April 23, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: DNA Fingerprint Analysis Gizmo

406DETApril 25 is DNA Day! On April 25, 1953, a series of papers by Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, and others were published in the journal Nature. These seminal papers established our understanding of the structure of DNA and suggested how DNA replication occurred.

In commemoration of this and other accomplishments in genomics, you and your students can celebrate DNA Day with a variety of Gizmos, including Building DNA, RNA and Protein Synthesis, and DNA Fingerprint Analysis.

The DNA Fingerprint Analysis Gizmo uses a simplified version of DNA fingerprints to establish the uniqueness of each individual’s DNA, and it allows students to connect DNA sequences to traits.

Happy DNA Day!

Posted by Heather Jones at 01:36 PM in Science, Using Gizmos | Permalink

April 17, 2014

Lesson Material Updates: Polling

In February, we shared that several of the Lesson Materials for our statistics Gizmos were updated. We are back at it and have added three more.

Polling City

Polling: City

Polling: Neighborhood

Populations and Samples

Incorporate these and other statistics Gizmos into an integrated lesson, combining social studies and mathematics to teach students about polling and how using samples of a population can help predict elections.

Posted by Heather Jones at 01:21 PM in Site Announcements, Using Gizmos | Permalink

April 16, 2014

Expert Corner: Differentiating with Student Exploration Sheets

LauraC-2014Laura 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.

When conducting whole group lessons with students, you can use Gizmo Student Exploration Sheets to guide the lesson path and your questioning with students. But you may wonder, is it desirable to print out those sheets for my students, or should I do something else?

As always, you will want to look to your lesson objectives to make that decision. If you are using the whole group Gizmo lesson to engage your students and get them to begin thinking about a concept, it may not be necessary for them to have a document to write on. On the other hand, if you are using the Gizmo later in your lesson to build understanding, the support of a document to guide them might be very beneficial.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to use the entire Student Exploration Sheet “as-is.” You can pick just one activity and modify the Word document to meet your needs. You can also create entirely new documents by using the snapshot feature in each Gizmo to embed pictures, graphs, and data into your documents. A quick question around a picture can be a great formative assessment to be used before, during or after a lesson in your sequence.

Other ideas for student documents that can support whole-class instruction:

Before the lesson:

• Prior Knowledge questions from the Student Exploration Sheets can be handed out as bell-ringers as students enter class.

During the lesson:

• Create an outline of the lesson on which students can take notes. As you proceed through your planned whole group lesson, what do you want students to notice? What conclusions would you like them to come to? Create a student document to scaffold questions and observations for the students so that they can achieve the objectives of your lesson.

• Provide data recording templates for individual analysis. If your whole group lesson includes collecting data that will be reviewed to identify patterns, it will help students to have a document they can record the data on as you collect it as a group. Not only will the students be able to practice the skill of recording data accurately in a table or other appropriate format, they will have their own copy for the analysis exercises.

After the lesson:

• Create a follow-up activity that applies the concepts learned during the whole group lesson. In the ExploreLearning PD Team, we love creating writing prompts for Gizmos that support the Common Core standards.

• Exit tickets. One of the questions from the Student Exploration Sheet may lend itself perfectly to a question for your students to answer before they leave class.

• Differentiated homework (with or without a computer.) By using snapshots of Gizmos and data, you can create homework where students can practice the skills learned in the whole group lesson without the need for a computer. Or, for students that have computer access at home, give them a second option so that they can use the Gizmos at home.

If you've created interesting lessons around a Gizmo, please help out your colleagues by sharing your lesson materials on the Lesson Info tab of the Gizmo.

To see our previous articles on whole group instruction, go to http://blog.explorelearning.com/implementation-ideas/

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:14 AM in Implementation Ideas, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

ABC’s and 123’s of Federal Funding

Recent transitions towards digital content have put schools and districts in a crunch to find funding to support the change. In addition, complicated funding guidelines can be challenging for schools when deciding how and when they can spend these funds. If you participate in budget planning, consider these federal funding sources that can supplement your program’s budget for content and professional development.

  1. School districts can use Title II-A funds to pay for personalized professional development for educators, which could help teachers master various ed-tech tools, such Gizmos and Reflex. According to a study by digedu, while 93% of teachers think that technology has an impact on student engagement, 46% report that they lack the training to use the technology effectively. Help make the most out of your technology investment and provide teachers with the training they need… and want!
  2. Ed-tech resources purchased through Title III-A can be used to improve teaching and learning for English Language Learners (ELL). Gizmos incorporate research-proven best practices to support ELL instruction, including rich visual support, virtual models, and varied activity levels to scaffold and differentiate learning.
  3. Districts can leverage Title I-A funds to purchase devices, such as laptops or tablets, in addition to digital curriculum and professional development, as part of a comprehensive district-wide ed-tech plan. See results from Title I schools that have invested in Reflex and have seen amazing progress in math. Also, learn how a Title I teacher supports economically disadvantaged students in her school’s computer lab with Gizmos.
  4. Title VI funds contribute to student success in small and rural school districts. Read the Maine Impact Study of Technology in Mathematics to learn how a professional development program that included Gizmos had significant impact on teacher effectiveness and student learning in rural schools in Maine.  
  5. Department of Defense Grants focused on STEM are helping programs across the nation enhance student learning. Gizmos has been proven to be an effective approaches for improving STEM teaching and learning. Read how Gizmos can support STEM education or watch a high school science teacher explain how to use Gizmos to support STEM.
  6. The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) helps fund educational opportunities for special education students and provides services to meet their unique learning needs. Reflex and Gizmos have been used with success in many schools with students with specific learning disabilities, as well as students with autism and cognitive disabilities. Gizmos help teachers provide a challenging, personalized learning experience for all students including those with disabilities. Reflex is adaptive and individualized and works well for a classroom of students with different needs, skills and goals. Read more about Reflex in Special Education.

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:05 AM in Purchasing/Subscription Info, Using Gizmos | Permalink

Educator of the Month: Elise Gordon

EliseGordonElise 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 1016DETor 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.

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:03 AM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

Prepare for End-of-Year Testing with Gizmos

GizmostestLooking for ways to help students prepare for upcoming state tests and end-of-course exams? Try creating a personalized review with Gizmos. Research suggests that a computer-based individualized study schedule can help students retain significantly more material to prepare for a test given at the end of a semester and a month later.



When preparing students for end-of-year testing, remember the Three R’s:

·        Review concepts from early in the school that students may have forgotten

·        Reinforce most tested items on state and end-of-course exams

·        Re-teach concepts that students struggled with most during the school year

Whether they are at home, at school, or traveling during spring break, students can access Gizmos on their computers and iPads anywhere they have Internet. By the time the test comes around, students can be confident and ready to ace those exams.

Explore the Gizmos library today!

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:00 AM in Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

April 14, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Water Pollution

April 14th marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson, a researcher and writer who started the environmental movement in 1962 with the publication of “Silent Spring.” Carson first became concerned with widespread pesticide use while working for the Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1940s.

Water polution“Silent Spring,” which documented the devastating effects of DDT on wildlife, brought environmental issues to the forefront and led to a ban on DDT use.

The Water Pollution Gizmo presents a variety of types of water pollution, including toxic, sediment, nutrient, and bacterial. Students learn about each form of pollution and identify the kinds of pollution that apply to a variety of real-world scenarios.

As an extension to the lesson, have students create public service announcements on how to reduce water pollution in their communities. This makes a great Earth Day activity!

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:57 AM in Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

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.

Percent of Change GizmoJen 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!

Posted by Heather Jones at 09:49 AM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

April 07, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Target Sum Card Game

1020DETApril is National Math Awareness month, and this year’s theme is Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery. Card games are a great way to make the connection between mathematics and magic. The Target Sum Card Game Gizmo is a fun and engaging game that utilizes basic arithmetic skills, estimation, and logic.

In the Gizmo, students are dealt a hand of cards with the digits 0-9. The goal is to arrange the cards in different place values so that the sum is as close as possible to a given target. This is relatively easy to do when the number of cards is small, but the challenge increases rapidly as the number of cards increases.

Students can modify the game in a variety of ways and even play each other head-to-head. After using the Gizmo, try playing the game with real cards!

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:36 AM in Math (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

April 01, 2014

ExploreLearning, a Cut Above the Rest

6a00d8341e234753ef01a51198a2b4970c-320wiThe SIIA CODiE finalists were announced this week, and ExploreLearning Reflex and Gizmos were on the list!

During the past 28 years, the SIIA CODiE Awards have recognized software and information companies for achieving excellence. The CODiE Awards remain the only peer-recognized program, so each CODiE Award serves as an incredible testament to a product’s innovation, vision, and overall industry impact. ExploreLearning has been represented among CODiE finalist for 9 straight years.  

Gizmos was carefully selected as a finalist for Best Mathematics Instructional Solution. This prestigious award recognizes the best mathematic instructional product that provides deep learning experiences for students, supports standards-alignment, and reflects current curriculum practice.

Reflex is among the Best Learning Game Finalists. Reflex was selected for its ability to provide a motivating learning environment and enable students to learn educational concepts.

Review the full list of 2014 CODiE Award Finalists. Winners will be announced in May!

Posted by Heather Jones at 03:31 PM in Edu/Tech, Press Clippings, Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 31, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Binomial Probabilities

Before the start of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, which ends next weekend, Warren Buffett offered a prize of one billion dollars to anyone who could create a perfect bracket. It only took 25 games before the last possible winning entry was eliminated, and Buffett’s money was safe.

126DETHow many brackets are possible in the tournament, and what are the chances of creating a perfect bracket? Students can explore these questions with the Binomial Probabilities Gizmo.

In this Gizmo, students use tree diagrams to illustrate the possible outcomes of a series of binomial experiments. Students then derive the formula for finding the probability of r successful outcomes in n experiments.

By the way, there are over 9.2 quintillion (9,200,000,000,000,000) possible brackets in the NCAA tournament. Warren Buffett’s money might be safe for a while!

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:54 AM in Current Affairs, Math (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

Use Gizmos to help students understand the science behind the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner

On March 11, Inmarsat, a London-based telecommunication company, contacted Malaysian government with key location information for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Inmarsat scientists measured MH370's radar ping against "example" flights to narrow down the search. The more flights they looked at, the smaller their field became, until they were tracked to a remote section of the ocean near Perth.

XkThe company used the 'Doppler effect' to find the area where plane crashed. You're probably familiar with the Doppler effect... when you hear an ambulance pass by, the change in pitch is an example of the Doppler effect.

Watch this Physics teacher explain the Doppler effect and the effect of an object’s movement in relation to the sound waves produced by it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-Uhiz0Tilk

Help students explore this real world concept with the Doppler Shift Advanced Gizmo. Students can investigate how the speed of the moving object is related to the magnitude of the Doppler shift.

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:40 AM in Current Affairs, Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 24, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: General Form of a Rational Function

137DETA rational function is a ratio of two polynomials. Like any fraction, a rational function is undefined when its denominator equals zero.

So what does that look like on the graph, where x equals a root of the denominator? What happens to the y-values as x approaches those roots?

In the General Form of a Rational Function Gizmo, students can create and graph a wide variety of rational functions, with up to three linear factors in both the numerator and denominator.

With the help of the newly updated Lesson Materials, they can determine the asymptotes and domains, find the x-intercepts, explore the end behavior, and even take an interesting look at the near-origin behavior of these graphs.

Posted by Heather Jones at 09:06 AM in Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 20, 2014

Lesson Material Updates

Gizmos are a great way to provide conceptual understanding of complex mathematical concepts. Check out these interactive mathematics Gizmos that just received updated Lesson Materials.

Addition of Polynomials

Integers, Opposites, and Absolute Values


Number Systems

Least-Squares Best Fit Lines

General Form of a Rational Function

Addition of Polynomials

In the Addition of Polynomials Gizmo, students use tiles to model and add two polynomials of the form ax2 + bx + c. The Gizmo provides feedback for incorrect steps, and the randomized problem generator allows for unlimited practice to support mastery.

Also, check out the User Lesson Materials from members of the Gizmos community. Kathleen Kaplan submitted a lesson plan for the Addition of Polynomials Gizmo that includes a real-world problem involving the distance between jets, where students will need to subtract polynomials.

Posted by Heather Jones at 09:12 AM in Site Announcements, Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 19, 2014

Celebrate International Forest Day with Gizmos

639DETDid you know that March 21st is International Forest Day? This global celebration of forests provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests. Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects. Forests also provide shelter, jobs and security for forest-dependent populations.

In celebration of National Forest Day, use the Forest Ecosystem Gizmo to teach students about the delicate balance within a forest ecosystem.  Or, have students try out the Measuring Trees Gizmo to investigate how precipitation affects tree growth, while reinforcing mathematic concepts like circumference and diameter.

If you're planning activities for International Forest Day, share them with the community on our Facebook page.

Posted by Heather Jones at 12:09 PM in Current Affairs, Math (Real World), Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 12, 2014

Expert Corner: Fostering Inquiry through Effective Questioning

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.


Inquiry learning centers around exploration, asking questions, and building understanding of the concept at hand. Teachers' good questioning strategies support the work students are doing in the classroom by arousing curiosity and motivating students to seek out new knowledge.

Effective questioning in an inquiry classroom follows several key principles:

1. Plan questions ahead of time that will support inquiry.

  • To make the most of questioning in a whole class lesson, plan key questions prior to class so that you can word them with precision. Clear questions mean that students don’t have to spend as much time processing the question, but can instead focus on formulating an answer.
  • Think about your lesson objectives as you plan questions. They should be ordered logically to move students towards those objectives, supporting their learning along the way.
  • Ask open-ended questions that invite multiple interpretations. Ask “What are your observations?” instead of “What color is the bug?”
  • As you plan your questions, keep a Bloom’s revised taxonomy reference handy. Be ready with questions from the higher levels of Bloom’s. Asking questions from the lower levels on the fly is relatively easy, but it can be much harder to spontaneously come up with a good Analyze or Evaluate question.

2. Ask questions in ways that include everyone.

  • In the February Expert Corner article, we discussed how to engage all students in a whole class lesson. In addition to the methods mentioned there, a strategy I’ve seen recently is to count the number of students with hands raised before calling on one, “One person has an answer. Two, three.” When students see that you want to know how many people have an answer before selecting one, more will join in.

3. Give students time to think.

  • Provide students with ample wait time so that they can process the question and formulate an answer. Mentally, count off 3-5 seconds at a minimum before taking an answer.

4. Avoid judging students’ responses.

  • Research (Rowe, 1974) shows that when teachers respond to students’ responses with negative or even positive comments such as, “Good job!” or “Not quite,” students will respond less often. Rather than offering judgment in your responses to students, reply with neutral comments such as, “Thank you.”

5. Follow up students’ responses in ways that encourage deeper thinking.

  • One of my favorite follow-up questions is to ask, “What evidence supports your answer?” This prompts students to provide not only the ‘why’ behind their answer but also specific support.
  • In addition to asking the responding student follow-up questions, it is beneficial to ask the rest of the class to weigh in with a hand signal. Use a thumbs up to indicate agreement, thumbs down for disagreement and a thumbs to the side if the answer is okay, but there is something missing that would allow for full agreement. With this strategy, all of the students are thinking deeper about the answer given, and not just the responding student.

As you work on building your own questioning skills to support inquiry, set incremental goals for yourself and monitor your progress against those goals. Don’t try to master everything at once! For example, begin with improving your wait time after asking a question. Once you have mastered wait time, you can work on eliminating judgmental comments to student responses, and then asking more questions from the higher levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.

To monitor your progress, you can videotape your inquiry lessons and analyze your question types, wait time, or other metrics for effective techniques. If a video camera isn’t available, ask a colleague to observe a lesson and collect data on your current questioning goal.

Because teacher questioning is key during whole group instruction, ExploreLearning provides great questions at various levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy in our Student Exploration Sheets included with almost every Gizmo. Teachers can also refer to the Teacher Guide discussion questions and even the assessment questions for more inspiration. To see a demonstration of the power of good questions with a Gizmo, watch our video, Teaching with Gizmos: Function Machines.

Posted by Heather Jones at 03:19 PM in Implementation Ideas, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

March 10, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Circumference and Area of Circles

Friday March 14 (3.14) is Pi Day! Get ready with the Circumference and Area of Circles PiGizmo, which has been recently updated with new lesson materials.

In this Gizmo, students can set the radius of a circle, and then use the provided geometry tools to measure the circle’s circumference. The area of the circle can also be displayed. Students can quickly discover that the ratio of the circumference to the diameter is always equal to the same number, pi.

Don’t forget to do the real-world experiment too. Have your students use rulers and string to measure the diameters and circumferences of as many circular objects as possible—pot lids, Frisbees, plates, and of course pies!

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:08 AM in Math (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 27, 2014

Educator Spotlight: Marilyn MacDonald

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.

Cannon Ball Clowns GizmoThe 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.”


Posted by Heather Jones at 10:29 AM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 24, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Titration

Titration is a common lab method used to determine the concentration of one material that is dissolved or mixed within another.

1045DETDuring the process of titration, a chemist slowly adds an acid (or base) solution of known concentration to a base (or acid) solution of unknown concentration, called the analyte. An indicator changes color when the analyte is neutralized, and the concentration of the analyte can then be determined.

With the Titration Gizmo, students learn to calculate pH and explain the shape of titration curves. Students use titration to determine the concentration of an acid or base and explore titration of weak acids and bases, too.

After practicing with the Gizmo, your students will become whizzes at titration in no time!

Posted by Heather Jones at 03:03 PM in Science, Science (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 17, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Critter Count (Modeling Multiplication)

Designed for younger learners, the Critter Count Gizmo provides students a fun and engaging introduction to multiplication as repeated addition. For example, 2 × 3 means “two threes,” or 3 + 3. This example in the Gizmo would be modeled with 2 leaves and 3 critters on eac1013DETh leaf.

Once students are comfortable with using repeated groups to model multiplication, they can click the Array button to rearrange the critters in a rectangular array. Using the example above, 2 × 3 would be modeled with 3 critters in 2 rows, arranged neatly as a rectangle.

Students can choose the type of critter, the number of leaves, and the number of critters on each leaf. It’s simple and fun, and drives home the concept of “multiplication as repeated addition.”

In addition, the Gizmo begins to form a connection that will serve students well as they progress in math – namely, the connection between multiplication and area of a rectangle.

Posted by Heather Jones at 09:07 AM in Math (Real World), Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 14, 2014

Expert Corner: Whole Group Instruction- Part V

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.

Students can easily become disengaged during a lesson in a whole class setting. Students who are not called on to answer a question can passively wait for the answer to be given to them, rather than thinking it through for themselves. Teachers usually seek ways for all students to participate so that they are actively thinking and learning during a whole class lesson.

One of the simplest ways to help get all students actively thinking about a whole group activity is to provide think time for questions and ask them to write their answers down before calling on one student to answer aloud. Many questions and challenges in the Gizmo lesson materials have multiple correct answers. This format is a great opportunity to ask pairs to devise a solution and then have them come up one at a time to share their solutions on the Gizmo.

If the Gizmo calls for students to design an experiment, have pairs or small groups work together to create plans at their desks. Each group then presents and defends their plan to the class for the privilege of performing that experiment on the Gizmo.

You can also have students use physical manipulatives similar to the Gizmo at their desks. This will allow them to follow along and explore even when they aren’t using the Gizmo directly. In the User Lesson Materials for Toy Factory, the contributed lesson from Elsie Rivard includes a page of toys from the Gizmo created by using the snapshot tool. Students can cut out and use the toys to participate in a whole class lesson. Recently, I purchased pencil toppers in the shapes of animals to use similarly.

There are even more ways to ensure that all students are participating rather than zoning out during a whole group instruction lesson.

• When one student answers a question, ask the rest of the room to give a thumbs up if they agree, thumbs down if they disagree or a thumbs sideways if they don’t know.

• Use individual whiteboards to have all students respond to questions.

• Use mobile devices so that students can answer the Gizmo assessment questions individually, or use iPads so that students can manipulate the Gizmos with our new iPad app!

Want more ideas? Check out the outstanding book, Total Participation Techniques: Making Every Student an Active Learner by Pérsida Himmele and William Himmele.

Posted by Heather Jones at 02:23 PM in Implementation Ideas, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

Educator of the Month: Thais Garcia

Thais GarciaThais 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.

Solubility and Temperature GizmoShe 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!”


Posted by Heather Jones at 01:55 PM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 11, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Free Fall Tower

650DETGalileo Galilei was born 450 years ago: on February 15, 1564. Often called the father of modern science, Galileo was the first to use the telescope to observe the skies.

He discovered the Moon’s cratered surface, the moons of Jupiter, and the phases of Venus, proving that Venus orbits the Sun. Galileo described the motion of falling and accelerating bodies, formulated the law of inertia, and correctly predicted that, in a vacuum, all bodies will fall at the same rate.

One of the most famous legends about Galileo describes how he dropped cannonballs of different masses from the Tower of Pisa. You can explore this experiment with the Free Fall Tower Gizmo.

In the Gizmo, you and your students can drop a variety of objects from a tower, with or without air. You can even deploy parachutes to further emphasize the effects of air resistance! This Gizmo provides an excellent introduction to free fall and acceleration.

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:00 AM in Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 06, 2014

Educator Spotlight: Penny Holland

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 Circulatory Systemis 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!”

Posted by Heather Jones at 08:00 AM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

February 03, 2014

Gizmo of the Week: Modeling the Factorization of Quadratic Expressions

111DETFactoring polynomials can be tricky to understand. The Modeling the Factorization of x2 + bx + c Gizmo uses algebra tiles to help with this process. First, students model the given polynomial using the tiles. Then, students arrange the tiles to form a rectangle. At that point, the area of the rectangle is the given polynomial, and the sides of the rectangle are its factors.

This is one of many Gizmos we have that drive home a “big idea” in math: that multiplying things together can be represented in a physical way, as area of a rectangle (and dividing, or factoring, gives you the side lengths of that rectangle).

The interactivity in this Gizmo makes it a great fit for an interactive whiteboard.

Posted by Heather Jones at 04:44 PM in Using Gizmos | Permalink

January 29, 2014

Educator Spotlight: John S. Wilson III

Wilson IIIMr. 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.

>Distance-Time GraphsOne 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!

Posted by Heather Jones at 12:02 PM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

January 24, 2014

Educator Spotlight: Tracy Ferguson

Tracy FergusonTracy 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.

Solar SystemTracy’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.”

Posted by Heather Jones at 12:03 PM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

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

January 17, 2014

Expert Corner: Whole Group Instruction- Part IV

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.

When you are using Gizmos in a whole-class setting, it is very easy to slip into “lecture mode” using the Gizmo as a visual aid. While it is true that their visual nature really helps students to understand concepts, Gizmos are even more effective if students have the opportunity to explore and experiment with the simulation directly.

So how can you make your whole group instruction student-centric so that they are getting the most from the experience? Here are three guidelines:

1. Allow the students to control the Gizmos. If you have an interactive whiteboard, select a student to manipulate the Gizmo controls. You can use many methods for selecting the students (i.e., popsicle sticks, the “popcorn” method of allowing the current student to select the next, or even an app that will select students randomly like iLEAP Pick a Student).

2. Have the students make decisions about the activity. Whenever possible, have the students decide what to do next. As you are following your Student Exploration Sheet, you will see many places where you can select variables or settings. Ask students to make those choices rather than just doing it yourself.

3. Don’t say something the students can say. Rather than the teacher doing the explaining and the students doing the listening, reverse the dynamic! If students are making and describing their observations, predictions and explanations, then they will be active participants in their learning. Sometimes this is difficult for teachers who are used to explaining concepts. For one lesson or one hour each day, practice speaking only in questions!

Do you have comments or questions about whole group instruction? Feel free to share your comments or question about whole class instruction below. 

To see our previous articles on whole group instruction, go to http://blog.explorelearning.com/implementation-ideas/

Posted by Heather Jones at 12:04 PM in Implementation Ideas, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Video: Intro to the Gizmos iPad App

Get Gizmos on your iPad!

Watch this video for step-by-step instructions on how to get started using our award-winning math and science simulations on the iPad.
See tips on how to login, search Gizmos, access Lesson Materials, and switch between apps to get the best experience as you explore Gizmos with the new app.

Posted by Heather Jones at 11:49 AM in Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

January 15, 2014

Educator Spotlight: Wendy Swanson

Wendy SwansonMrs. 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!”

Food ChainIn 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.

To learn how Mrs. Swanson uses Gizmos like the Food Chain Gizmo and the Rock Cycle Gizmo to motivate students and increase test scores, read the full story in the Palm Beach Blog.

Posted by Heather Jones at 01:21 PM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

Gizmos iPad App is a Hit!

6a00d8341e234753ef019b0415d30b970d-320wiThe addition of the Gizmos iPad app has really created a stir in the education community. Teachers are “rejoicing” and students more engaged than ever!

Here’s what some educators had to say,

“Woo-hoo! I have been waiting for this app to be available. Gizmos are such a valuable learning tool. Thanks!” – Ontario Elementary Teacher

“What?? Really? That is amazing! I am downloading it now. THANK YOU!” –  NY Science Teacher

 “Rejoice, those of you who have been asking for Gizmos on the iPad. They are finally here.” – Blog, Windsor-Essex Catholic DSB, Ontario

Learn how to get started with GIzmos on the iPad or download the app today.

Posted by Heather Jones at 12:07 PM in Site Announcements, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

January 08, 2014

Educator Spotlight: Angela Escobar

Wendy Swanson 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 bGraphing Skillsased 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!



Posted by Heather Jones at 12:18 PM in Case Studies, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

January 02, 2014

Improve student learning with Gizmos on the iPad

A recent study published in the January issue of Computers and Education found that using simulations on an iPad can improve students understanding of challenging scientific concepts, like astronomical scale. Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics remarked, "we saw significant learning gains among students who used the simulations, in situations where little to no gains were observed in the traditional classrooms." Further, the study suggests that guided instruction could produce even more dramatic and rapid gains in student comprehension.

SpcTo help improve your students’ understanding of astronomical scale, try the new Gizmos iPad app with the Solar System Gizmo. Students can explore the solar system and learn the characteristics of each planet. In addition, the Student Exploration Sheets guide learning as students compare the sizes of planets and their distances from the Sun, observe the speeds of planetary orbits, and measure how long each planet takes to go around the Sun.

Download the Gizmos App

Read more about the research

Posted by Heather Jones at 10:25 AM in Science, Using Gizmos | Permalink

December 23, 2013

The Gizmos iPad app is here!

Now you can access over 400 Gizmos on your iPad with our new app!

Once you've downloaded the app you can use it in two ways:

  1. To get the full Gizmos experience, including assessments, correlations, class management features and Lesson Materials, you'll want to use it via our website. Simply navigate to the Gizmo of your choice on ExploreLearning.com and hit the 'Launch Gizmo on iPad' button.
  2. Or you can also use the app directly. Open the app, login using your Gizmos username and password and select your desired Gizmo from an alphabetical list. 

Please note: the second method does not provide easy access to all the related features and content on the website such as assessments, Lesson Materials, class management features, etc.

Enjoy exploring our large library of simulations from the convenience of your iPad!

Posted by ExploreLearning at 03:59 PM in Site Announcements, 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)

Educator of the Month: Tanya Phillips

Tanya PhillipsTanya Phillips is a Biology Teacher at a high school in Coral Gables, Florida. She teaches pre IB, honors, and inclusion classes. She has been with the district for eight years and held several roles including science department chair, instructional coach, and middle school science teacher.

Ms. Phillips has been using Gizmos for as long as she’s been teaching. It all started with an ExploreLearning professional development workshop she attended years ago. It was there that she met Miami-Dade’s Gizmo Project Manager Mario Junco. After hearing what Mario had to say about the program, she decided to start using Gizmos in her classroom right away. She explains, “Watching Mario model the sample lessons, I just knew that I could have done the same.” About two years later, she was recognized for being one of the top Gizmo users in the district!

Element Builder GizmoAccording to Ms. Phillips, one of the more challenging science concepts for students to understand is periodic trends. “Even though they see the atomic number increase on the periodic table, they still struggle with the concept of the atomic number determining what type of atom we are talking about. The Element Builder Gizmo is a great way to provide a visual and hands-on approach to such an abstract concept. Kids get to see the atom of the particular element come together and then change to another atom when subatomic particles are added or removed. They usually understand the concept really well after using the Gizmo.”

Students learn with Gizmos in numerous ways in Ms. Phillips’ classroom. She usually uses them to engage students when introducing a new concept. During whole class instruction, she asks students to come to the interactive whiteboard to manipulate the Gizmo, while other students assist in providing responses. Ms. Phillips also likes how Gizmos so naturally support varying student learning needs. She explains, “I use Gizmos to differentiate instruction by having the students interact with different activities within the Student Exploration sheets based on their levels or needs. Sometimes I use the exploration as enrichment or remediation for the students that need it.” At the end of the lessons, Ms. Phillips uses the built-in assessment to gauge student understanding and participation in the activities.


Posted by Heather Jones at 02:15 PM in Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

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 06, 2013

Warm up to new Lesson Materials

Winter weather got you stuck indoors? Have some fun and explore some of our exciting new Gizmo Lesson Materials.

Inscribed Angles 6a00d8341e234753ef019b0234c56d970d-320wi

 Finding Patterns

 Geometric Probability

 Roots of a Quadratic

 Stem-and-Leaf Plots

 Box-and-Whisker Plots

With the Geometric Probability Gizmo, students can randomly throw darts at a target and see what percent are "hits" to study the relationship between the area of the target and the percent of darts that strike it.

Posted by Heather Jones at 08:41 AM in Site Announcements, Using Gizmos | Permalink

December 02, 2013

Gizmos Support Science Understanding in English Language Learners

664DETScience 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 ways 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.


Posted by Heather Jones at 04:42 PM in Science, Testimonials, Training and Professional Development, Using Gizmos | Permalink

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

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.

Reflex BoardMrs. 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!”


Posted by Heather Jones at 01:24 PM in Case Studies, Science, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

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

Educator of the Month: Larissa Jackson

Larissa JacksonLarissa 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.”

Mouse Genetics 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!

Posted by Heather Jones at 07:59 AM in Science, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

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)

November 07, 2013

Educator Spotlight: Scott Redding

Scott ReddingScott 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.

Cell Energy Cycle - IMGScott’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!

Posted by Heather Jones at 12:21 PM in Case Studies, Science, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

November 01, 2013

Gizmos Help Close the Achievement Gap

VistaThe 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.

Posted by Heather Jones at 03:58 PM in Case Studies, Science, Using Gizmos | Permalink

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!”

Density Experiment: Slice and Dice GizmoFor 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.

Density GizmoThen 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!

Posted by Heather Jones at 04:18 PM in Science, Testimonials, Using Gizmos | Permalink

October 21, 2013

Expert Corner: Changes to Roller Coaster Physics

KurtKurt 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.

A while ago, a teacher named Joshua Buchman suggested a way to improve our popular Roller Coaster Physics Gizmo. In the Gizmo, a toy car rolls down a track, over several hills, and into an egg. The egg will either crack or not.

Rc physics gizmoIn the original Gizmo, the egg would crack if the momentum of the car was over a certain threshold value. Mr. Buchman pointed out that it was more likely that the kinetic energy of the car, rather than its momentum, would be the critical factor. He argued that the car would need to travel a certain distance into the egg, overcoming the resisting force of the eggshell, for the egg to crack. In other words, the car would have to do a certain amount of work to crack the egg, and the work it could do depended on its kinetic energy.

This argument made sense to us, but we wanted to check that it was true in practice before changing the Gizmo, which was designed with the help of real-world experiments that took place in the EL offices a decade ago. To investigate, I bought toy cars, a track, and several dozen eggs. I set up the track at a steep angle and went to work.

Rollercoaster2Right away I realized that I needed to establish a consistent definition of “egg breaking.” It turns out that a very tiny impact can cause a small fracture in the egg, and that the fracture grows bigger and bigger as the force of the impact increases. Eventually I decided that the most consistent criteria I could use was “eggshell breaks completely into two halves.” So, any fracture that did not go all the way around the egg was considered a negative result.

Rollercoaster3After several very messy sets of experiments using cars of different masses, I plugged the data into a spreadsheet. Sure enough, the minimum kinetic energy required to break the egg was much more consistent than the minimum momentum required to break the egg. With experimental results supporting the scientific argument, we decided to make the change. In the updated Gizmo, the car now needs to have a minimum kinetic energy of 0.25 J to break the egg. We have adjusted all of our lesson materials and assessment questions to reflect this new result.

We hope you enjoy the new-and-improved Roller Coaster Physics Gizmo, and thanks again to Mr. Buchman for bringing this to our attention!



Posted by Heather Jones at 08:47 AM in Math (Real World), Site Announcements, Using Gizmos | Permalink