How I Use It
ExploreLearning Gizmos provide interactive simulations for a wide range of high school science topics. I use them to introduce a topic or reinforce a concept that has been discussed in class. For example, in Earth Science, I use "Earthquake - Determination of Epicenter," to introduce the triangulation of seismic waves. Being able to "see" the arrival of primary and secondary seismic waves at multiple recording stations, results in all students understanding the concept of triangulation, regardless of ability level. Some of my favorite Gizmos are in Biology where students can experiment with one and two traits during mouse breeding and examine a DNA fingerprint to find the twin frogs. I use the mouse breeding activities in conjunction with teaching Punnett Squares and the DNA fingerprint Gizmo before we do a forensic lab. 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 encourages independence and problem solving. 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 and labs 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 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. 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!