By Michael Hilkemeijer
Given that it is impossible really to separate technology and science in learning it must be remembered that differentiated instruction with technology has to be considered as a key strategy. It will highly likely that you will teach or are teaching in a diverse classroom with each student being unique in their interests, experiences, readiness to learn and learning preferences.
What tools can you use today to maximise individual student learning?
In the science classroom where Information and Communication Technology (ICT) meld so well together it is best to facilitate opportunities for students to move in and out of different grouping structures, or provide a wide range of choices for learning so that success is achieved.
The following strategies to do with differentiated instruction with technology is there to help you strengthen your teaching skills by adding technology tools to differentiated instruction in science today.
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Here is how to differentiate in the classroom today.
Differentiate Instruction with Technology by Content
When you provide access to content for students, you empower them to take ownership of it. When you differentiate by content, you vary what you teach as well as how you teach it. This requires you to become more resourceful and innovative.
To differentiate content you need to:
Differentiate content by readiness
For more able students, you can compact the curriculum in the following ways:
- Pre-assess – identify content goals and outcomes; pre-assess students on the identified objectives before teaching;
- Modify learning objectives – identify which students have mastered the learning objectives; Decide whether the identified students need enrichment or accelerated activities; Create replacement activities for students who have met the objectives that are about to be taught.
- Manage – develop a plan with students to determine they’ll do while others work on regular lessons; Create guidelines, timelines, work rules and assignments for content mastered.
For less able students, you can apply scaffolding to aid in the completion of a task so that they will gain the skills needed to do work that you have set out for them. You may need write the content materials in a simpler reading levels and use multisensory components that appeal to them.
Differentiate content by interest
This means choosing topics students choosing to explore because they are eager to learn about them. It is a very good hook to engage students in their learning. Some ideas that you could use include:
- Setting up an Interest centre in your classroom – a physical space within the classroom and contains a variety of materials grouped together by interest or theme.
- Online explorations – there are many websites devoted to content for students to explore and investigate.
- Software – there are software programs that you can use and that have been developed.
- WebQuests – you can also create a WebQuests that compliments students’ interests.
Differentiate content by learning profile
You can also differentiate content by learning profile as students come with different, unique backgrounds, learning styles, and preferences.
As you communicate concepts and core material to them differentiating by learning profile will be an effective and essential tool for this to occur.
- Create graphic organisers and diagrams to aid visual-spatial learners;
- Create rap or songs to emphasise key points and offer multiple texts and resources to help students learn;
- Share information by printed text, by digital text, by pictures and videos, by music and field trips;
- Offer content that appeals to and strengthens the multiple intelligence.
Videos are a great way to address the multiple intelligences as they can come with close captions that appeal to text-based learners. They are a great way to enhance classroom instruction by visually demonstrating an abstract concept.
Differentiate Instruction with Technology by Process
You need to use sense-making activities with students to enable comprehension of content. This involves giving students opportunities to explore key concepts that make an essential part of the input side of the equation.
By doing so, you are giving students the chance to come to grips with the material they have been learning. They are able to play with it, twist it, and experiment with it.
Through this process, the activities that you create allow students to take ownership of the material.
Flexible grouping is a strategy that is very popular in primary education. Flexibly grouped students learn how solve problems and encourage others while they are actively talking ownership of content.
- Grouping students by interest;
- Grouping students by learning profile;
- Grouping students by readiness.
Here is a sample grouping assignment when you use ICT in primary science (Smith & Throne, 2007, p. 121):
“Pair or triad students and allow them to play the role of the teacher or peer tutor. Each group is responsible for writing a set of science truths or concepts that correspond to the unit they are studying. Students generate a slide show with an explanation of the concepts and examples.
Variation: Each group produces a poster about a scientist who made a significant contribution to the field of science. Offer a list of research topics, such as background, contribution, education, importance of the field, timeline and related themes.”
Cubing and ThinkDots
This strategy is said to be very versatile and engaging as it involves the use of a manipulative to perform tasks that work their assignment. Here is an idea for your science classroom (Smith & Throne, 2007, p. 127):
“This activity may be used to explore or review what a plant needs in order to grow.
On the faces of each cube, write six things a plant needs to grow. Divide the students into six groups and ask students to take one turn rolling the cube within the group. (Students role again if their roll turns up a face revealing a topic that has already appeared).
Students create a picture in Kid Pix or Paint to represent the plant’s need that turns up on the face of the cube, and they may also key in a short textual explanation. After they’ve completed their pictures, they return to their groups, show the pictures and explain why a plant must have that particular element to grow.
This activity may be modified and used with the life cycle of a plant or the part of a plant.”
Differentiated Instruction with Technology by Product
The diversity that your classroom will bring requires this strategy to be embedded into science lessons as it allows students to truly take ownership of their learning. Your students will react enthusiastically when they are given choices and when given product activities that they have had a part in designing.
The aim is to create powerful product assignments and the following seven step process will guide you (Smith & Throne, 2007, p. 148):
- Identify the essentials of the unit that will determine what students learn, make sense of and apply – These fundaments understandings include which facts students need to know, which concepts must be comprehended, and which skills must be mastered. Product assignments can be created based on these facts, concepts and skills.
- Identify some possible formats or ways of expressing the product – Can the products be based on the multiple intelligence of the learners? Can students create options? Can students choose from a set of option?
- Identify your expectation for quality – These expectations revolve around quality of content, process and product. Your expectations can be expressed in the rubrics you create and what you spell out for students to do.
- Identify the scaffolding needed for students’ success – Strategies might include rubrics, peer editing, time lines and learning contracts.
- Identify modified versions of the assignment by readiness, interest or learning profile – These modified version of product assignments allow for and honour various learning styles, interests and abilities.
- Identify the product assignments to students, providing explanations, guidelines and expectations – This is the time to show sample products other students have made and distribute guideline sheets, rubrics and other help sheets.
- Identify coaching, consulting and public relations strategies to use with students – We want out students to succeed with their products as they become engaged and excited about learning.