I am always browsing the internet looking for interesting stuff to strew in the pathway of my children. Yesterday I came across Explore Learning’s website and discovered Gizmos:
Explore Learning Gizmos, the world’s largest library of interactive online simulations for math and science education in grades 3-12.
There was a free 30 day trial sign beckoning me. I couldn’t resist. I signed up.
So what are gizmos? They are virtual manipulatives that allow a student to explore mathematical and scientific concepts.
Andy and I had a great time last night trying a few out. We looked at the simple ones, designed for the lower grades…
We investigated Archimedes’ principle. We designed boats of different sizes and loaded them with 50g cubes. What mass could we add without sinking the boat?
We made different sized chocolate bars. We worked out how much chocolate we needed to fill moulds of different sizes, and exercised our multiplication skills.
We worked out how many buses of different sizes we’d need to transport all the alien students to their field trip without leaving anyone behind, and so practiced our division.
We calculated the time it took for a group of ants to push a blueberry along a branch to their nest, increasing the friction and the elevation of the branch, and so learning all about forces.
This morning Sophie and Gemma-Rose did some exploring of their own.
They set up some experiments to find out what conditions are needed for germinating seeds.
They changed the light, temperature, water and fertiliser to find out the optimum conditions for plant growth.
Charlotte had a look at how temperature affects the motion of various gases.
She also balanced a few chemical equations.
These are only a few of the over 450 gizmos.
I like the interactive nature of gizmos. There is so much you can do. The simulations and experiments are really in the control of the student, much more so than other interactive activities found on other online sites.
Each gizmo has student’s and teacher’s notes, and this is where my excitement waned a little. It all looked very much like ‘school’ which might appeal to some homeschoolers, but not to us.
It would be so easy to print off the notes. Read the principles behind each gizmo. Get the kids to fill in the answers. File it all away to be admired by an educational authorised person. Impressive! But I am not much into impressive just for its own sake.
So I have been thinking… can gizmos be used in an unschooling way? I think they could. The kids could browse them and experiment and learn… if they want to… if they are interested… if the gizmos answer their questions… The gizmos could be used when and if and how a child wants. The kids needn’t fill in the worksheets or do the experiments exactly as suggested.
Now if I owned a box of gizmos, and it could be taken down off the shelf and strewed in front of my children, their interest would probably be captured. They’d start experimenting and trying things out, and they would learn heaps. They’d work for a while until their interest was satisfied and then the box would be replaced on the shelf.
But these gizmos are online and not on our shelf, and after our 30 days’ trial ends, we will have to subscribe if we want to use them. I suspect it will cost about $450 for a year’s access. If this was to be my children’s science and maths curriculum for the next year I think that money would be well spent… but I don’t want to make my children use someone else’s curriculum. So $450 seems a lot of money just for something than would be used for strewing, and might or might not be used.
However… I am still looking at these very clever gizmos with longing eyes. In particular I know they would help Charlotte visualise all the tricky chemical concepts she wants to learn. Already she has enjoyed looking at simulations of atoms as they react and combine to form molecules. Balancing those equations suddenly became so simple once she could see and manipulate the gizmo.
But $450? I tell myself that we don’t spend money on school fees or uniforms. Money for education is not a waste… unless we don’t use what we buy.
Will I succumb and buy yet another resource we may not use? Or will I close my eyes and be sensible? Will I? Won’t I?
No need to make a hasty decision. I have 29 more days of my free trial. Until then we can continue to have fun.
I requested an exact price for a one year Gizmo licence, to be used with 3 homeschooled children. It will cost $149 ex GST. I was initially told ‘licences start from $449’.