ExploreLearning's Gizmos

from Technology & Learning

Interactive simulations exploring math and science concepts.

ExploreLearning Gizmos, a collection of Web-based, interactive simulations, challenge students in grades 3-12 (science) and 6-12 (math) to investigate a variety of concepts.


System Requirements: Web-based

Price/Grade: Enrollment-based, licensed pricing; 3-12.

Pros: Easily accessed; variety of science and math modules; log in from anywhere; teachers choose Gizmos based on individual class needs.

Cons: Oversimplifies some real-world experiences; some elementary lessons at a reading level beyond the grade; math Gizmos not as thorough as science Gizmos.

The program presents dozens of experiences in physical, biological, earth and space science, and math simulations ranging from pre-algebra to trigonometry. ExploreLearning is currently developing a set of modules for elementary mathematics.

Each science Gizmo allows students to experiment by manipulating one or more variables. For example, the Growing Plants Gizmo for grades 3-5 allows students to "plant" any of five different seeds, vary the amounts of light, water, and fertilizer, and determine the optimal growing conditions. The program presents results in picture form and also in graphs and charts. Gizmos does a thorough job covering ecology, evolution, natural selection, and heredity. Physical science explorations end in the early 20th century, however, excluding both quantum mechanics and relativity.

Although math Gizmos are less compelling, with fewer opportunities for experimentation, they provide clear graphic representations of concepts that students can work with. In the Using Algebraic Equations Gizmo, students drag and drop appropriate symbols and expressions to construct equations or to interpret them with words and phrases. The Comparing and Ordering Fractions Gizmo lets students manipulate representations of two fractions side by side, comparing values by sliding control arrows. The adjustable numerators and denominators provide a simple, nonverbal explanation that clearly illustrates the concept.

Simulations are correlated to state standards and a thorough teacher guide includes detailed lesson plans and review.

Inevitably, a few simulations are oversimplified. For example, Galileo never tested the acceleration of falling bodies by dropping objects from the tower of Pisa, as shown in Free Fall Tower. He had no way of accurately timing such drops. Of greater concern is "Tides," an inaccurate oversimplification of how tides actually work. A few elementary-grade lessons are also written at reading levels higher than content level.

Still, ExploreLearning Gizmos offer a rich source of experiences to supplement and reinforce science and math instruction in any classroom.

Paul Fleisher teaches science education at Virginia Commonwealth University and writes children's books.