Enjoying Interactive Maths and Science Gizmos

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.

UPDATE:

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’. 

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Comments

    • Vicky
    • September 20, 2012
    Reply

    This looks good, Sue. I wonder if you could use the month to get some ideas, even if you don't go ahead with the subscription? It sounds as though you and Andy had fun with it!

    God bless, Sue:-)

    1. Reply

      Vicky,

      These Gizmos are certainly very clever. They give children opportunities to try things out that wouldn't be possible even if they had access to a lab. The results of the simulations can be displayed in different ways: graphs, tables… which all can be manipulated. Photos of any stage of the experiment can be taken and inserted into a Word document… yes, it is very appealing.

      I think these Gizmos would especially appeal to and help a child who is very interested in science. Reproducing experiments is difficult for homeschooled children. I actually came across this website while I was searching for online virtual chemistry labs.

      Andy and I did have fun! Andy thought Gizmos would be a very effective way of teaching his students. He could use the interactive whiteboard.

      I don't know if we can really afford the subscription but we'll continue to explore the site while we can.

      God bless!

  1. Reply

    Wow! That's a steep price. I was thinking a 1 year subscription to brain pop for $100 was expensive. Is it a one time purchase? It sounds like it could be really valuable in your home. I think 30 days will give you a good trial to see if they get bored with it. I think I may have to check it out myself. Thanks for the link!

    1. Reply

      Elizabeth,

      We also have a subscription to Brainpop, one of the multi-user ones which is quite expensive. I was tempted by all those wonderful videos, but we hardly ever sign in and watch them. What was attractive to me didn't prove attractive to my children.

      I am inclined to believe the same thing will happen if I subscribe to the Gizmos. We will probably waste a lot of money if I decide to go ahead. Yes, I'm pretty sure that $450 is for a year's access. I wouldn't hesitate if it was a life time membership!!

      I'd recommend checking out the site. It is interesting and attractive!

  2. Reply

    If you go to https://www.homeschoolbuyersco-op.org/explore-learning/?c=1 you can get a subscription for $89 for up to 3 students. The co-op is awesome. I get lots of great deals with them.

  3. Reply

    Amy,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. That's a great deal. I will have to pass on the info to other homeschoolers! It was kind of you to stop by. Thanks you!

  4. Reply

    sometimes we forget how hard this can all be for a small child. Thanks for this insightful post. We have not had to move countries, but my kids do attend an immersion school.

    kids schools

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