January 10, 2011

A Great Year for Gizmos

Training We stepped back to look at what we had accomplished in 2010, and we found it was a banner year for Gizmos!

Last year our dedicated Professional Development staff trained almost 14,000 teachers. They either took part in one of our recommended initial training sessions or helped build their ability to integrate Gizmos into their curriculum. These customized programs of support now include onsite consultations, curriculum alignment assistance, and project management services. Visit our Training page for more information. 

Gizmos are now helping to improve instruction in classrooms all over the world. We are in all 50 U.S. states and more than thirty other countries. We hope 2011 will be even better!

Posted by Ed Pastore at 10:24 AM in Our History, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

January 09, 2007

ExploreLearning a 2007 CODiE Awards Finalist

We are very honored to announce that ExploreLearning is Finalist in the 2007 CODiE Awards in the category of "Best Science Instruction Solution". ExploreLearning was the winner in this category in 2006 and was a Finalist for "Best Instructional Solution: Mathematics" and "Best Instructional Solution: Web-based or Online".

Presented by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), the CODiE Awards celebrate achievement and vision in software, education technology and digital content. The CODiE Awards hold the distinction of being the only peer-recognition awards program of its kind in the industry, providing a unique opportunity for companies to earn the praise of their competitors.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 08:31 AM in Our History | Permalink

December 13, 2006

Scientific Classics

The end of the year has arrived for the Gizmo coders! During 2006 the two main goals were 1) to update the important "Classic" science Gizmos, and to build new Gizmos to broaden our collection in the sciences.

The Classic Gizmos were created many years ago (some as far back as 1997). Several that we updated include: Shoot The Monkey, Inclined Plane, Density Lab, Air Track, and Doppler Shift. Several screen shots comparing the Classic Gizmo to the modernized Gizmos are shown below. Needless to say, we are excited about the new and improved versions. Besides just the graphical enhancement, a tremendous amount of work went in to improving the overall user friendliness and the feature set of each Gizmo.

Compare appearance of classic and modern Gizmos

Our other goal was to increase our coverage in the sciences. Several of our new Gizmos include Phase Change, Pulley, Refraction, Star Spectra, Evolution: Natural and Artificial Selection, RNA and Protein Synthesis, and Orbital Motion - Kepler's Laws.

All in all we modernized 20 Gizmos, and created 22 new Gizmos. It has been a very busy year and we are looking forward to creating a wealth of new Gizmos next year. We always hope you are finding the Gizmos a great benefit to your teaching. We love getting feedback from teachers so that we can continue to make improvements to current Gizmos, as well as make new Gizmos from your ideas.

We are looking forward to an exciting 2007, and we hope you are as well. See you then.

Posted by Raman at 11:33 AM in Our History, Site Announcements | Permalink

December 28, 2005

Ten years ago today...the first Gizmo!

One decade ago I was a graduate student studying radioactive nuclear beams. These were the early days of the web. Netscape 2 was in beta form and was loose on the web. It was the first browser to support the new technology called plug-ins. Plug-ins allowed content other than text and images to be put on the web and viewed within the browser window. Netscape was waking up the web.

Netscape 2 startup screen
Startup screen of Netscape 2.

In December 1995 I heard about the Shockwave plug-in that was getting ready to be released. I got rather excited, since I’d played with the multimedia program called Macromedia Director 4 a year earlier when working on a “future of the education and the web” project for an education course I was taking (unbeknownst to my advisor). The web had started to bore me by 1995 with the text/image limitations. Being able to bring full multimedia to it sounded sweet.

Made with Macromedia logo
Logo associated with Macromedia Shockwave content.

During the holiday break I wanted to re-learn Director, and the programming language associated with it. I sat down and tried to create something that would help in a physics class I was teaching that semester.

On December 28, 1995 I walked in to work and showed my first “Gizmo” to a few people that were there that day (things were pretty slow during the holiday break - but physicists always seem to be at work). No one seemed really excited by it, but I thought it was cool. In between experiments at the Cyclotron I started putting together a few more of these web-based simulations, and putting them up on a website.

First shocked science
Image of my first Shockwave creation, December 28, 1995.

The original URL of the site was http://www.nscl.msu.edu/cycrip/science/ and it sat on a cute little Mac IIsi on the desk in my office running MacHTTP to serve the content to the world. Two weeks later I had three Gizmos up on my site.

First version of explorescience
Site on Feb 10, 1995.

An inclined plane, a reflex tester, and an air track. The oldest version of the site I still have on an old CD is from February 18, 1996. A week later a fourth Gizmo was added - a density lab. Three of the four Gizmos still work despite the changes in technology since then (what did you have on your desk in 1995?). They run rather quickly, since I never worried about gigahertz computers back then.

Old version of ExploreScience
View of the site on Feb 18, 1996.

In mid-January (just three weeks after putting the site up) I got an email where someone was interested in paying me to develop more educational multimedia using Shockwave. They had never seen anything like it before on the web. As a poor graduate student I jumped at the chance to earn some spare cash.

My career was taking a turn, but it wasn’t easy to see at the time.

My research continued and eventually became a thesis (1.3 meg PDF). That thesis led to a post-doc position and eventually to a faculty position. During this time I continued to play with my site in my spare time. When first hosting the site on the Mac IIsi the stats files started filling up the hard drive every night (I think it had a 10 meg hard drive…don’t remember for sure). If I didn’t remove the stats file every day the computer hard drive would fill up and a bad crash was the result. The site was moved to http://www.ppsa.com/science/ during 1996. In 1997 the site got its own URL of http://www.ExploreScience.com.

ExploreScience chooser bar in 1997
main explorescience logo in 1996
Logos from the site in 1996-1997.

The number of visitors continued to increase. In 1997 the web was really starting to explode and the site continued to receive awards. My fifteen minutes of fame had begun. My favorite of all time was the review by Yahoo when I was one of the picks of the week (March 9, 1998).

You cross the line and tumble into a shocking world of science gone mad. Raman Pfaff, mild-mannered scientist, has trapped, untangled, and illustrated the laws of physics. His creation: Explore Science — a shockwave-laden experience of sights, sounds, and interaction with scientific theory. Observe harmonic motion, mouse genetics, and the physics of golf. Abandon, if you dare, the world of two-dimensional textbook illustrations, and enter Raman Pfaff’s interactive world. Reality begins to swirl, dance, and coalesce…

The site was included in numerous magazines and newspapers including USA Today and Popular Science, and recognized on many sites such as Exploratorium, Yahoo, and ENC. It even made it into the Sunday Comics section of many national newspapers one weekend in 1998.

award in 1998 for ExploreScience
An award from Exploratorium.

Time continued to roll along. I was a professor with a joint appointment in the physics and education departments of a small university. Due to some unfortunate situations, I was having to teach a double course load, as well as take part in a reaccreditation process.

In the middle of that year I heard from someone that was trying to get a startup company going. The web was still in startup mode and many people had creative ideas. The new company would create math and science content for the web. Right up my alley. At this same time came another potential academic job at a school I really liked (a place that gets snow!).

The wheel of life was turning a bit more quickly.

Decision time came and the startup company was the choice. That was in 1999. Right about then the web had reached a "bubble" and the money stopped flowing to web-based companies. For six years we continued to be the “roaches of the internet.” No one could get rid of us no matter how hard they tried. My multimedia skills continued to improve and hundreds of Gizmos have made it on to the company site.

In March 2005 a really large company bought our tiny little company. My fifteen minutes of fame has ended (or is almost over). The academic world seems far away, as are the days of being a graduate student.

me in news story from Daily Progress
Image from Daily Progress article.

It is amazing what one little plug-in can do to your life. The day of December 28, 1995 has shaped my life for the past decade.I wonder what tomorrow will bring. Or the next decade. I constantly play with new technologies. Will one of them have as much influence as the Shockwave plug-in on that one day ten years ago?

I hope so.

Posted by Raman at 01:57 PM in Our History | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 13, 2004

ExploreLearning Awarded SBIR Phase II Grant

NSF logoWe are pleased to announce that, as of late yesterday, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded ExploreLearning a SBIR Phase II grant. The "formal" title of the project is called "Modular Online Simulations for Math and Science with Integrated Assessment of Complex, Standards-Aligned Learning Objectives."

For a translation of this mouthful, I turned to ExploreLearning’s very own Paul Cholmsky who will serve as the grant’s Principal Investigator:

With this SBIR grant, we hope to revolutionize assessment in math and science the same way ExploreLearning Gizmos™ are revolutionizing instruction. The grant will help us to develop the next generation of Gizmos which will be able to "think" -- they'll be able to determine what a student knows or doesn't know, automatically tailor subsequent instruction to best meet the needs of the student at a given point in time, and then generate progress reports for students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Better yet, says Paul:

With today's ever increasing emphasis on measurability and accountability, this new product will also automatically customize itself for the applicable state curriculum standards in order to provide each student with a clear roadmap for succeeding on NCLB-mandated tests."

CONGRATULATIONS and a pat on our own backs for this super feat! Of course, now the hard work (or is it the fun?) begins. In either case, we’ll be rolling up our sleeves and putting our noses to the grindstone! After we celebrate, that is, with some gelato from Charlottesville’s newest downtown eatery.

Posted by Michael Latsko at 01:00 PM in Edu/Tech, Our History, Press Clippings, Site Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 03, 2003

One Mouse Click

On Friday afternoon (Oct. 31, 2003) I was invited to click a mouse. Most of the time I would never think much about such a tiny thing as one mouse click, but with just one click, I shut down the ExploreScience web site.

And with that one mouse click, as the creator of the original ExploreScience website, I closed a major chapter of my life while opening another.

The History of ExploreScience

I sat down during Christmas break and learned enough Lingo (the programming language associated with Macromedia Director) to create my very first Gizmo. ExploreScience was born on December 27, 1995. It sat on my desk at the NSCL on a Mac IIsi with a 20 meg hard drive, 4 meg of RAM, and a URL of cycrip.nscl.msu.edu (does anyone remember my site back then?). My one Gizmo may have been the very first Shockwave-based simulation on the entire web! It only took three days for my first site visitor to show up in the log file.

The site rapidly grew during the years. It won awards. Thousands of people would visit the site every day. After millions of visitors and eight years, I clicked the mouse. I may have been the very last visitor to ExploreScience. It was a bit sad. Trying to go to the site now redirects you to the brand new ExploreLearning site which offers one Gizmo each day, or subscription services which have a wealth of features and hundreds of Gizmos.

Why did I click the mouse?

Many years ago the web was a different place. Scientists were using it to transfer information quickly. Since then maintaining a web site has become far more complex than just running one program (does anyone remember starting a full web site with one mouse click in MacHTTP?). Hosting costs continue to increase. Free time is limited. There are many small reasons why I clicked, but the biggest reason is because I care about quality in education.

It takes more than just one person to create a site that is developed with educational standards in mind, quality assurance of Gizmos gets done, and instructions for middle school, high school, and college students are complete and matched to standards. Peer review of the full functionality of Gizmos is key to effective use in the classroom. Research on that effectiveness is important. One person can not do all of this for hundreds and hundreds of Gizmos. One person can't do that many things in their spare time.

ExploreLearning has put together an amazing team since I first joined four years and three months ago.
In 1995 I was a graduate student learning all about the ins and outs of radioactive nuclear beams at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL). I had started taking a few courses offered in the Education Department and my interest in educational technology was rapidly growing. I began to explore some of the multimedia tools available at the time, and had been web-browsing since 1993.

When the Shockwave Plug-in was released late in 1995, multimedia and the web merged, and I saw a tremendous potential for use in education.

With this team we can create great Gizmos, and provide a beautiful web site. We all care about education, and want to create a great product. If we could put it out on the web for free we would, but we can't. ExploreLearning is a full time job and we work long hours to create some amazing stuff. I clicked on the mouse and ExploreScience is no longer on the web, but ExploreLearning is now charging ahead at a rapid pace that has just begun.

Some amazing things are planned in the future. My very first Gizmo was very simple compared to what our team is currently creating, and I am just glad to be a part of the new ExploreLearning site.

Every time I create a Gizmo it is hard to say what will happen in the future. I still feel that excitement when I take part in the creation of a great Gizmo. I love seeing students and teachers learn something from the Gizmo. ExploreScience will still be in my mind years from now, but I have a feeling far more people will think of ExploreLearning when they think of education on the web. I can't wait to see ExploreLearning eight years from now. I'm just one part of a team that feels the same way!

Did you ever think one mouse click was that important?

Posted by Raman at 01:03 AM in Edu/Tech, Our History | Permalink | Comments (2)