December 02, 2013
Gizmos Support Science Understanding in English Language Learners
Science class can be frustrating for English Language Learners (ELL). When teachers build on concepts in the science curriculum, they use complex vocabulary and often rely on students' background knowledge. Providing rich visual support and modeling during instruction has been shown to be a highly effective strategy in supporting students' understanding of science concepts. The use of Gizmos can help students connect concepts and vocabulary to real-world experiences, providing a bridge to learning between languages.
A Texas Science Coordinator agrees. She explains:
"Using Gizmos for ELLs is one of the best way to show a nonlinguistic representation of any science content/topics. Students enjoy the manipulation of variables and have the ability to communicate using pictures to the teachers with the simulations. Students see science content in a vivid and relevant way to help them increase their scientific literacy."
Gizmos' easily customizable lesson materials and vocabulary sheets provide students the opportunity to build on prior knowledge and communicate scientific content using multiple modes of representation (e.g. discussions, pictures, models, writing, graphs).
After attending a recent Initial Training Workshop, this is what one Memphis high school teacher had to say:
"The student body at the school I teach at consists majorly of ESL [English as a Second Language] students, and I definitely believe that Gizmos will assist my ESL students to better understand the concepts taught in science class, in which language can be a barrier for student comprehension."
Explore Gizmos today to see how they can help you transform learning for your ELL students.
November 13, 2013
Educator of the Month: Larissa Jackson
Larissa Jackson has been teaching for 17 years. Mrs. Jackson currently teaches Biology at a Title I high school in Shelby County Schools, TN.
Many of Mrs. Jackson's science computer lab sessions involve Gizmos. When she’s not using the computer lab, she has students engage with Gizmos on an interactive whiteboard during whole-class instruction. After her first year of using Gizmos in her lessons, she saw remarkable results. Her Biology students’ proficiency scores more than doubled! She attributes this success to the unique learning design Gizmos provide. Not only are students excited about using Gizmos in her class, they are deeply engaged in the content because of Gizmos. She explains:
“Because my students are such visual and kinesthetic learners, I was able to reinforce my lessons in a way that I hadn't previously. I also like the way Gizmos require students to make predictions and inferences based on evidence. Because of limited time and resources, I couldn't perform all the labs that I wanted students to experience. Gizmos gave students the hands-on and visual experience they needed to really understand the concept — specifically, the genetics lessons.”
Mrs. Jackson thinks the Mouse Genetics Gizmo is fabulous for teaching students about genetics. In the Mouse Genetics Gizmo, students can breed "pure" mice with known genotypes that exhibit specific fur and eye colors, and learn how traits are passed on via dominant and recessive genes. The Gizmo allows students to use Punnett squares to predict and track results of successive trials. Mrs. Jackson often has students work in cooperative groups to complete the Student Exploration sheets. Student Exploration sheets generally include multiple activities, with increasing levels of difficulty. This helps teachers differentiate their instruction more easily, so students of all ability levels can succeed.
Even when Mrs. Jackson engages students with hands-on labs, Gizmos are still part of the lessons — enriching students’ understanding of the concept before and after the lab. Gizmos are a great resource to remediate and reinforce the content and skills required of students. Mrs. Jackson really appreciates the Gizmo Assessment Questions too. They are a quick and easy way to assess students’ understanding of a concept.
Mrs. Jackson is currently enjoying another great year of using Gizmos with her students!
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.
October 31, 2013
Tracey McLaughlin: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Tracey McLaughlin has been teaching for 26 years. She teaches grades 7-11 including Science, English, and Drama. She teaches at St. Michael High School in the Western Quebec School Board. St. Michael’s High School is located in the rural village of Low, Quebec, which has a population of approximately 850 people.
With only 85 students at her school, one of Mrs. McLaughlin’s biggest challenges is keeping students engaged. Because of the rich visual support and hands-on learning Gizmos provide, they have been invaluable in supporting student learning. She was first introduced to Gizmos five years ago. Since then, she has been able to integrate Gizmos in all of her science classes. She really likes to use Gizmos with her interactive whiteboard during whole-class instruction because it improves student understanding. “Students’ grades have improved because they can ‘see’ the concept and better understand the material. I love using Gizmos!”
For example, after using Gizmos, Mrs. McLaughlin’s 7th grade students had a much better understanding of density. She first used the Density Experiment: Slice and Dice Gizmo to create a conceptual understanding. In this experiment, students drop a chunk of material in a beaker of water and observe whether it sinks or floats. They can cut the chunk into smaller pieces of any size, and observe what happens as they are dropped in the beaker. The mass and volume of each chunk can be measured to gain a clear understanding of density and buoyancy.
Then students extended their knowledge with the Density Gizmo. This Gizmo allows students to measure the mass and volume of a variety of objects, and then place them into a beaker of liquid to see if they float or sink. Students learn to predict whether objects will float or sink in water based on their mass and volume. They can even compare how objects float or sink in a variety of liquids, including gasoline, oil, seawater, and corn syrup.
Thank you for your dedication Mrs. McLaughlin!
October 17, 2013
Niels Walkau: ExploreLearning Educator of the Month
Niels Walkau is a teacher at Coberg West High School in Ontario. He has been using Gizmos for 4 years and has been teaching for 18 years. He teaches 10th and 11th grade academic-level Biology and Chemistry.
Mr. Walkau facilitates students’ academic growth by focusing on learning goals. One of the most important resources he uses to achieve this is Gizmos. He tells students, “There are a variety of resources to help you meet each goal, but one thing’s for sure, if you use the assigned Gizmos, you will learn.” Since adding Gizmos to the curriculum, his students have responded well. “The kids just run with it. They love the freedom and independence Gizmos provide. It allows them to speed experiments up, change variables, and helps them learn at their own pace. Also, it’s interactive and digital, so it maintains students’ enthusiasm and engagement.”
Gizmos have not only been helpful to Mr. Walkau’s teaching practice, but they have also added new content to his curriculum. He explains, “I didn’t teach the concept of star spectra before Gizmos, but after seeing it in the Star Spectra Gizmo, something just clicked. I realized that students need to know where matter comes from before they can start talking about its properties and behaviors. I realized Spectroscopy would be the cornerstone for the unit. Spectroscopy is one of the most important tools for element identification, and it made perfect sense to use the Star Spectra Gizmo as an intro to the topic. After using the Gizmo, the kids did a hands-on lab and burned elements. They used real spectroscopes to observe elemental spectra, just like the ones shown in the Gizmo. With Gizmos, kids that had no background knowledge could test and play, and then do it for real. When it was all tied together, students began to understand where the elements come from—students’ eyes were opened! It even led to a class discussion about the Big Bang theory.”
Gizmos also rekindled Mr. Walkau’s love of astronomy. After creating the unit with the Star Spectra Gizmo, he joined an astronomy group and has even begun collecting a few telescopes of his own. Happy star gazing, Mr. Walkau!
September 26, 2013
Gizmos now aligned to Next Generation Science Standards
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have been developed through a collaborative, state-led initiative to provide science standards that are rich in content and practice. These standards are organized across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education.
Based on the National Research Council's (NRC) Framework for K-12 Science Education, the NGSS combines three dimensions to form each standard: Practices, Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI), and Crosscutting Concepts. The DCIs help focus curriculum, instruction, and assessment on the most important aspects of science.
ExploreLearning is pleased to share that the science Gizmos library is now correlated to the NGSS DCIs. Gizmos are such a great fit for the NGSS because they allow students to engage in inquiry-driven investigations that fulfill the goals described in the NRC framework.
September 24, 2013
"The possibilities are limitless" with Gizmos
Dr. McDowell is the Secondary Science Coordinator for Frisco ISD in Texas. After trying out various simulation products, his district chose ExploreLearning Gizmos because it's easy to support and has great content, especially in Biology and Chemistry.
He explains, “It was easy to decide to fully adopt the Gizmos for all our core content areas. We have always preferred Gizmos because they allow students to ‘do’ science. They allow students to change variables and see what happens. Many of the other products are mostly animations or interactive tasks that all have a common end. With Gizmos, it seems the possibilities are limitless. Each student gets the experience they want/need in the learning process.”
In addition, “administration of the accounts is much easier. With other products, I had to collect all the student and teacher names to supply for upload. With Gizmos, students can enroll themselves, so I don’t have to maintain any type of mass roster for the district.”
Thank you Frisco ISD for choosing Gizmos to support student learning!
August 07, 2013
Students Learn about Potential Energy with Gizmos
We always appreciate it when we see talented teachers using innovative and effective teaching practices.
Watch how this Boston teacher models using the Potential Energy on Shelves Gizmo to teach students how mass and height affect potential energy.
At the beginning of the lesson, the teacher engages students with an activating strategy supported by a short reading passage from the Gizmo's Lesson Materials. Then students break out into collaborative groups to complete the inquiry-based lesson. Guided by the Gizmo's Student Exploration Sheet, students are engaged, learning through real-world scenarios. The teacher shares,
"Something as abstract as potential energy all of the sudden becomes very real when the students are able to play around with virtual objects and see how the PE of the objects changes for the object."
See how Gizmos can engage your students, take a free trial today!
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.
July 11, 2013
A Teacher's Review of ExploreLearning Gizmos
Glenda Stewart-Smith is a teacher at Creekside Elementary in Surrey School District, BC, Canada. She also writes a blog about inquiry-based learning environments for 21st Century learners. She recently posted a review of ExploreLearning Gizmos. In her review, she shares,
"(Gizmos) are interactive and engaging and do a great job of providing students with an opportunity to carry out scientific inquiry and test their understanding of concepts"
Visit Glenda Stewart-Smith's Blog to read the full review.
June 27, 2013
ExploreLearning Collaborates with Science Leaders on NGSS
ExploreLearning was in Williamsburg, VA this week as a sponsor of the National Science Education Leadership Association’s (NSELA) Summer Leadership Institute. ExploreLearning team members collaborated with science leaders from across the nation, exploring the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). ExploreLearning held focus groups to gain an understanding of science professionals' thoughts and direction for implementation of the NGSS. We were excited to hear what educators had to say in the focus groups and other conference events. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Gizmo NGSS alignment and some great NGSS focused professional development classes to help teachers integrate core ideas, practices, and cross-cutting concepts into their standard-aligned lessons.
See how Gizmos are ideal for
supporting the NGSS. Take a free trial today!
To learn more about NSELA, visit NSELA.org.
February 07, 2012
Expert Corner: Equilibria Everywhere
Kurt Rosenkrantz is a science curriculum writer and Gizmo designer for ExploreLearning. Kurt holds a Master of Science in Geology from the University of Cincinnati, and a bachelor's degree in Earth Science from Harvard. He taught high school and middle school science for eight years before joining ExploreLearning in 2005.
In much of life we seek to balance opposing forces: money earned vs. money spent, weight gained vs. weight lost, heat vs. cold. When opposing forces are perfectly balanced, the system is said to be in equilibrium and no overall change is observed. For example, if you spend exactly as much as you earn, your total amount of wealth won't change.
The concept of equilibrium plays a prominent role in every field of science: from the delicate balance of Earth's climate to the forces that keep a satellite in orbit. A simple example of equilibrium occurs when an object is hung from a spring, as shown in the Determining a Spring Constant Gizmo. The force of the spring pulling upward increases as the spring is stretched, while the pull of gravity on the object is constant. Eventually the spring is stretched enough that the spring force is exactly equal to the weight of the object. At this point the spring force and gravitational force are in equilibrium and the object remains in place.
When a system in equilibrium is perturbed, the system will often oscillate, or swing back and forth from one state to another. Oscillations can be seen when you pull down a spring or release a pendulum, as illustrated in the Simple Harmonic Motion Gizmo.
A similar oscillation can occur in the populations of predators and prey in isolated environments, such as the classic case of the wolves and moose of Isle Royale, shown at left. As predator populations rise, prey populations are depleted until the predator population crashes. With fewer predators, prey populations recover and the cycle begins again. These oscillations are illustrated beautifully in the Food Chain Gizmo.
Recently we published two new Gizmos which directly address the topic in the field of chemistry: Equilibrium and Concentration and Equilibrium and Pressure. Both Gizmos explore reversible chemical reactions. In a reversible reaction, the rates of the forward and reverse reactions depend on the concentrations of reactants and products. As the forward reaction proceeds, the concentration of products increases. This causes the rate of the reverse reaction to increase as the forward reaction slows. In the Gizmos, you can measure the rate of each reaction by observing the blue flashes (representing the forward reaction) and red flashes (representing the reverse reaction) over time. As equilibrium is approached, the rates of each reaction become approximately equal.
See how many examples of equilibrium you can find in your class!
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."