Cytoplasm. Mitochondrion. Nucleus. For Kacy Brobst, a public school science teacher in Fishers, IN, cell structure was always difficult for her students to grasp. “The concepts and processes taking place inside of the cell can be challenging for them to wrap their brains around, even as honors students,” says Brobst.
For her Honors Biology and Principles of Biomedical Science students, mostly 9th and 10th graders interested in science or medicine, Brobst needed a solution to make the microscopic become life-sized, all within the span of a class period.
But when ExploreLearning Gizmos entered the scene, she noticed a serious change in her students’ learning. When presented with the interactive Cell Structure Gizmo, her class started understanding cells in new ways
“My students are extremely curious and hands-on learners. They love to ask questions and explore topics on their own,” says Brobst. “Gizmos really help give them a visual of what is taking place [inside the cell] so they can better understand the process.”
A win-win for students and teachers
Brobst’s students aren’t the only ones enjoying Gizmos. “They are straight-forward and easy to use from both the student and teacher perspective. I love that I can simply search a topic from my standards or curriculum and find a virtual lab experience for my students to use as an additional lab, or to replace a lab that we couldn't complete in person (due to absences or virtual learning),” says the high school teacher.
Pre-made, modifiable lesson resources that accompany each Gizmo are also helpful for Brobst’s classes. “Many other platforms have the activity and virtual component, but they require educators to make the directions, pre-lab and post-lab questions, and the assessment. Gizmos provides all of that to us, which is amazing!”
Brobst incorporates Gizmos in a variety of ways. “Sometimes I use Gizmos as a warm-up activity for my students. Other times, it is part of my inquiry-based questioning in my direct instruction. Most of the time, it is part of an activity that the students are completing either in class or as a homework assignment,” says Brobst. Regardless of use, the impact on learning is evident.
“Gizmos have helped my students visualize challenging concepts in a way that makes sense to them and allows them to manipulate variables to see the scientific process in action.” - Kacy Brobst
Increased engagement, real results
Brobst notes that with Gizmos, her students “use hands-on inquiry in their learning, and it really engages them more in topics.” She’s also seen her students show a new appreciation for complicated lessons, like photosynthesis.
“It tends to be a challenging topic for students, not only because the content is difficult, but because the overall process lacks the pizazz that topics like genetics and biotechnology naturally have. Having students use the Photosynthesis Gizmo to experiment with the effects that changing temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, and light color have on a plant's ability to produce oxygen and glucose engages them while teaching them, and helps them grow to like (or at least appreciate!) photosynthesis more,” says Brobst.
In addition to increased engagement, her high school students are also performing better on exams. “Since beginning to use Gizmos, student test scores on diagram-based questions have increased compared to past years. The biggest change I have seen is in our exam scores from our Energetics Unit ([including] Photosynthesis and Cellular Respiration). Thanks to Gizmos, we have seen test scores improve by several percent over the last few years.”
With more than 450 Gizmos, it’s hard to choose just one favorite. One of Brobst’s top-picks is the Protein Synthesis simulation. “I love how accessible Gizmos makes this material,” she remarks. Her high school students also love STEM Cases, interactive journeys that allow students to role-play as STEM professionals to solve real world problems. Brobst’s classes particularly enjoy the Enzymes STEM Case, where they work to uncover a dog’s weight problem through the lens of a veterinary technician… all while learning about enzymes in action!
Brobst strives to incorporate Gizmos in a variety of her curriculum units. “Our department has a goal of using Gizmos at least four times a year. I usually use between twelve and fourteen Gizmos a year, which is something I am really proud of!”
But at the end of the day, Brobst’s students remain the biggest fans.
“Gizmos have become such a staple in my classroom. If I tell my students an activity or homework assignment will include a Gizmo, I am usually met with at least one ‘Let's go!’ and immediate log-ins to the platform.”
Kacy Brobst has eleven years of education experience, currently teaching Honors Biology and Principles of Biomedical Science at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in Teaching from Marian University. In addition to teaching, Brobst is a sponsor for the Class of 2023 and the Royal Eco Club. Her husband, Nick, is also a science teacher at HSE High School. They have two children, Logan and Avery.