February 2011 • Volume 14 • Number 3 • Pages 8-9
Differentiate Teaching and Learning with Web 2.0 Tools
How do you differentiate instruction? We asked the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways project (http://msteacher2.org) 21st Century Teacher Leaders about their favorite tech tools for differentiating instruction. Here's what they had to say:
Todd Williamson is a National Board Certified teacher (early adolescent science) at Broad Creek Middle School in Newport, North Carolina. He teaches seventh grade science.
A key to differentiating instruction is having a multitude of strategies to use with students on different learning paths. The strategy that works brilliantly with a few students might self-destruct with another group.
Jumping from one strategy to another on our laundry list of differentiation practices is time-consuming and frequently inefficient. When working with middle grades students, it's important to recognize that they are developing the ability to advocate for themselves and can have some level of input into the strategies that best help them learn.
The Internet offers students a plethora of tools to use according to the situation. Just as a carpenter uses a broad range of tools in the construction of a house, our students should have a broad range of options for demonstrating their learning. Here are few that I especially like.
MakeBeliefsComix.com allows students to create a short comic strip. There are many characters to choose from, each featuring four different expressions. Students can add speech or thought bubbles, resize characters, add items to each frame, and e-mail their finished comics to their teacher. Alternatively, students can print out the comic strips and color in background objects to get their point across. This is a great entry point for students who claim they "can't draw."
VoiceThread.com encourages group conversations around images. Students or teachers can post images to the thread and other users can add text, spoken, or videoed comments about the images. This way students can discuss a topic asynchronously and perhaps even across multiple classes.
Animoto.com and JayCut.com provide for video creation and editing, respectively. Using Animoto, students create professional-looking video slideshows set to music in a short amount of time. Students can upload images, add text slides, and select music, then let Animoto do the rest. With JayCut, students work with short video segments and edit them online, much like Windows MovieMaker but without the platform issues, since it's a web-based tool.
Rather than giving students a couple of options, the Internet and technology tools offer infinite potential if we just take the time to explore and let our students discover what works best for them.
Eric Biederbeck is in his tenth year of teaching math, science, and social studies at Essex Middle School in Essex Junction, Vermont.
Differentiation has been a buzzword in our district the past few years. As we have begun our districtwide implementation of differentiated techniques, most of our training and ideas have revolved around differentiating for readiness. Recently, however, we began to consider differentiating for learning style and interest as well.
Technologies, particularly the many Web 2.0 tools available, help with this process. One tool I've used to help differentiate for learning style and interest is Glogster.
Glogster (www.glogster.com) provides students with opportunities to express themselves and their interests. For example, during a unit on ancient civilizations of Latin America, students might choose activities from a board about European conquest, including creating a Glog about diseases that Europeans brought to the New World to a Glog that includes a Venn diagram comparing Cortes to Pizzaro.
After students have been introduced to Glogster and have had the opportunity to use it a few times, they often use it for open-ended projects. I asked my math students to create a visual describing a miniature golf hole they created as part of a geometry project. Many used Glogster to show examples of their golf hole using digital pictures they took and included text explaining the angles and scale of the hole.
Glogster also provides opportunities for students to work within their learning style. Glogster appeals to students who are visual learners by allowing them to create their own posters. Students have options to add background, color, pictures, and videos. Glogster allows them to highlight text and have it "pop" out.
Glogster also gives students a choice in the type of multimedia they use. Students can find pictures and music to incorporate into their Glog. They can find videos on YouTube.com, which they can embed into a Glog. In my classroom, students created Glogs about particular arctic animals. Some incorporated video or audio of their animal while others stayed with pictures.
Students who are auditory learners can create podcasts, which they can then embed in their Glog. In math, I have students create a podcast explaining a particular math strategy such as prime factorization. Students often opt to embed this podcast into a Glog and might also include information in text form that discusses everyday uses of prime factorization. The many options Glogster provides allow students of different learning styles to thrive.
Tom Jenkins is a National Board Certified Teacher at Indian Valley Middle School in Enon, Ohio, where he teaches STEM and technology to fifth through eighth graders.
One of my favorite tools in the classroom is an mp3 player. Users can easily upload and organize many essential and complementary pieces of information onto this digital media device.
To create original audio files, I prefer to use Audacity. This free software is a cross platform digital audio and recording application available from SourceForge.net. To create images I prefer to use GIMP, which is also free software and is available at GIMP.org.
Please keep in mind that although my preference is to use a digital media device, one could also accomplish many of the same objectives by allowing the students access to a computer.
To differentiate for students who have difficulty taking class notes, I record all class notes during the lecture part of the lesson. By breaking the lecture into "chapters," I don't create a 30-minute mp3 file for students. I post the lectures in an archive form so the students can listen on the computer or download the files to their own mp3 players.
To differentiate for students who have difficulty reading, I have a peer read and record the material. Although an instructor can do the same thing, I've found that students prefer hearing their peers read. It also creates an environment in which the exemplar reader takes a mentoring role with the struggling reader. This option can be used with a reading selection, a lab, or even a test if an aide should be unavailable to provide the modification.
When student-led, this particular activity lends itself to enrichment for the students in the higher end of the spectrum. The students who need to be challenged can take on more of a leading role and reinforce their own knowledge while helping students who need assistance with the lesson.
To differentiate for students who are visual learners, consider multimedia players. Many devices are equipped to play music, show pictures, and even movie clips. You can create or copy pictures (with permission, of course) and then store them to the device for subsequent viewing during a lecture or to reinforce concepts. You can include diagrams to provide visuals during labs and other activities.
You may even choose to download media from Teachertube.com or use a site such as Kickyoutube.com to download videos from Youtube.com that complement the lesson.
These have all proven to be very successful tools in my classroom; mp3 players provide the students access to the entire scope of the lesson while allowing them to focus on the parts of the lesson in which they need assistance. The students are allowed to use an instrument in an educational setting that for many of them is an essential part of their everyday life. It helps enrich the material and in many cases makes the lesson fun!
For more information about these resources and other digital tools, please visit the MSP2 social network at http://msteacher2.org
Kimberly Lightle is director of digital libraries, School of Teaching and Learning, College of Education and Human Ecology, The Ohio State University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2011 by National Middle School Association