How I Use It
ExploreLearning Gizmos consist of a large number of middle school interactive simulations. I use them to introduce a topic or reinforce a concept that has been discussed it in class. In the Water Cycle Gizmo, students trace a drop of water and determines its path through the water cycle. My students do a phase change lab in class and graph the temperature change, and then use the Phase Change Gizmo to reinforce what they learned about phase temperature and are able to observe the molecular motion - something they could not do in the classroom lab. The pH lab is a great activity for the absent students to do at home after we have explored the pH of household substances in class. The student sheets that accompany each Gizmo are available in Word format, so teachers can edit them, and they follow a user-friendly format:
-Introduce new vocabulary
-Ask prior knowledge questions to engage students
-Encourage students to explore the Gizmo
-Do 1-3 activities, usually posing, predicting and then answering a question.
-Extend thinking by posing another question or asking students to analyze further.
Students become accustomed to the format and because the directions are clear, most students can work independently or with minimal guidance. The worksheets are somewhat language intensive so teachers may need to modify them for special needs, low-literacy or EL learners.
I like ExploreLearning Gizmos as a learning tool. Compared to other simulations, they are easy to figure out from the guidance provided in the student worksheet. The simulations are colorful and provide many opportunities for students to manipulate variables and be in control of their learning. Their guided inquiry approach keeps students engaged and contributes to learning. The website has correlated the Gizmos to the major textbook publishers, so teachers can easily find an applicable Gizmo for their unit of study. They are great supplements to the hands-on activities that are done in class.
Internet bandwith can be an issue. If the whole class is using Gizmos in a 1-1 situation, without adequate bandwidth, the simulations slow down or freeze. I generally have students work in pairs to avoid this, plus it encourages collaboration. The collaboration is also helpful because there is not much support for low readers or second language learners. The student sheets always have an extension for advanced students, but it is up to the teacher to support low readers or English Language Learners.
ExploreLearning has divided the Gizmos into gradebands (grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). It seems like several in the middle level band include concepts that are beyond most middle school students, so teachers definitely need to preview each one for appropriateness. Although the Gizmos are free to try for 30 days, the free trial does not give teachers access to the answer key, or to teacher-developed supplemental materials that are on the site, so that involves some additional work. When the 30-day subscription expires, teachers can sign up for another one, simply by using a different email address.The paid subscription is based on a per/pupil cost and is rather expensive. However, for the quality of materials and the variety of subject matter that is addressed, ExploreLearning Gizmos are worth it!