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Gizmos Come to School

What’s a Gizmo, you might ask?

If you think it’s simply a gadget, that’s a “gizmo.” But the online learning company, ExploreLearning offers Gizmos as an expanding library of more than 400 interactive science simulations, and to the delight of many teachers and students, CHCCS won a 2019-2020 Gizmos Science Success Grant to use in selected middle and high school classes across the district.

The Gizmos Grant will provide extensive services for a year, including four sessions of ExploreLearning-led professional development, and ongoing, frequent support of teachers and PLC’s. Because of the competing and varying needs of different science courses at the secondary level, the Gizmos are being used in sixth grade classrooms and in core chemistry, physical science and earth science courses this year. Other courses, including seventh and eighth grade classes have access to other digital learning science programs.

Director of Secondary Math and Science, Dorie Hall, said they are especially excited about offering Gizmos to teachers because they provide so many ways to customize and differentiate instruction. “The fact that the program offers so many possibilities for instruction speaks to its value. We provide the resource to teachers, but how they use it is up to them.”

PMS science with Gizmos Phillips Middle School teacher, sixth grade science teacher, Austin Tortorici, uses the Gizmos often in his class, as well as a valuable enrichment resource for the Science Olympiad students who meet with him twice a week. This week, Tortorici’s students used the Gizmo on water density in preparation for a lab they are conducting at the end of the week.

I find Gizmos to be a good time-saving alternative to some of our more time-consuming lab activities which illustrate simple concepts which we do not want to spend multiple days laboring over,” Tortorici said. “Gizmos are also designed to be user-friendly enough for students to explore them with minimal guidance, and the act of clicking around and figuring out how the Gizmo works is part of the learning process. They provide great animated visual representations of concepts and activities which we cannot easily recreate in the classroom, such as heredity, plate tectonics, and visualizing the kinetic energy of molecules and atoms.”

Smith Middle School science teacher, Danielle Parker, said, “I've used Gizmos as a way to deepen my students' understanding of topics. They especially enjoyed the Gizmo that focused on density. There were some very lively discussions on which objects would float or sink and what they said about the density of each object. Instead of spending time on physical setup and cleanup, the online nature of the Gizmo allowed them more time to focus on the concept. It won't replace hands-on labs, but it really gives us another useful resource.”

Hall and Lead District Science Coach, Valerie Sellars, are working with the ExploreLearning team to meet a number of goals, including to increase student engagement and collaboration, make science instruction more equitable across schools, and strengthen options for differentiation, especially among English-learning students and students with disabilities.

In many classrooms, there might be small groups using Gizmos to extend their understanding, while other students might be working individually, as the teacher circulates to answer questions. Some days, Gizmos might be used for whole-class instruction. The program comes with editable handouts, so teachers can customize resources like vocabulary lists or other print materials for certain students.

The high-caliber professional development comes in the form of four workshops this year. In early October, teachers gathered for the first workshop, Introduction to Gizmos, and in January, they will meet again for Expanding the Gizmos Experience. Hall and her team are attending school PLC meetings to assist teachers with planning and provide support as needed.

Chapel Hill High School science teacher, Laura Rogers, said, “My students completed the Phases of Water Gizmo today. I appreciate having the student exploration guide to lead them through the steps while I walk around and assist students who have questions. Students were able to easily see the effect of temperature changes on the phase of water, and were excited to bring together bits of prior knowledge to better understand phase changes at the molecular level.”

With all secondary students now using 1-1 Chromebooks, the Gizmos can be accessed at home, as well as in the classroom.