How I Use It
We like what this site has to offer because it gives the students the ability to freely experiment with the simulations. The students have to participate in the simulations and test their hypotheses to see if they will achieve their expected results. If they don't, they can reset the simulation and try a different approach. We have seen a marked difference in motivation and interest in the sciences when the students can actually interact with manipulatives.
I have noticed, however, that some students can become very distracted and 'lose' themselves in a gizmo, and thus, not always complete an assigned lab in a timely manner. To keep some students more focused, we have found that giving the students a handout to fill out and record their findings, draw a picture of their successful results, and/or record unfamiliar vocabulary keeps the students on track.
We've been using the science 'gizmos' in explorelearning.com for several years in our school district. Science teachers from elementary to our secondary schools assign the simulations to students as part of their curriculum. The site contains THOUSANDS of math and science simulations which can be searched for by topic, grade, and even state standards (and Common Core standards.)
Most of the gizmos include a 'student exploration' sheet which tests the student's prior knowledge and also assesses their understanding of the gizmo. What I really appreciate is that the site provides this student exploration sheet in both PDF and Word formats. Having the Word format allows us to edit and manipulate the questions so that we can adjust questions based on our student's learning needs. Students with IEPs aren't always able to finish the entire printable assessments so the editable format allows us to easily remove or simplify some of the assessment questions in the exploration sheets.