Carolina Biological OSE - July 2024


Forums / General Science and Teaching / Differentiating Science Instruction

General Science and Teaching

Differentiating Science Instruction

Author Post
Cheska Robinson Cheska Lorena 5075 Points

One of the things I am struggling with is learning how to differentiate science instruction to meet the needs of my students. I have such a wide gap with high-ability and low-ability students, and I worry about one group getting bored and one group falling behind. Trying to create more challenging work for the high ability students isn't the difficult part... it's the part where I have to find reader-level friendly information for the other group. I've been rewriting the textbook, using bigger fonts, adding more pictures, and also trying to incorporate more kinesthetic activities and manipulatives. The students seem to "get" it when I informally assess, but once the test grades and performance tasks come in, the results are dismal! Can you please recommend reading resources, materials, and ideas to help me differentiate my teaching in better ways? Thanks!

Deb Rausch Deb Rausch 10 Points

Hello! I just found this resource, and saw your post from 2012. I am taking the chance that you are still teaching and that you check this site. I am in the same situation, and feel your frustration. I just ordered the publication for middle school science tic-tac-toe activities. Have you found a way to make DI work yet? I feel like I am just brushing the surface most times, and would really love to feel confident in my differentiation abilities without making a mountain of extra work for myself. Any suggestions or advice?

Amanda Wolfe Amanda Wolfe 16375 Points

Hi Deb,

I will go ahead and jump in here. The struggle is real! I have been teaching for the last 5 years with very diverse classes of students (ELL's and Special Ed cohorts). It is hard but doable. A few strategies that I have found that were most helpful for helping my students accessing readings were using internet interactive and mixed media resources to help build context 'pictures in their minds' before the readings, interactive reading strategies like pair sharing and pair/compare highlighting, quote and meaning, and socratic seminars to discuss the text as a whole group. These group work strategies are engaging for all of the learners in the class and allow the struggling learners to have a a chance to access the text. For writing strategies I did create sentence frames that my struggling writers could use for things like Claim Evidence and Reasoning writing for the common core curriculum. Here is an example (not mine) . Also opportunities for revision. I believe the revision process can sometimes be the best teacher. Also you are not alone. I highly recommend collaborating with other teachers in your school or looking into some professional development programs to better support your efforts. Does anyone else have some best practices that they have found most useful?

Cheska Robinson Cheska Lorena 5075 Points

I have thought about doing a performance task paired with written essays, and someone else mentioned using tic-tac-toe menus. For someone who's never seen it done before though, it seems to be very overwhelming! With many students choosing to do different assessments at different days/times, how do you keep track of them all? Can you show me an example of what you give out to students, and what you use for yourself? Thanks, Cheska

Daliz Vasquez Daliz Vasquez 1455 Points

Cheska, One thing that has been useful for me has been to utilize the resources on the internet to give the students other types of reading... I love to use Brain Pop (which is also in Spanish), any PBS videos, and then I search for materials that will inform the students of the main points that they need. I hope this helps.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Cheska asks, 'I have thought about doing a performance task paired with written essays, and someone else mentioned using tic-tac-toe menus. For someone who's never seen it done before though, it seems to be very overwhelming! With many students choosing to do different assessments at different days/times, how do you keep track of them all? Can you show me an example of what you give out to students, and what you use for yourself?'

Hi Cheska, I did a quick advance search putting in the key word 'tic tac toe' and an article came up: Differentiation Through Choice-Using a Think-Tac-Toe for Science Content
The idea behind this strategy (according to the article) plugs into Gardner's Multiple Intellegences (MI) work. Students choose activities on the grid based on their MI strengths. I personally am a staunch supporter of student choices; I think it increases motivation and allows for students to have more ownership in their learning journeys. It is an interesting article and may give you some ideas on how to incorporate this strategy.

Nichole Montague Nichole Montague 4675 Points

I also have a huge gap in the abilities of my students. I teach 6th grade science to all our kids and each class has a heterogeneous mix of many ability levels. I don't do much work out of our science text book - unfortunately many of my students are not good enough readers to get much out of it. I have been making my own curriculum based on the standards and I too strive to incorporate various types of instruction and resources for students to access. I do alot of partner/group work which really seems to help some of the lower students, especially the ones that can not read. I also incorporate as many videos/images and hands on activities as possible. I enjoyed reading through this forum as it has given me even more ideas to try and further differentiate for my students. I would really like to try a performance based assessment in the future.

Kelly Amendola Kelly Amendola 10320 Points

Cheska, I feel like I went through every possible extreme to make sure my students understood the unit. My school puts a lot of focus on their state tests so I made my exit slips with state questions, their independent practices and also every way I could teach something I tried. I gave them the tests and one class out of 4 increased their scores, all the rest went down. I've heard about tic-tac-toe, that will be my next step in the classroom. Hopefully that will raise more interest in science.

Perry Schlanger Perry Schlanger 390 Points

One technique I use for differentiating assignments is RAFT: Role-Audience-Format-Topic. It is a menu-based system where students decide how they wish to proceed. I create a number of options in each category and the students make their selections. For example, if we are studying electricity, the menu might be: Role: Electrician Building inspector Master electrician Physicist Electrical engineer Audience: Homeowner Apprentice electrician HS students Formats: Public service announcement Brochure Poster Powerpoint presentation Letter to the editor Topics: Building codes Electrical circuits Electromagnetic pulses Safety of electrical devices Students simply choose one from each category - the stronger students get to run wild without leaving the weaker students in their dust. The variability also discourages repetition of topics within the class. With a few options in each category, you can easily get hundreds or thousands of possible combinations. Perry

Lorrie Armfield Lorrie Armfield 51438 Points

I absolutely Love it Perry. Excellent ideas and suggestions. I am looking forward to trying this in my classroom. What a great way to 'hook and hold' the attention of all learners (regardless of ability or dominant learning style). Wooo Hooo! LA

Kathy Renfrew Kathy Renfrew 37248 Points

The tic-tac-toe discussion reminded me of a class I had taken where we used materials from Susan WInebrenner. Susan's focus was on gifted students but when you investigate her ideas, you can see how they would work for all students. In the example I am attaching it is around mythology but you should be able to get the idea. The menu is created thinking about a range of students, and then students choose the activities that will demonstrate their understanding. Hope this is helpful.


Jennifer Rahn Jennifer Rahn 67955 Points

The district I work for will be doing extreme full-inclusion next year, to the extent that high schools and middle schools will have no separate special ed classes for content areas. As much as I appreciate the need for inclusion, we seem to reach a point where including profoundly learning disabled students in the mainstream classes is not a good choice for either group. We have actually begun this; in one sixth grade "house," we have five students who are included in standard classes. Two have moderate to severe autism, one has Down's, one CP, and the last several issues going on. Only one reads above a first-grade level, math consists of counting money in the school store, and only one is verbal enough to understand and communicate. Obviously, this is more than simple differentiation. In this case, each child needs a great deal of support. A special ed teacher works in the classroom with the group, but with a difference in ability exceeding five years, there is a tremendous difference to bridge. But beginning next year, this will be the "new normal" in our district. Yesterday as the class attempted to plot earthquake data on a map, I was hoping to get the kids to put together a Pangaea puzzle, thinking that a few pieces might make it more understandable. So, how do the rest of you handle differentiation within a class that may have ability levels several grades above level to those at a preschool level, and who are largely non-verbal?

Nicole Dainty Nicole Dainty 4360 Points

Just found this posting, and have been wondering about how to better do this myself. I used to teach sixth grade self-contained, and now teach middle school science. I don't know why, but I felt I was much better at differentiating math and reading than I am at differentiating science! One thing I've been doing is multi-leveled type activities. So for example, right now we're doing an astronomy unit. I want my students to be able to diagram the Earth in relation to the sun, to show the correct rotation & revolution motions, season, and day/night for a given scenario. (Ex: John is playing tennis at noon during summer break. He lives in Indianapolis. diagram Earth in space at this time, with a dot to show John's location.) I gave the whole class examples. Collected them. Next day, they rotated through different stations where the modeled different scenarios. One station was one-on-one instruction with me, so I could better meet the needs of kids who were struggling. One station was for a few kids who are way advanced in this area, and they had some books/magazines etc to flip through to learn about whether other planets have seasons, if so why, and then use clay to model. It was a lot to plan out, but seemed worth it in the end. The best stuff on differentiated instruction I have read is by Carol Tomlinson. She has a few books out on the topic and I plan on rereading one of them soon. Also, found some sample differentiated lesson plans here when I was researching some ideas the other week: I like the idea of the tic-tac-toe - but it does seem like a lot to keep track of! Especially with large class sizes...

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

This is EdWeek's PD page on differentiated instruction

Hannah Lestan Hannah Lestan 1100 Points

Hi everybody! I currently am a student at Southern Illinois University. I will be student teaching in the fall, and one of my biggest concerns is being able to differentiate within the classroom. Although I do find science fascinating and wonderful, I want to make sure that I am doing the right techniques so that my students can "get it". I have learned multiple strategies in my theory classes and I am still not 100% comfortable with differentiation. Do you have some suggestions on how to ease into utilizing differentiation in the science classroom? I know it is very important and I want to make sure to implement it into my classroom, this fall. Thank you, Hannah

Nicole Dainty Nicole Dainty 4360 Points

Hannah - I have just been teaching 5 years, and teaching strictly science for only 2. So to be honest I feel as though I am still getting a grip on differentiated instruction myself. I have found it helpful to incorporate one new strategy or method at a time. For example, last year I started by implementing more formative assessments in my classroom on a regular basis, and truly using that data to drive my instruction. (Page Keeley's Science Probes are great!) That was my first starting point towards more effectively differentiating instruction. In order to effectively use DI you have to know where your students are at! By looking at pre-assessments, I could figure out if I needed to differentiate the content I was teaching. Then, I decide how to do that and I try out different strategies and methods as I go. For example, right now, I am teaching weather with my 8th graders. I will be giving them a pre-assessment to see what I need to go over in more detail with the whole class, and what I can do with smaller groups. For this unit, each student will get a learning contract and have multiple days to be working on various labs and projects. They have choices in which products to produce. These workshop days give me the freedom to differentiate more; to give attention to groups completing a lab that need more guidance, or to meet with a group of students who don't seem to understand some prerequisite knowledge, etc. I've attached the learning contract "menu" my students will be receiving if you want to look at it!


Gerry Clarin Gerry Clarin 2125 Points

I'm also having a difficult time with differentiation. I have two inclusion classes out of the six classes I teach. I have a co teacher this is our first year co teaching. We were very new to the whole idea this year. Since it was my first year teaching Biology and her first year teaching we kind of let the co-teaching and differentiation fall by te wayside. We tried teaching together but because she co teaches with another teacher and teaches her own classes we didn't really have too much planning time. Does anyone have any ideas about how to plan using a co-teaching model. We will have a few days over the summer to work on these things.

Yolanda Smith-Evans Yolanda Smith-Evans 6425 Points

I don't have any resources to post but I am indeed in need of strategies and lesson ideas to use for differentiating instruction. Another concern is how to make lessons more rigorous.

Angelo Laskowsky Angelo Laskowsky 2190 Points

I'm not really sure if this has been addressed, but I do 2 things that seem to work very well. The first option is the Tic Tac Toe option mentioned elsewhere. I'm by nature very lazy and don't always make a traditional Tic Tac Toe grid. Instead I hand the students the rubric and say "do what you want to meet the criteria. If you'd rather have a test, ask me and I'll give you the test." It's a little hectic at first, because I had to get the notion out of my head that the project should "look" a certain way. I decided that all I really cared about was that my students were answering the points on the rubric correctly and in a timely matter and that they were doing it in a way that showed they understood the content. So, I really like it. The other option I'd recommend is for homework. Rather than making 2 of everything and accounting for EVERY possible strategy everytime, I usually write 3 sets of questsion on the worksheet. Students can then pick if they want to answer Block 1, Block 2 or Block 3. or they can mix and match from each block. The answers are all the same, but Block was is the Regular level question, Block 2 is the Advanced section and Block 3 is the Struggling Section so the depth of the answer varies. I don't tell the students ANYTHING about the groups of the questions, that they need to pick the questions they want to answer. They haven't caught on yet that there's a leveling system, and they rarely pick questions that I think are too easy for them. Over all, it adds about an extra 10-15 minutes to my time when I'm making a homework, but it doesn't really affect my grading time at all.

Yolanda Smith-Evans Yolanda Smith-Evans 6425 Points

Thank you Angelo for replying. I am guessing that when students choose to make a tic tac toe, etc. they have to have a certain number of points. At least a minimum number of points I would say. I like this strategy as it is a little different than the 'menu' selection.

Angelo Laskowsky Angelo Laskowsky 2190 Points

The tic tac toe idea is they get to pick three activities that all add up to a single point value (like 100) or whatever. So, you'd have different activities in each square with a point value based on how difficult you think eac thing is. Test could go in the center and be 100 points or whatever. The students then pick which activities they want to do to add up to 100 points. The link below might help you Me, I'm lazy, and I really don't like coming up with a million and one different ways to do something, so I just tell the kids to do whatever they want as long as it meets the rubric. I grade them all the same because I don't like creating multiple rubrics and multiple assessments. I guess that's a more menu approach. So, for me, a powerpoint is worth the same as a test is worth the same as a report. My one stipulation is that they can't do the same method of project twice. So if they pick test once, they have to pick something else the next time. The creativity that kids use is pretty awesome oonce i start removing parameters. I've had students give rock concerts as presentations for climate change, a rock cycle movie done entirely on a Nintendo DS, a one-person movie (with 4 characters) on the ethics of off shore drilling, Plate Tectonics projects done through cakes, and story books written for elementary schoolers about the Seasons (and written so 3rd grader could understand). I was so inspired by that last idea that I'm having all of my kids do a story book about the seasons and we're going to the elementary school to read them. The social studies teacher on my team does a combo of the 2. He gives them a list of choices tic-tac-toe style, and says that by the end of the year, they have to have chosen to do every style of project. I hope that clears things up? I think I just confused myself...

Yolanda Smith-Evans Yolanda Smith-Evans 6425 Points

I too like the children's book project and have used it myself. I wanted to add to the strategies I recommend for teachers to use. Especially new teachers that are struggling to manage their classes and provide effective instruction. What strategies are used to differentiate between groups? How does an assignment on the rock cycle for traditional level students differ from the advanced level students?

Angelo Laskowsky Angelo Laskowsky 2190 Points

Ahh, I see. Regular level rock cycle comic book: Illustrate the rock cycle include extrusive and intrusive igneous, foliated and nonfoliated metamorphic, detritital and chemical sedimentary. They need to provide examples of each type of rock, but do not necessarily have to tell the "true" parent-daughter rocks. For example, for an igneous rock they could use obsidian, and then for metamorphic use marble. Advanced level: As above, but the rocks must show true parent-daughter paths. So granite for igneous, gneiss for metamorphic. I also encourage them try to make it a story and use metaphors to show the different stages (the Super Saiyin Rock Cycle has been my favorite student document for years... Goku's super saiyin level 4 as Periodite still makes me laugh). The explanations MUST be accurate, however. Students have made glossaries at the end of their books to make sure the metaphors are understood. Struggling Level: As Regular level, but they need only illustrate half and describe the other. (so they have to explain how both intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks form, but they only need to show and give an example for intrusive igneous). Everyone's kind of doing the same thing, but they get some wiggle room in the expectations of the final product. It's close enough that no one complains when someone appears to do less but gets an equal grade, either. I'm not really sure if that's the best way to go about it, but it's what's worked for me.

Yolanda Smith-Evans Yolanda Smith-Evans 6425 Points

Thank you for taking the time to break it down in a very understable way. This explanation is good for getting the mind working on other topics and student assessment products.

Angelo Laskowsky Angelo Laskowsky 2190 Points

A great book for a resource is Differentiated Instructional Strategies: One Size Doesn't Fit All by Gayle H. Gregory, and Carolyn Chapman. I don't think I follow it exactly but it was really informative! It advised the tiering for method that I mentioned.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Cheska asked, "The students seem to "get" it when I informally assess, but once the test grades and performance tasks come in, the results are dismal! Can you please recommend reading resources, materials, [b]and ideas[/b] to help me differentiate my teaching in better ways?" Hi Cheska, As I was thinking about your question, "I asked myself what works for me?" I must share that I refer to the SciPacks to isolate specific misconceptions and identify developmental readiness by grade level found within each SciPack's pedagogical implications section. It really helps me to consider possible conceptual misunderstandings and basic lacks of understanding that my students might bring with them to the classroom. It may be that our students are holding onto their prior beliefs and thus are unable make sense of the new material. OR they may be developmentally unready to attach meaning to the new knowledge we are presenting. What is your next unit of study, Cheska? Maybe those of us on this thread could share some of the common misconceptions that we are aware of pertaining to your unit's content, and then we could share how we set up instruction to uncover our students' misunderstandings. Or we could help to scaffold instruction to help students construct new understandings of common science concepts. The differentiation could come through the knowledge level and types of activities provided. For example, in the Force and Motion SciPack it says that K-2 graders should be able to understand that things move in different ways: zig-zag, straight, fast, slow, etc. 3-5th graders should know that you can change how something moves by giving it a push or a pull. 6-8th graders are able to explain that the motion of an object can be described by its position, direction of motion and speed. One can see the developmental jumps in understanding based on the concept of motion. If you have students in 6th grade still understanding motion as second graders, you may need to provide activities to scaffold their learning from second to sixth grade. Differentiation encompasses so much - presenting a lesson using a variety of learning modalities serves as an entry point for students to engage their minds and hands. Then we need to ascertain what our students already know about a topic and then determine the best way to get them to the next level of conceptual understanding for that concept. In my earlier years of teaching, I think I used to assume my students understood more than they really did when I started a new unit. I had material to get through! Back then they would just memorize the material for me instead of understanding what it meant. Resources like SciPacks, the AAAS [url=]Atlas of Science Literacy[/url] and the [url=]Benchmarks for Science Literacy[/url] have transformed how I approach teaching and learning. Carolyn

Post Reply

Forum content is subject to the same rules as NSTA List Serves. Rules and disclaimers