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In this module, I overview Gizmos, virtual manipulatives, for use in the secondary mathematics classroom
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ExploreLearning offers over 450 interactive online simulations that power thinking and understanding for 3-12th grade mathematics and science. Such online simulations are called “Gizmos”. Gizmos are fun, easy to use virtual manipulatives that help students develop a deep understanding of challenging concepts through inquiry and exploration. Using Gizmos, students can see real-world applications, concrete/visual examples, and in-depth explorations. Moreover, Gizmos are research-based, flexible tools that can be used in various ways: for small group work, individual exploration, and whole class instruction using a projector. Lastly, Gizmos are correlated to state curriculum standards as well as over 200 textbooks, which helps teachers to integrate the tools easily into their lesson plans.
http://www.explorelearning.com/index.cfm?method=cVideos.dspVideo&id=26 (Click this to watch a video that walks you through getting started with Gizmos)
I would highly recommend watching “Getting Started with Gizmos” video for 4:45 minutes.
The “Getting Started with Gizmos” video shows step-by-step instructions and demonstrations from signing up, modifying profile, and managing ExploreLearning classes to finding and using Gizmos.
This is a subscription service with free 30-day trial of Gizmos. The link to sign up for the trial should be shown on the first page of the website.
The following link provides help & support for creating an account, finding and using Gizmos, trouble shootings, and so forth. Under each topic, there are lists of precise and thorough instructions.
It is very important to check the system requirement and run a system test to determine if both Shockwave and Flash are installed on the computer. Gizmos will not be run if those applications are not installed or updated.
Additionally, check out how to manage your ExploreLearning classes, which shows how to create Gizmo lists for a specific class and how to interact with students virtually.
ExploreLearning website provides demo movies that show how to teach with Gizmos. Three of those movies are related to math Gizmos:
Teaching with Gizmos: Fraction Sense
Teaching with Gizmos: Function Machines
Teaching with Gizmos: Exploring Quadratics
The following are some actual classroom examples:
Algebra in the Real World!
Kim Washington, a high school math teacher taught students how to find slope and rate of change with formulas. Then, she used Distance-Time graphs, which creates a graph of a runner’s position versus time, to illustrate how students can apply their algebra in real world. She said real world applications in Gizmo help her student to understand that what they are doing in Algebra classes will help what they do every day. However, she suggested teachers to choose “the right one”, the appropriate Gizmo for the grade level and topic.
Students often lose interest in math because they do not see real-world applications and have to understand too many abstract concepts. By showing the abstract concepts visually and by relating the concepts to real-world applications, students will be motivated to learn mathematics.
Link for Distance-Time graphs Gizmo: http://www.explorelearning.com/index.cfm?method=cResource.dspDetail&ResourceID=260
Mr. Timmerman’s Pre-Algebra Class
Mr. Timmerman prepared UDL (Universal Design for Learning) lesson for 8th grade Pre-Algebra class. The students worked in computer labs to use Gizmos to advance their knowledge on finding area and volume. Assessments took place using computers after the students took enough time to explore with Gizmos. The lesson was mainly composed with Gizmos, but the students also took time to find lateral areas and volumes of real objects such as cans and cups.
UDL lessons are critical for diverse classrooms. Gizmos are helpful tools to plan an UDL lesson since they are graphic oriented and student centered tools (different experience than traditional lessons). Gizmos will be effective for visual learners and ESL/EFL students.
Preparing students for MathCounts competition
Mr. Hesselschwardt, a middle school math teacher, is also the MathCounts coach at his school. (MathCounts is a national math coaching and competition program for middle school students in the United States.) He uses several of Gizmos for students to gain more formal, in-depth knowledge of multiple concepts by exploring beyond textbooks and pencils. Also, he thinks Gizmos offers differentiated instruction for each student with many virtual manipulatives that they can utilize to get deeper understanding. He usually takes his students to computer lab or uses a Promethean ActivBoard. He and his students most benefited from “Beam to Moon (Rations and Proportions)” Gizmo, which applies ratios and proportions to find the weight of a person on the moon (or on another planet). He took advantage of attached guides and assessments for each Gizmo. With the help from Gizmos, Mr. Hesselschwardt’s students took the first place in regional MathCounts competition.
Most of his students were below average, but after using Gizmos, their grades increased. When using Gizmos, his students create their personal reference points of the concepts as well as deeper explorations. It shows that students learn better when the topics are appealing and when they can make personal connections. (Making personal connections is the best way to store something into our long-term memory according to psychology!)
Link for Beam to Moon (Rations and Proportions) Gizmo:
7th grade math classroom in Greenwich, Connecticut
Ms. Carter uses Gizmos with the Smartboard, an interative white board, in her 7th grade math classroom. She takes advantage of guides attached to each Gizmo. Her students get to see visual simulations and encounter real-world problems through Gizmos. She refers back to Gizmo activity when she is teaching formulas or abstract concepts for students to relate the abstract concepts with concrete examples in Gizmo. She uses the assessment questions attached to each Gizmo when she works with her students in computer lab, or she assigns the questions for homework. According to her, she can use Gizmos in many of her lessons because they strongly correlate to the curriculum and the assessment questions are similar to Connecticut Math Test.
Each Gizmo provides “exploration guide” and “assessments”. Moreover, Gizmos are strongly related to most state curriculum, and you can even search Gizmos by state correlations or textbook correlations. Ms. Carter takes advantage of both. Gizmos can be easily used in lessons since it directly relates to major topics in the curriculum or units in textbooks.
Often, students in high school might not have developed to the stage to understand abstract concepts in depth. However, majority of mathematics courses require students to understand abstract concepts. Gizmos provide real-world problems as well as concrete examples and visual simulations, especially with Algebra and 3-D Geometry. Experience with Gizmos will help students to have a reference point to go back and relate abstract concepts to real-life examples. Moreover, it will motivate students to learn math concepts by making them interesting with graphics.
For teachers, ExploreLearning provides class management tools to create ExploreLearning classes which students can enroll, add relevant Gizmos to classes, view assessment results, and so forth. Moreover, the website provides community features which allow teachers to communicate the ways they used Gizmos in their classrooms and other feedbacks on Gizmos.
In order to integrate Gizmos into lessons in classrooms, teachers need to have access to, a computer and a projector, multiple computers, or computer labs. For some schools, it might be a challenge to have such technology.
Gizmos require specific system settings for computers- strong internet connection with appropriate security settings, specific version of internet browser, Adobe Shockwave Player, and Adobe Flash Player. Such system requirements suggest that Gizmos might not work even if one of those requirements does not meet. Additionally, there may be students who do not have access to computer or internet connection at home. Teachers should be prepared for technical issues. Also, they should be careful to assign online homework.
Moreover, some students will attempt to play around with virtual manipulative rather than making the activity as a productive learning experience. Teachers should design clear instructions and assessments to make sure their students have beneficial learning experience.
1. Like Ms. Washington said, choose the “right one”. Carefully choose Gizmos that will enhance students’ knowledge and help them to achieve objectives for a topic or lesson.
2. Provide clear instructions for students to maximize their learning with Gizmos. Some students might not have sufficient computer skills and others might be distracted by the trips to computer labs.
3. Design assessments/feedbacks or use the provided assessments like Ms. Carter to check whether majority of students get benefits of using Gizmos.
4. Read system requirements thoroughly and check with technology specialist in the school to get an access to interactive whiteboard, computer lab, projector, etc. Always prepare for a plan B in case technical issues come up (i.e. internet suddenly does not work).
5. This is not a free resource. If your school/district does not have the subscription already, try the free trial first, and keep physical record of student progress and their feedbacks. Then, talk with the administrators.