Students and teachers are adapting to a changing environment this year as the field of education tries to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Distance and hybrid learning means a lot of subjects that depend on hands-on work aren’t getting that valuable in-person learning time. Luckily for Kennedy Secondary School science teacher Ted Kohorst, 544 Education Foundation stepped up to help his students engage in hands-on learning digitally by helping to fund a subscription to Gizmos.

Gizmos, by ExploreLearning, are interactive math and science simulations that span subjects like how to build topographic maps or create circuits, as well as explaining things like magnetic induction and energy of a pendulum.

“Last spring we used it and they had the kids build a simulated digestive system, and they had to work their way through it and at the end they got to send burgers and food through it, and it told them, ‘You only absorbed half the food,’ so then they’d have to go figure out what’s in the wrong place,” Kohorst explains. “We’re doing next week deals with them becoming a forensic toxicologist, as we’re working through cellular respiration. It’s just stuff that’s hard to do in class because of the topic we’re on.”

Kohorst learned about Gizmos from seventh-grade science teacher Kari Flatau, who had only heard about it, and they thought it might be worth checking out. 

“When we had to go full distance (learning) in the spring, Gizmos made it available free for everyone to use, so we were able to really dig into it then and it was something we really, really liked as part of our curriculum,” says Kohorst. “It’s very helpful, obviously, in the learning model we’re in, where I only have students two days a week, so on the other days when they’re at home, where I can’t necessarily do the labs and activities with them, the simulations are very helpful for that.”

Gizmos are being used in seventh- and eighth-grade science to supplement the curriculum. 

“It’s nice to know that they’re engaged in actual science, so they’re analyzing data, working through some scientific processes when they’re at home so that when they come back, it really brings that stuff into discussion in the classroom,” Kohorst says. “The kids get a little more fired up when they’re actually engaged in those scientific processes.”

The Fergus Falls 544 Education Foundation awarded $1,750 to bring Gizmos into the classroom. 

“It was really nice that the 544 Foundation was able to do that grant so it doesn’t come out of the budget,” says Kohorst. “Props and kudos to them for helping us out there.”