SPRING HILL — Anthony Perillo sat at a computer and contemplated the images before him.
There were three panels showing pots — for plants — and a measuring stick in each. Using icons, 12-year-old Anthony chose two of several types of seeds and moved them to two of the pots.
He controlled the water, the light and the fertilizer, all with a touch of his computer mouse. He watched as the plants grew before his eyes, according to the nutrients and care each had received. He was using Gizmo, an interactive online simulations website.
This is the second year Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics has used the program. Leonette Ehlenbeck uses it in her science resource classroom, where she sees students in kindergarten through eighth grade. She uses Gizmo with grades 3 to 8.
Ehlenbeck recently demonstrated Gizmo's Cannonball Clowns to one of those groups, projecting the computer images onto a screen.
She asked the children to guess how far the International Space Station is from Earth. Someone suggested about 20,000 miles. Ehlenbeck typed the number in, the Gizmo cannon launched a clown from Earth into space and the children watched him sail far over the space station.
They continued to guess distances until the clown hit its target, a very visual lesson on distance estimations.
Jennifer Andress teaches seventh-grade integrated science. Anthony Perillo is in her class and was watching his bean plants.
"You can see that it's started to grow," he said about the one with plenty of light.
He clicked to another page to show how information can be graphed as bars or lines. He's a fan of Gizmo. It has helped him get through a number of projects.
"I think it's pretty useful, resourceful and inspirational," Anthony said. "It's a great activity in my opinion."
Andress moved through the room, assisting students.
"Everybody's engaged in what they're doing," she said.
She likes how Gizmo helps clarify lessons.
"It gives kids that 'ah ha!' moment," she said.
Katie Mistretta, 13, is also in Andress' seventh-grade class, and she too likes Gizmo.
"It's different than just looking at the board and listening to the teacher," she said. "I can just read from my own work."
The Gizmo system is not just for science. It also offers math programs.
"It's amazing," said Challenger middle school math teacher Jennifer Squillante. "It parallels the textbook. It's really a great way to review something, because math has to be interactive. I use it a lot for instruction. They love the interacting."
Squillante said students can sign in and use Gizmo at home, where it is useful for providing extra help and for reviewing basic skills. She has all of her classes logged in, and she can monitor how they are doing at home.
"It's great," she said.
Gizmo, being a website, requires a fee. This is something, Ehlenbeck said, that she and the other teachers must pay for with fundraising.
To purchase the license for this year, about $4,800, Ehlenbeck won a grant from the Hernando County Education Foundation, the school received a donation from School Board member Cynthia Moore and there was a T-shirt sale, partially sponsored by Suncoast Urgent Care.
"We had to raise every bit of it ourselves," she said.
Looking ahead to next year, she is getting ready to start the fundraising all over again.