Stuart Merves: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Stuart Merves teaches Biology and Introduction to Physical Sciences at Timber Creek Regional High School in Erial, NJ. A graduate of Clemson, Mr. Merves just started his fourth year of teaching. He has been an avid Gizmos user since 2010.
This article will also appear in the New Jersey Science Teachers Association Newsletter.
Mr. Merves loves how Gizmos enable him to maximize the limited time he gets with his students and still allows them to have interactive lab experiences. Gizmos are also great because they can be used at home, allowing students who are absent to stay caught up. Students gravitate to the Gizmos because they “feel like video games” and they love being able to manipulate the variables any way they like. Mr. Merves also appreciates the framework provided by the Student Exploration Sheets, and he often modifies them to more closely match his lesson objectives.
In all of his classes, Mr. Merves starts the year with the Growing Plants Gizmo, which teaches experimental design. In addition to teaching students about the best conditions for plant growth, the Gizmo helps students understand how to successfully design experiments for optimal results. With four variables to manipulate (seed, light, water, soil), students can come up with hundreds of unique combinations as they try to grow the largest plant. “Students are always amazed that the plants never grow the exact same way, even in the same conditions. I tell them ‘Well yes, it’s just like real life!’” Mr. Merves reports.
One of the highlights of the year in his Introduction to Physical Sciences class is a project in which students get to design their own roller coasters. After discussing the concepts of potential and kinetic energy in class, Mr. Merves lets his students loose on the Roller Coaster Gizmo. The Gizmo demonstrates how kinetic and potential energy are related to mass, height, and speed, and demonstrates the principle of conservation of energy as the roller coaster car moves over hills. Based on what they learn in the Gizmo, students then design their own roller coasters. Depending on their design, they have to calculate the potential energy, kinetic energy, and velocity of the car at several points along the track. Students then present their designs to each other in class.
November 09, 2012
Kay Stephen: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Kay Stephen teaches a variety of science courses at St. Pius X High School in Ottawa, Ontario. She has been a science teacher since 1996. Mrs. Stephen is an active science blogger, curriculum developer, and textbook writer. In 2011, Mrs. Stephen served as a judge for the Google Science Fair and was selected as the Smarter Science® Secondary Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Stephen believes that science teaching needs to be less about the regurgitation of facts and more about discovery, inquiry, and collaboration, so she has become a devoted fan of Gizmos.
Mrs. Stephen has been using Gizmos for four years and considers them an invaluable resource. She uses Gizmos to enhance her students’ real-world scientific explorations. Mrs. Stephen uses Gizmos to introduce topics, to reinforce learning, and to experiment in ways that that normally would not be possible in a secondary school science lab.
Some of Mrs. Stephen’s favorite Gizmos are Building DNA, 2D Eclipse, 3D Eclipse, Circuit Builder, Germination, Circulatory System, and H-R Diagram. She has found that these Gizmos promote inquiry and collaboration in her classroom, can be used by learners of all levels, and provide instantaneous experimental results.
A great example of how Mrs. Stephen blends hands-on and virtual investigations is described in her blog. Realizing that many of her students had little experience with nature, Mrs. Stephen initiated a plant growing project. The students began the project by planting marigold and tomato seeds. As the seeds were germinating, they spent a class period working with the Growing Plants Gizmo. Mrs. Stephen’s students jumped right into the Gizmo and spontaneously began a “Who can grow the tallest plant?” contest. Students were then able to design and run controlled experiments to understand the effects of each variable on plant growth. The results of the virtual experiments informed the real-world investigations students were doing with their plants.
October 04, 2012
Beverly Roy: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Beverly Roy has been teaching in the Miami-Dade County Public School System for nine years, and is currently a special education teacher at Gulfstream Elementary. She is a graduate of Florida International University and is currently pursuing a M.A. in Teaching with a specialization in Educational Technology. Ms. Roy is a member of the Golden Key Honor Society and the president elect of Alpha Delta Kappa Lambda, an altruistic sorority for educators. Ms. Roy has been using Gizmos for five years.
With her special education students, Ms. Roy generally introduces Gizmos on a SMART board. Once students have gained knowledge and experience with the concepts, they can manipulate Gizmos on classroom computers or in centers. Ms. Roy appreciates how Gizmos allow students to manipulate variables and provide immediate feedback. She reports that “manipulating variables encourages cause-and-effect critical thinking, and students are able to mentally organize, categorize, and verbalize their findings.” The animations provide clear visualization of abstract concepts and are especially helpful for students with processing deficits who struggle with text.
Ms. Roy utilizes all of the Lesson Materials that are provided with Gizmos. The Vocabulary Sheets are a very helpful resource because students can cut and paste the terms right into their science journals! The Teacher Guides help her structure her lessons and provide meaningful pre-Gizmo activities that encourage concept formation and critical thinking skills.
Some of Beverly’s favorite Gizmos are the Pond Ecosystem and Forest Ecosystem Gizmos, both of which provided excellent background material for a field trip to the Everglades. “When students are able to see the consequences of depleted plant and animal life, they are able to make connections to the importance of the different ecosystems and the interconnectivity of the Everglades. This in turn leads to a better understanding of food chains and food webs across environments.”
Ms. Roy appreciates how the Gizmos and Lesson Materials work together to foster student engagement and enthusiasm for science. “Gizmos enable my students to be active participants in the scientific inquiry process.”
March 06, 2012
Sam Olivieri, PhD: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Sam Olivieri, PhD, or "Dr. O" as his students refer to him, teaches sixth grade science at Sugar Land Middle School in Texas. He has worked in 70 countries with the Agency for International Development, and he has been teaching in Fort Bend for the past six years.
Dr. O loves teaching the sixth grade because it is his students' first year of having a dedicated science class. He sees it as his mission to bring the subject alive for them, so that by the end of the year they have a lasting love of science. Not surprisingly, he makes Gizmos a central part of his instruction and has been recognized as a Gizmo Leader for the past three years.
Here is an example of how Dr. O uses Gizmos to enrich his students' science experience. When students have completed the Assessment Questions on a Gizmo such as Rock Cycle, each student is assigned one of the questions to present in a multi-media format. Dr. O video-tapes the students presenting their assigned question and giving the solution process in his or her own words! At the end of the year, each student burns a disc of those presentations and takes home a lasting video record of his or her own science expertise!
"I love using Gizmos with my students, as they allow my students to interact with numerous science concepts which are difficult to bring into the classroom. Gizmos gives them hands-on experiences with real science. It is my mission to have every one of my students leave at the end of the year loving science, and Gizmos helps me to bring that love of science to them."
February 07, 2012
Graham Whisen: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
For the past seven years, Graham Whisen has been teaching at Fletcher's Meadow Secondary School in Ontario. He has taught grades 9 through 12 and specializes in Physics education. Graham is passionate about science, educational technology, and inspiring a love of learning.
That passion is evident in his teaching style. When he introduces a new lesson, sometimes he starts by having his students launch a Gizmo and explore its features. He doesn't provide any structure, instead just allowing them to have fun playing with the Gizmo and seeing what it can do. Then he introduces the lesson, and revisits the Gizmo later when he wants to use it to delve deeper.
As an example of a lesson where Gizmos are particularly helpful, he points to the concept of projectile motion. Students often have trouble grasping the idea that horizontal and vertical motion are independent. But the Golf Range Gizmo clears that up, both because it depicts motion and vectors visually, and because students can manipulate variables and see the results.
Graham presents a series of Gizmo-based challenges to help draw out the main ideas in this lesson. He asks which angles launch the ball highest and farthest, how the initial height affects the range, what the impact of air resistance is, and what golf would be like on the moon. These questions work for students of all ability levels, enabling them to interact with the Gizmo and derive meaning at their own pace. Meanwhile, he can circulate the room and reinforce or extend as appropriate.
"Gizmos are designed for inquiry and this is what makes them so useful. Any one Gizmo can be used to connect to many different concepts, so teachers are able to use them in creative ways. I always love hearing about how other teachers use Gizmos in their classes because the methods are always innovative and expand my own teaching practice."
You can see more of what's on Graham's mind by visiting his blog.
January 11, 2012
Michael Mosby: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Michael Mosby is in his fifth year of teaching and he now teaches 4th grade science at Owens Elementary, in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Texas.
He recently attended a Gizmos training event and was excited to take advantage of them in his classroom. He now uses many different Gizmos, covering concepts as diverse as Density and Phases of the Moon. At an ExploreLearning School Leadership event last spring he was honored for his extensive use of Gizmos, bringing more engaging and effective math and science instruction to his students.
Mr. Mosby points to the Density Gizmo as a good example of how Gizmos have helped with his teaching. He uses a hands-on experiment to explore density with his class and then reinforces that lesson with the Gizmo. He has his students pair up and work through the Exploration Guide to go over the various concepts. This sequence has really engaged his students, and this difficult concept has become easier to teach and fun for students.
Mr. Mosby doesn't stop with classroom instruction either.
"I encourage my students to use Gizmos at home with their families. The students really enjoy showing their parents the things that they get to do on Gizmos at home. I think it gets them excited about science concepts that they would normally not be interested in."
December 06, 2011
Alejandra Guzman: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Alejandra Guzman has been teaching high school science for four years, first in Miami-Dade Schools in Florida and now at Stafford High School in Texas. She was named Teacher of the Year at Miami's Somerset Academy Silver Palms, and now serves on the Stafford MSD Technology Committee as well as the district's mentoring program for new science teachers.
Mrs. Guzman, or "Mrs. Gizmo" as some of her district administrators refer to her, started using Gizmos in 2009 and has been integrating them into her teaching practically every week since then. Since moving to Texas, she has been helping her new district get set up with Gizmos. She has also been presenting Gizmos at science and technology conferences around Texas, demonstrating their effectiveness in her specialty, Biology.
Mrs. Guzman points to the Plants and Snails as an example of how Gizmos can help save on lab expenses, avoid experimentation on live animals, and allow for faster data collection. Plants and Snails is also her personal favorite, because students often have difficulty understanding how photosynthesis and respiration are interdependent. As with many lessons, she covers the concept in her lecture, but then uses a Gizmo to drive and reinforce understanding.
"Gizmos are great because they are teacher and student friendly and they require no lab prep! They are very easy to use and all of the work (lesson plans, background, vocabulary, worksheets, assessments) are provided. Gizmos make teaching easy and fun!"
November 10, 2011
Missy Graham-Allison: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Missy Graham-Allison teaches Biology at Durant High School in Florida's Hillsborough County Public Schools and is one of the sponsors of the school's Science Honor and Competition Club. She has degrees in Biology and Educational Leadership and has been teaching for twelve years.
Mrs. Allison has been using Gizmos for two years to create new opportunities for her students to interact with scientific concepts. She turns to such diverse Gizmos as Cell Division, Human Evolution - Skull Analysis, and Rabbit Population by Season to bring concepts to life. She gives an example:
"The Rabbit Population Gizmo helped students to see how populations can be affected by different factors. Terms like density-dependent and density-independent limiting factors, carry capacity, and population density tend to be hard concepts for them. I use this particular Gizmo to 'show' them what the terms mean. My students feel that it gives them a 'visual' on what is going on instead of just getting the information from the text or lecture notes."
She reports that many students demonstrate a comfortable comprehension of these complex scientific concepts after working with this Gizmo.
Mrs. Allison also makes good use of Gizmos Assessment Questions. She uses them for formative assessment, but also to drive parental involvement. Parents are made aware when students do poorly on the assessment questions, and this helps motivate them to get involved in their child's learning. Working on a Gizmo can be a fun and engaging way for parents to learn with their children.
October 18, 2011
Stephanie Minor: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Stephanie Minor is in her tenth year of teaching. She has a B.Sc. in Geology and worked in both mining and oil exploration before getting her B.Ed. She is now teaching at the brand new DSBN Academy, an Ontario public school geared toward empowering students to become the first in their families to graduate from a post-secondary institution.
Ms. Minor has been using both math and science Gizmos for three years. When she can't get time for her students to use them in the computer lab, she presents them herself both to introduce and to reinforce concepts. For example, she uses the Density Gizmo as a highly effective intermediate step between a class lesson on buoyant force and a design challenge where students design a boat to float the largest load.
Last year, she also started using Reflex in grade 2 and in grades 5-8. She notes that even her eighth graders have had a lot of trouble with math facts but were of course too embarrassed to admit it. When she would approach the problem, she found they were "not inclined to do the awful, boring flash card type activities." With Reflex, however, she saw a real difference.
"Many problems were not ones of understanding grade 8 concepts, but rather errors resulting from incorrect math facts, or slow processing because of a lack of math fact fluency. Reflex definitely helped improve the students' confidence in math."
Stephanie has been part of the DSBN Academy design team for almost two years. While reviewing students' applications she came to realize that math was going to be a major focus area. Specifically, she noted that she would need help building their confidence in mathematics, and she thinks Reflex is the right tool to build that confidence. Ms. Minor has worked hard to ensure Reflex will be available for DSBN Academy teachers.
September 08, 2011
Anthony Armbrister: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Anthony Armbrister has been a mathematics educator in the Miami-Dade County Public School System for two decades, and for the last ten years he has served as a mathematics curriculum specialist/coach. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics and both an Educational Specialist degree and a Masters degree in Math Education.
He first experienced Gizmos in 2005 and immediately saw the value of simulations that bring math concepts to life. As the Mathematics Coach and Department Chair, he realized a great opportunity for Gizmos.
"…our department designated Computer Lab time for all our Intensive classes to utilize ExploreLearning.com as the lead web-based program for our struggling learners. The results speak for themselves. At least 80% of our lower quartile designated students made 'learning gains' as defined by the the state of Florida quantitative measure."
Concerning his own teaching, Mr. Armbrister points to Geoboard: The Pythagorean Theorem as a particularly useful Gizmo for teaching a traditionally difficult concept. He finds that simply stating that "a squared plus b squared equals c squared" isn't very meaningful to students. However, when they can visualize and then draw actual squares, the idea becomes concrete and easy to apply.
He combines the Geoboard Gizmo with a related physical activity. After his students have explored with the Gizmo, he has them use a protractor to draw a right triangle on construction paper. He then has them draw and cut out the squares of the triangle's sides, as they had learned about in the Gizmo. Then he has them cut up the two smaller squares to make them fit into the larger square, giving them physical proof of the theorem.
March 09, 2011
Trevor Tyner: Gizmo Educator of the Month
|Mr. Tyner demonstrating gas laws to his students.|
Trevor Tyner teaches science at Lake Worth High School in Palm Beach, Florida. In the past five years he has taught biology, chemistry, physics, marine, environmental, and integrated science. He dove into Gizmos as soon as his district started using them, and they fit very well into his lesson plans.
Mr. Tyner starts many of his lessons by explaining the basics of the material. He then extends that with a live demonstration of the concept and reinforces it by letting his students explore with Gizmos.
As an example, in his integrated science class unit on the solar system, he let his students delve into Gizmos such as Phases of the Moon and Seasons: Earth, Moon, and Sun to discover the effects of planetary bodies on moon phases, tides, and seasons.
He also demonstrated the lesson by gathering his students into the center of the room, giving them the perspective of the Earth, as he walked around (orbited) them while holding a volleyball (the moon). Trevor reports that this "first-hand" experience of moon phases, combined with independent learning from the Gizmos, tied all the concepts together into a lasting lesson for his students.
“I can get my kids to memorize information and regurgitate material, but getting them to really understand the concepts is always a challenge. Because the Gizmo allows each student to manipulate their own models, it's just like a scaled down science experiment. When they are actually able to perform the experiments themselves, they almost always have a more thorough understanding of the material.”
February 10, 2011
Amy Van Pelt: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Amy Van Pelt, a National Board Certified Teacher, has been teaching science in Arkansas for the past eight years; first in North Little Rock School District and now in Bentonville Public Schools. She received her board certification in Early Adolescent Science in 2007. She currently teaches 6th grade integrated science.
Mrs. Van Pelt's teaching style is to fuse hands-on labs with high-tech activities. When she attended a Gizmos training event in her district last year, she thought it would be only natural to incorporate Gizmos into each of her units.
When we asked her about how she uses Gizmos, Mrs. Van Pelt gave us a lot of interesting examples. She pointed to the Density Gizmo as a great tool for teaching that density is a characteristic property, and noted that she can easily differentiate the density lesson with this Gizmo. Students who quickly grasped the basics then move on to Density Experiment: Slice and Dice.
Her class voted the Forest Ecosystem Gizmo as their favorite. She uses this Gizmo to model the process of scientific inquiry, not as a rigid procedure, but as a flowchart of observations and ideas. She has the students play the role of scientists in real-world scenarios, such as becoming biologists collecting data and making observations to determine how a farm's use of fungicide might affect the local forest ecosystem.
“I asked the students what was it about Gizmos that most appealed to them. The first few answers were that Gizmos were fun interactive games, but with a bit more reflection students told me they enjoyed being able to manipulate situations, make decisions and predictions and receive immediate results and feedback.”
December 07, 2010
Kandy Froehlick: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Kandy Froehlick, also known to his students as "Mr. F" and "Fro," has been teaching since he graduated from University of Lethbridge in 1997. He teaches several high school science courses, plus Forensic Science, Paleontology and Marine Biology at Rimbey Junior/Senior High School in Alberta, Canada.
Three years ago, his assistant superintendent asked him to learn more about Gizmos and possibly become a trainer. When he got together with ExploreLearning's training consultant, he was really impressed with the product and became involved in training other Alberta educators. He has been using Gizmos in his classroom ever since.
Mr. F points to the Mouse Genetics Gizmo as a great way to effectively demonstrate genetics to his ninth graders. They can actually see how two black mice could produce white offspring, if the parents have recessive genes for white fur. His students can also learn about the probabilities of fur colors via Punnett square predictions and repeated trials. He reports that after using this Gizmo, assessment scores were higher than previous years on the same genetics quiz.
“Gizmos are absolutely great for showing the students ideas that are abstract or too impractical to collect the data. Everything from balancing chemical reactions and being able to see the molecules to food chains and being able to see how the numbers are affected generation after generation. Gizmos make concepts real and fun to learn.”
November 02, 2010
Donna Abbruzzese: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Donna Abbruzzese is an eighth grade science teacher at Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland, New York. She teaches with Gizmos in virtually every one of her class units.
Donna uses Gizmos with her eighth graders for everything from exploring characteristics of subatomic particles with Element Builder Gizmo to studying genetics and heredity with Mouse Genetics (Two Traits).
Donna makes good use of the Lesson Materials provided with each Gizmo. She frequently customizes the Student Exploration Sheets to students' abilities. Sometimes she has students load a Gizmo and an Exploration Sheet in two adjacent windows, and complete it as they work through the Gizmo. Students then upload completed assignments to her in electronic format.
“Using the exploration guides, I find that Gizmos are easily adapted and customized for my students. Differentiation is seamless as each guide is separated into different activities, each building on the concept development and understanding. Students are able to follow the guides with ease and respond well to the questions posed.”
Take a look at the wealth of contributions Donna has made to the ExploreLearning Community. From her insightful Gizmo Recommendations to her resourceful user Contributed Lesson Materials, Donna provides lots of ideas for other teachers on ways to incorporate Gizmos into effective science teaching.
October 05, 2010
Kristy McElhinny: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Kristy McElhinny is a high school biology teacher in Afton, New York. She uses Gizmos with ninth through twelfth graders in Regents Biology class and Advanced Biology electives.
A few years ago, a colleague introduced Kristy to the Photosynthesis Lab Gizmo. She was so impressed, she worked with her district to bring Gizmos to her entire school. Since then, she has given presentations to other teachers on Gizmos and has become a very active contributor within the website's online community.
Kristy says that Gizmos have revolutionized the way she teaches. Her school does not have the equipment to run complex or lengthy biology experiments, and Gizmos open up those realms to her classes. She points to not just Photosynthesis Lab, but also such diverse Gizmos as Greenhouse Effect and Circulatory System. But it's not just the new teaching opportunities she appreciates:
“My favorite part of using Gizmos is how engaging it is to the students. Instead of just telling them, 'if you add snakes to an ecosystem, the hawks will increase and the rabbits will decrease,' they can use trial and error to discover these concepts themselves. Students learn by doing and with Gizmos, there is so much more that they can do.”
Take a look at the wealth of Gizmo Recommendations and Lesson Materials Kristy has contributed to ExploreLearning.com. She has adapted our Lesson Materials to her students' ability levels, and she has shared many of her favorite Gizmos with the ExploreLearning Community.
September 07, 2010
Wayne Worthley: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Wayne Worthley has been teaching science at Redland Middle School in Florida's Miami-Dade County Public Schools for fifteen years. He teaches several mainstream science sections and vocational agri-science, and he has been using Gizmos since Miami-Dade first partnered with ExploreLearning in 2006.
Although Wayne uses Gizmos in a variety of ways, a favorite is to incorporate Gizmos into his curriculum as reinforcement. He believes Gizmos really help students gain a deeper understanding of science concepts covered by the Florida standards and their science textbook. Wayne often has half of his class work on understanding concepts through Gizmos and the other half through lab activities or writing assignments. This way, students are engaged in a variety of activities to study, and they can break up a long two-hour class period.
Wayne also shared the outstanding results he has seen in his students using Gizmos in preparation for their 2009 science FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test).
“In 2009, I taught about 75 students in Earth Space Science. About 67% of them scored a three or better on the 8th grade science FCAT (state average was only 41%), and I attribute much of their success to the many science Gizmos that they were exposed to that year.”
Wayne especially appreciates the Earth and Space Science Gizmos. His favorite is the Seasons: Earth, Moon, and Sun Gizmo because it visually explains concepts such as day length, sunrise and sunset, temperature, and seasonal change, which are really difficult without great models. Wayne has students use the Gizmo to observe from the perspective of a point near a pole, then run a simulation of a 24-hour period. Students can directly compare the sun's position on the horizon with the alignment of the bodies in space. Even though he also shows them videos of the phenomenan in Barrow, Alaska, he says that students are amazed to watch the Gizmo's simulation of perpetual summer daylight and perpetual winter night.
May 04, 2010
Jacob Hesselschwardt: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Jacob Hesselschwardt is our May Educator of the Month. Mr. H. (as he is known to his students) teaches Middle School math in Bossier City, Louisiana. He uses Gizmos in classes ranging from 6th grade math to Algebra. Jacob has contributed one lesson material and seven Gizmo recommendations as part of the ExploreLearning Community.
Jacob had this to say about Gizmos: "ExploreLearning Gizmos are fantastic online, virtual manipulatives for facilitating discovery based learning in mathematics and science. Students are able to get a deeper, more personal knowledge of the content through explorations with the Gizmos than what they can through simply using textbooks and workbooks."
Jacob's contributed lesson is for the Fraction Artist Gizmo, a popular Gizmo on our site. Since Jacob teaches at the Middle School level and his students are computer savvy, he modified the Student Exploration Sheet to allow insertion of student-developed fraction scenarios as screen shots. Jacob's students are used to completing assignments directly on the computer and then submitting them electronically to him via the school's intranet.
March 02, 2010
Sue Bridgman: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Sue Bridgman is our Gizmo Educator of the Month for March. She teaches grades 7-12 math, and other subjects as well, in Osborn, MO. She uses Gizmos for every level of math from 7th grade through Algebra II. Sue has contributed two lessons, and three Gizmo recommendations as part of the ExploreLearning Community.
Sue’s contributed lesson materials are for the Distance-Time Graphs Gizmo, one of the more popular Gizmos on our site. Sue actually uses this Gizmo in all of her math classes, by varying the focus of the lesson.
The first lesson is a pre-Gizmo warm-up lesson. It starts with a set of questions to introduce the concept of slope. The last question on this warm-up is “Is it possible to make a graph of distance versus time in which the resulting graph is a circle?” This encourages students to think about functions, and the meaning of this distance-vs-time graph.
Her second lesson with this Gizmo is a more advanced activity, which she uses with her algebra students. The lesson has students set up various graphs using both runners (a system of two linear functions). Students then are asked to create runners’ graphs from hypothetical equations of lines, find the equations of lines shown in graphs copied from the Gizmo, and solve systems of equations and demonstrate the solutions on the runners’ graphs.
February 02, 2010
Dan Bruni: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Dan Bruni, our Gizmo Educator of the Month for February, has taught Physics, Biology, Earth Science, and more in Ontario’s York Catholic District School Board for six years. Dan uses Gizmos frequently to enhance and extend the curriculum in all of his classes, and for cross-curricular learning, linking the science to mathematics concepts. Dan has contributed Lesson Materials for three Gizmos, three Shared Class Gizmo Lists and a Gizmo recommendation.
Dan believes that being an active part of the ExploreLearning Community really helps educators enhance their teaching experience with Gizmos. "Using this pool of knowledge provides educators with accessible Professional Development to help them incorporate technology into their curriculum."
The Free Fall Laboratory Gizmo is one of Dan's favorite Gizmos. The Gizmo is designed to help students investigate the motion of an object as it falls to the ground. Students can explore many of the variables at work and view scientific data in vectors, graphs, and numerical tables. Dan’s Lesson Materials for this Gizmo showcase the extension of the scientific scenarios in the Free Fall Laboratory Gizmo into advanced math, by working with the equations of the resulting graphs. It even ties in derivatives. That’s cool!
January 05, 2010
Richard Feay: Gizmo Educator of the Month
Richard Feay is our first Gizmo Educator of the Month. His love of Gizmos is infectious. Richard is a former teacher who just retired as a Tech Integration Coach for LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified). He has used Gizmos with students for years in the classroom, and he has spread the word to other educators during professional development and training sessions. Richard put things in perspective this way,
"I have always wanted to shout from the rooftops about my favorite Gizmos - and the new site features enable me to do just that - plus I get to see what others are doing."
Richard is a top contributor using the Community Features at ExploreLearning.com. He has submitted 6 Shared Class Gizmo Lists and 6 Gizmo Recommendations, which would benefit math and science teachers from grade 3 all the way through high school!
So, what are the top Gizmo picks of our Educator of the Month?
The Systems of Linear Equations - Activity A Gizmo is great for helping students visualize this difficult algebra concept. They can actually manipulate the variables and constants within the two equations and immediately see the effects of changes - and finally say "Now I understand!"
The Element Builder Gizmo allows students to build atoms by adding protons, neutrons, and electrons. As they do this, the element symbol, atomic number, mass number, charge, and electron dot diagram can be displayed.
June 05, 2009
Case Study: An Interview with Charlene Cooper
Charlene teaches 6th grade Physical Science at Rusheon Middle School in Bossier City, Louisiana. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Early Adolescent Science, and is currently in her 9th year of teaching middle school science.
We are very grateful that Charlene could spare some time to talk to us about Gizmos!
Let's learn more about how Charlene uses Gizmos in her teaching by asking her a few questions:
How did you first hear about ExploreLearning?
A math teacher in my school was investigating virtual manipulatives when he came across ExploreLearning. He was very excited to share the site with me!
What were your first impressions of the site and Gizmos when you got access to ExploreLearning.com? What keeps you using Gizmos?
At first, I was very impressed at how user friendly the site was. As I started to explore the Gizmos more, I was impressed with the content and how applicable it was to our current curriculum. I was also excited with what the site could offer my students in terms of manipulating variables in a way that could allow them to easily test and retest their hypothesis.
How do you use Gizmos in class? (For example, do students work individually on computers? In pairs? Do you use Gizmos as a demo for the whole class? Do you assign Gizmos as homework?)
I am able to use Gizmos in a variety of ways for my students. I can use Gizmos to help introduce a new concept, reinforce what we are currently studying, or as an enrichment. My favorite way to use Gizmos is in conjunction with a hands on activity! I can use the Gizmo before or after a hands on activity to enrich what we are studying - this helps my students to really develop their science process skills!
If you've used other technology and/or teaching methods to cover some of the same math concepts, how do you find that Gizmos help you cover the topic more quickly/easily/more effectively?
Gizmos allow my students to become actively involved in their learning - they are able to manipulate variables, and collect data as they investigate key concepts in physical science. My students have had much more success in making connections to key concepts and real life.
How do your students respond to Gizmos?
We work on Gizmos on a weekly basis – our day to use the computer lab is on a Wednesday. My students always tell me that they can't wait to go to the lab! I've also had positive comments from parents...they tell me that their child has shared the Gizmos with them at home. What I really love to hear is that the students are teaching their parents by going through the Gizmos with them at home!!
Describe the technology setup in which you use Gizmos. (e.g., Networked classroom? How many computers? Laptops and/or Carts? Projector? Interactive whiteboard?)
We are fortunate in our school that we have a computer lab dedicated to science. In our lab we have 35 computers, and a Promethean ActivBoard. My students visit the lab every Wednesday for ExploreLearning.
What Gizmo did you have the most success (and/or fun and/or satisfaction) teaching with?
What was it about these Gizmos that made the lessons successful?
In the Circuit Builder Gizmo, students were challenged to create a circuit that would make a light bulb light up. After they investigated and practiced this with their Gizmos, they were given the same real components and they applied what they learned to make a real light bulb light. The students enjoyed the Mineral Identification Gizmo because as they went through each mineral, they found that they were improving how they took their data and then identified the mineral based on the data. I like this Gizmo because it reinforced density and important science process skills. The Growing Plants Gizmo helped reinforce the importance of proper experimental design. As they progressed through this Gizmo, students were able to understand why they should only change one variable at a time.
Have you any evidence that you’d like to share on the impact of Gizmos on student learning in your classes?
I have seen an increase in student interest level in science. My students this year are more inclined to look for more information on their science topics. For example, we completed the Measuring Motion Gizmo where students measure the speed of different animals. This Gizmo sparked so much curiosity that my students started investigating these animals to find out more information on how fast (or slow) they were in real life. Although I was not planning it, this became an opportunity for students to share their findings and then compare their research with what they learned from the Gizmo.
Do you have any other comments or statements that you’d like to make about Gizmos?
As a middle school science teacher, I strive to build science confidence in my students. I don't want for any of my students to feel that they are "not good at science." Gizmos have helped students to develop their understanding of science. Students are able to see that if they don't understand something in science, they can design an experiment in a way to help make sense of their questions. As one young lady sat at her computer working on the Mineral Identification Gizmo, I noticed that she was really strengthening her science process skills and understanding how to identify the mineral based on her data. I commented that she had correctly identified her last 6 minerals and she said to me, ”Mrs. Cooper, I finally found something that I am good at!” I have a deep appreciation for the way that Gizmos have helped me build confident science students!