January 23, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Disease Spread

379DET“Ah-choo!” Almost at the peak of flu season, it seems like everywhere you turn there is a cough here or a sniffle there. But why is that? What causes so many people to get sick during the winter season?

Using the Disease Spread Gizmo, students can explore the various ways diseases are transmitted, including person-to-person, airborne, and foodborne. The probability of each form of transmission and number of people in the group can also be adjusted.

As an extension to this lesson, encourage students to read about Daniel Streicker, the 2013 winner of the Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists. His novel research used viral infections in bats to help answer questions about how infectious diseases jump between species.  Read More

Posted by Heather Jones at 03:10 PM in Quick Tips, Science, Using Gizmos | Permalink

December 16, 2013

Gizmo of the Week: Road Trip (Problem Solving)

While holiday road trips have changed tremendously over the past 20 years with the addition of GPS, cell phones, and computer car systems, there’s still a lot of planning that goes into these family journeys. Where will we stop? When will we need gas? Whose car should we take?

1036DETThe popular Road Trip (Problem Solving) Gizmo allows students to map their winter travels plans or create their own imaginary holiday journey using mathematics and critical thinking skills. First, students choose a vehicle to drive, and then fill up the tank with gas and go! Students solve real world problems like comparing gas mileages of different vehicles, discovering the shortest path between two cities, and planning a budget for their trip. When students are complete, they can share their holiday trips with their friends.

Happy holidays and safe travels!

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:12 AM in Math (Real World), Quick Tips, Travel, Using Gizmos | Permalink

December 11, 2013

Expert Corner: Whole Group Instruction- Part III

LauraLaura Chervenak has been with ExploreLearning since 2010 as the VP of Professional Development. She has taught high school science, and is the founder and former director of GOAL Digital Academy. Laura is National Board Certified in Science/Adolescence and Young Adulthood, with a B.A. in Zoology and an M.S. in Anthropology.


In the past two EL newsletters, we presented ideas for how to plan whole group instruction. Here’s a video of a teacher using some of these techniques:


With the Mineral Identification Gizmo, students are engaged in learning as they test various mineral properties and analyze data using a key. The teacher models best practice by asking students to verbalize their thinking, justify answers, and explain their thought processes to other students in the class. These types of questioning techniques lead to a deeper understanding of the science content and practices.

In January, we’ll be back to talk about how to make your lessons student-centric.

Have a great winter break!

Posted by Heather Jones at 02:28 PM in Implementation Ideas, Quick Tips, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 09, 2013

Gizmo of the Week: Seasons: Earth, Moon, and Sun

468DETWhile the upcoming December solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, it is not necessarily the earliest sunset. For most locations in the middle latitudes, the earliest sunset occurs a few weeks earlier than the solstice. This occurs because the exact time of solar noon varies slightly throughout the year. At this time of year, solar noon is a bit earlier than on the solstice, resulting in an earlier sunset. (Similarly, the latest sunrise will occur in early January.)

You can observe sunrise and sunset at any date and location with the Seasons: Earth, Moon, and Sun Gizmo. Use the 2D VIEW tab to observe the Sun’s path, or observe sunrise and sunset indirectly with the DAY GRAPH or SHADOWS tabs. You can use the “Step” button and the slowest speed to find the exact times of sunrise, sunset, and solar noon.

Posted by Heather Jones at 08:48 AM in Quick Tips, Using Gizmos | Permalink

December 02, 2013

Gizmo of the Week: Roots of a Quadratic

Any time you need to solve an equa154DETtion that involves both x and the square of x, it is usually necessary to move everything to one side and find the roots (or solutions) of a quadratic equation in the form ax2 + bx + c = 0. While many quadratic equations can be solved by factoring, often the best way to find the answer is to use the quadratic formula.

The Roots of a Quadratic Gizmo is a great introduction to solving quadratics because it demonstrates that the solutions of a quadratic equation are equal to the x-intercepts of the parabola of the corresponding quadratic function. Students can use the Gizmo to find the axis of symmetry, calculate the discriminant to find the number of real roots, and practice using the quadratic formula to find both real and complex roots for quadratic equations. Be sure to go through the derivation of the quadratic formula with your class, which is found in the Teacher Guide for this Gizmo.

Posted by Heather Jones at 08:43 AM in Quick Tips, Using Gizmos | Permalink

November 25, 2013

Gizmo of the Week: Levers

646DETTurkey day is almost here! In the US, it’s time to visit family, give thanks, and eat way too much food. If you enter “turkey” into the ExploreLearning search window, you will find one Gizmo: Levers. What do levers have to do with turkeys? In the Gizmo, a carnival strongman can lift up a turkey, a pig, or a sheep using a lever. You can move the strongman and fulcrum to create a first, second, or third-class lever. Using the Gizmo, students can quickly see that the strongman gains advantage by moving himself farther from the fulcrum and placing the animal closer to the fulcrum.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by Heather Jones at 08:52 AM in Quick Tips, Using Gizmos | Permalink

November 13, 2013

Expert Corner: Whole Group Instruction- Part II

Laura Chervenak PicLaura Chervenak has been with ExploreLearning since 2010 as the VP of Professional Development. She has taught high school science, and is the founder and former director of GOAL Digital Academy. Laura is National Board Certified in Science/Adolescence and Young Adulthood, with a B.A. in Zoology and an M.S. in Anthropology.


We all know that deliberate and careful lesson preparation can separate an okay lesson from one that is vibrant and effective. But teachers don’t have hours to review materials and make decisions about instructional strategies. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day!

VideoTo help busy teachers get the most out of their lessons, ExploreLearning Gizmos provide a suite of materials to help streamline the preparation process. To provide an example of how I would plan a lesson, I selected the Gizmo, Measuring Motion, and created a video as I prepared my lessons. In this 10-minute video, you can watch as I “think out loud” during the planning.

My entire preparation took about 20 minutes and I finished with a 3-day series of lessons, combining the Gizmo, textbook exercises, and assessment activities. My thought process is outlined below, but you should watch the video and review the finished whole-class instruction script for more details.

When using whole-class instruction with Gizmos, you want to make sure that you use standard classroom best practices for whole-class instruction. Be sure to “chunk” your material in short segments. This will give your students lots of opportunities to be active participants. They can do so either by volunteering, or by using participation techniques like Think-Pair-Share, QuickWrites, and individual response systems (electronic or whiteboard). Design your questions ahead of time within a whole-class instruction script. You will want to include questions across all six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, scaffolding as you progress through the lesson. Be sure to identify formative instruction strategies that you will use to see how students are doing as they work to master the standard(s).

The important steps to follow as you plan your Gizmo lesson:

1. Identify the standards you are teaching and select an appropriate Gizmo.

2. Preview the Gizmo while referencing the Student Exploration Sheet Answer Key.

3. Decide how you will use the Gizmo to address the standard(s). Does the Gizmo make a good introduction to engage the student and allow them to construct meaning for themselves? Or would you rather use the Gizmo to explain the concept and provide students with practice?

4. Utilize the Student Exploration Sheet, Teacher Guide, and Vocabulary Sheet to plan the whole-class instruction script. Remember, each of these is easily customizable to meet the individual needs of all your students.

Please share your comments or questions about lesson planning for whole-class instruction. 

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:55 AM in Implementation Ideas, Quick Tips, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 03, 2010

Gizmo demo movies are live!

Who says that all the blockbuster summertime movie action is only taking place on the big screen?

We're happy to announce that all 80 Gizmos with the "purple bar on the left side" appearance have a demo movie!

These Gizmo demo movies are quick (~3 minute) how-to movies that show you what each Gizmo can do, and how you can interact with it.  The movies don't teach the lesson (see the Lesson Materials or Exploration Guide for that), but they should help get you comfortable with that Gizmo.

Demo movies come with voice-over narration, so be sure you have your sound turned on.  (We recommend using headphones if in a lab setting.)

Movies are appropriate for teachers or students.

To access the demo movie, click on the "Demo" button in the purple bar, at the lower left corner of the Gizmo.


Posted by Dan at 03:57 PM in Help (User Support), Quick Tips, Site Announcements, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

April 16, 2009

Gizmo demo movies - elementary science - done!

It's been a long time coming, but at long last, every elementary science Gizmo has a demo movie!  (That's 40 of them, if you're keeping score at home.)

The "movies" are short (about 2 minutes each) and have a simple "how-to" approach. They show how to use the basic features in the Gizmo. If students are brand-new to a Gizmo, the demo movie would be a nice brief introduction to it.

The movies feature a voice-over, so be sure audio is turned on before watching.  (In a lab setting, you probably either want to project it for the whole class to watch and listen to, or have students use headphones.)

To see a demo movie, click on the "demo" icon at the bottom left corner of the Gizmo, in the purple bar, as shown below.


(Note: Demo movies will only appear in elementary-level Gizmos - the ones with the purple bar on the left side.)

Tip: To find the 40 elementary science Gizmos, either click "Browse Gizmos" and browse through the grade 3-5 science offerings, or just type "elementary science" (without the quotes) in the search field.

Enjoy!  We hope these are useful for both teachers and students.

By the way, the elementary math Gizmo demo movies will now slowly start appearing also!  We hope to have all 40 of them complete by the end of 2009.

Posted by Dan at 02:40 PM in Help (User Support), Quick Tips, Site Announcements, Training and Professional Development | Permalink

October 28, 2005

How do I get the most out of Gizmos?

ExploreLearning Gizmos are great learning tools, but how you get the most out of them? How do you make time spent with a Gizmo effective learning time for your students? These are questions we've heard a lot from teachers, and they are crucial questions.  No tool automatically causes students to learn.What approaches seem to work for a lesson using Gizmos?

We've put together three documents that we hope will help answer those questions.

Posted by Dan at 03:05 PM in Help (User Support), Quick Tips, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 30, 2004

Using the Gizmo Screen-Capture Feature

Did you know that all the ExploreLearning Gizmos have a nifty screen-capture feature, built in? With only a couple clicks, you can place a custom, professional-looking image, taken from a Gizmo, into your worksheets, quizzes, and tests!

Here are some sample quizzes we created, with help from the Gizmo snapshot feature:

Here's how to do it:

Step 1 – Set the Gizmo up however you want.

Any snapshot you take of a Gizmo will capture the current state of the Gizmo. So, anything you can set up in a Gizmo can also become a snapshot!

Step 2 – Take the "snapshot"

copy screen button
fig. 1

To take a snapshot of the entire Gizmo, click the "Copy Screen" [fig. 1] button at the bottom of the Gizmo.

camera icon
fig. 2

Many Gizmos also give you the option of taking a snapshot of just a portion of the Gizmo, like a graph, bar chart, etc. To copy the snapshot area, click on the camera icon (fig. 2).

copy screen icon
fig. 3

(Note: In our older Gizmos, click the icon shown in Figure 3 to take a snapshot of the entire Gizmo, or click the clipboard icon [Figure 4] to capture the snapshot area of the Gizmo.)

Now the snapshot is stored on your computer's clipboard.

copy region icon
fig. 4

Step 3 – Paste the snapshot

Open a word processing document, such as a Microsoft Word file, place your cursor where you'd like the snapshot to go, and paste it.

Step 4 (optional) – Edit the snapshot

As with any other image, you can use the graphics tools in your word processor to resize, position, crop, etc. the Gizmo snapshot.

size handles
fig. 5

Resizing tip: To resize the image, first click on the image once to select it. You will see some "handles" along the edges of the snapshot. Clicking and dragging those handles resizes the image. If you drag a handle on a corner of the image (the cursor will become a double-headed arror, e.g., fig 5), it will retain its correct proportions. If you drag a handle on the middle of one of the sides of the image, it will become distorted.


The best thing about the screen capture feature is how easy it makes it to merge the virtual manipulative world of Gizmos with the traditional, paper-based world of handouts, worksheets, and quizzes that are part of every teacher's repertoire. Students, too, can make use of the screen-capture feature as part of homework or reports that they turn in.

Posted by ExploreLearning at 02:48 PM in Help (User Support), Quick Tips, Using Gizmos | Permalink