Step into A.C. Russell’s classroom in Garnett, Kansas and you’ll instantly feel a sense of community…and a love for science. From comics and
Star Trek posters to a Kansas City Chiefs flag and motivating sayings, it’s clear that Russell and his students are actively involved in their learning environment.
Russell, a veteran teacher in his 30th year of education, currently teaches 11th and 12th-grade Forensic Science and 9th-grade Earth-Space Science at Anderson County Junior/Senior High School. He’s taught in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kansas but discovered
ExploreLearning Gizmos virtual simulations while teaching at Pennridge High School in Perkasie, PA.
“Over the years, I have used several different virtual lab platforms. Most of them were abandoned by my district after a couple of years because of the difficulty of incorporating them into the daily routine and flow of the lessons.
Gizmos and STEM Cases allow teachers to do this seamlessly. I have used Gizmos in four different districts and two different states from rich to impoverished, urban to rural, large to small. I have yet to have them not improve the scores and overall scientific knowledge of my students.”
Working with virtual simulations
“After working with Gizmos for a while, I began to see that not only were they very thorough in their questioning, but also allowed the students to explore on their own. I was able to develop new questions based on how the manipulatives behaved in various situations,” said Russell.
Element Builder Gizmo
Gizmos library, stocked with 500+ virtual math and science lab experiences, includes built-in assessments, pre-made teacher guides, student resources, and reporting to monitor learning progress. “I was impressed at the variety of topics covered within the student activity sheets. Since I have taught multiple courses within the science curricula, I was able to use several Gizmos to help my students understand concepts that cross the curriculum boundaries. For example, the Element Builder and the Ionic Bonds/Covalent Bonds Gizmos allowed me to introduce basic atomic structure to my biology students while covering energy levels and bond types for my chemistry and physical science students just by varying my points of emphasis and questioning techniques.”
A.C. Russell uses Gizmos in his classroom.
Meeting all students with Gizmos
“We are a public 3A school (a classification based on enrollment) in a rural county about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City, Kansas,” said Russell. “My students are at varying levels of performance. Some are at or below grade level in reading comprehension and math skills. I have many students with IEPs and 504s.
The hands-on aspect and the step-by-step approach that Gizmos provides is invaluable to these students.”
“As a staff, we face several challenges to get our students to perform to grade-level standards. Gizmos allow the students to work on problems using manipulatives under various scenarios to expand their understanding of the concepts covered. Gizmos are especially helpful to the Para-educational staff, allowing them to work at each student’s pace to try and solidify the concept covered in the student’s memory bank,” said Russell. “Paras have said how much Gizmos help their students who may stumble to grasp a concept. They are able to repeat the trials in a Gizmo, giving them the ability to practice and retain the information.”
Gizmos reinforce concepts with flexibility
“We will cover a topic in the routine classroom activities and notes and then explore deeper using Gizmos and STEM Cases.” Because of the agricultural nature of Russell’s school community, many of his students have chores that occupy their evenings in addition to extracurricular activities. Russell introduces a Gizmo on the first day, usually going through the prior knowledge questions and warm-up to help his classes feel comfortable with the various aspects of the simulation. “The second day is the students’ work day to complete the assignment and ask for any guidance or assistance. Finally, I give them an extra couple of days to turn in the assignment. This allows them to work at their own pace without feeling too much pressure to ‘keep up with other students’ or have an excessive amount of homework,” said Russell. After students complete a Gizmo or STEM Case, Russell leaves the simulation access open for the rest of the semester to allow students to re-visit the lab and review the content as they prepare for semester exams.
STEM Cases have been a great addition to the ExploreLearning family of educational resources. By providing my students with real-world scenarios, they get a feel for working on an actual case that may occur and get exposed to a possible exciting career path,” noted Russell.
Increased student achievement and confidence with Gizmos
“I have had several students say that they miss the Gizmos when they go to other science classes that do not use them. They have told me that the
Gizmos help them understand the material and concepts better and help them retain the information longer,” said Russell. For example, the teacher noted that the Orbital Motion- Kepler’s Laws Gizmo made content easier to understand than before since it shows the orbital patterns and the varying speeds at which planets orbit the Sun based upon their relative positions.
And Gizmos are helping boost student achievement. “
My students have improved on my classroom assessments as well as state assessments. Their concept understanding and ability to problem solve have increased. I have seen their confidence in trying to work through the questions and various scenarios explored in the Gizmos grow,” said the teacher. “When I first began using Gizmos, I would get a lot of questions. Now, my students take great pride in working through the assignment with less help and are not afraid to tackle some of the more challenging Gizmos.”
Russell also presents at educational conferences around the country, including KATS (Kansas Association of Teachers of Science) in 2018, ISTE (International Science and Technology Educators) in 2014, and a conference at the University of Kansas - Johnson County in 2019.
“Whenever I present at conferences, I begin with a brief presentation on Gizmos and the data and testimonials supporting the research in creating and modifying Gizmos and improvement obtained from their use. Then, I model a typical class using Gizmos from both math and science to try and cover as many subjects as possible. At the KATS Conference, the KU Educators Conference, and the Greenbush Learning Center professional development conference, I received many positive comments about how well-researched and thorough each Gizmo student activity is and the ease of guiding the students through the lesson,” said Russell.
No matter the location or subject matter, Russell knows he can count on Gizmos.
A.C. Russell has been teaching for 30 years. After receiving undergraduate degrees from Virginia Tech and Longwood University, Russell continues his professional education through graduate studies in Teacher Leadership from Pennsylvania State University, Educational Law from Emporia State University, and Immunology from Tufts University Medical School. He currently teaches Forensic Science (grades 11-12) and Earth-Space (grade 9) at Anderson County Junior/Senior High School in Garnett, Kansas.
Russell has taught a variety of disciplines over his career, including Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, Pathophysiology I & II, Hereditary Medicine, Scientific Writing & Research, Bioastronautics, Anatomy, AP Environmental Science, Environmental Science, Physics, Physical Science, Chemistry, Life Science, Physical Science, Earth & Space Science, Applied Biology, Applied Earth Science, Calculus, Pre-calculus, and Geometry.