Differentiated Instruction in the STEM Classroom {w/ iTeachSTEM}

Most teachers agree that differentiated instruction is essential in helping students to master concepts, but the reality is that implementation can be challenging when faced with a class of students with a variety of needs and abilities.

In my classroom, most of my instruction is done whole group. There is very little time - nor is it always appropriate - for small group instruction. As a STEM teacher, I rely on three main methods of differentiating my instruction to meet the needs of all students in my room.

I strive to include many opportunities for students to experience the information. They complete various exploratory activities - often before any formal instruction - allowing them to develop a common experience to draw from as we move through the content.  Students work alone, with partners, and in small groups to make observations and discuss their findings.

Not every student learns the same way. I think we all agree on this. My goal is to deliver the essential content ideas in as many different ways as possible. I include lecture, video clips, music, close reading passages, hands-on activities, vocabulary study, simulations, and more. I even have students become experts on a small portion of the content and "teach" the class. By addressing big ideas from multiple perspectives and through engaging activities, I am able to reach more students than if I stuck to one approach.

When students are working on a STEM Challenge, they are given the opportunity to approach the problem in ways they select. While I do give a basic set of constraints, students are allowed the freedom of choice in how they develop and present their solution. Even though everyone in class is working to solve the same problem, the way that they are working on the problem may not be the same. By asking open-ended questions, teachers can guide students through various problem based learning experiences. This real-world connection and opportunity to collaborate with their peers (with teacher guidance) is an essential skill that must be developed in our students.

As teachers, it is essential that we have a solid understanding of the big ideas, core concepts and overall learning expectations in order to assist students as they build a basis of understanding for themselves. We must be mindful of the purpose behind a certain learning activity or task in order to direct students toward a common goal of content mastery. Teachers can adjust resources, groupings and instructional methods to target specific skills leading to a classroom of students who are challenged and engaged in the learning process.

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