August 14, 2013

Dear Otto: Use Tech to Differentiate Lessons?

tech questions

Do you have a tech question?

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please complete the form below and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Ali:

I would love some information on differentiating tech lab lessons. I struggle with that the most in my lab.

I love tech for differentiating. There are so many software programs and online tools that speak to a student’s individual interests–Word (for writing-intensive), Publisher (for multimedia), PowerPoint (for multimedia), Voki (for video/audio), Big Huge Labs (for lots of choices). For 5th grade and up, I have a unit I co-teach with the grade-level teacher. I introduce students to about 18 online tools, then they pick one for a class project (whatever inquiry is going on in the classroom at the time). Here’s a link to my collection. You will want to those that suit your group. Favorites are Voki, Poll Daddy, Animoto, Photostory, a mind mapper. In all the years I’ve taught this unit, I am constantly amazed at student choices. those I would have predicted loved writing pick video tools, and vice versa.

Here are some more ideas for differentiating instruction in your classroom:

  • keep lots of activities going in your classroom, so students can work at their own pace and thus, self-manage their tech education. Keyboarding practice is great for that. While some students finish a project, others work on keyboarding. Sponge websites are another–have a collection of links on the class internet start page that support class inquiry. If/when students finish a project, they can work through those links.
  • teach visual organizers then let students use them as an option for projects. Here are some websites you’ll find a wide selection of graphic organizers for every need:
  • add color to everything. If you’re teaching Word, include how to add pictures, borders, fonts. Students will tolerate all the text to get to the decorating. If you’re reviewing Excel, show how to color cells, text, add images. Students will do the math stuff so they can make it pretty.
  • use online tools like Puzzle Maker as an alternative to traditional study guides. Anything you can gamify will go down easier with students. They are digital natives so let them do what comes naturally.
  • As a matter of fact, gamify anything possible. Here’s a link to simulations on everything from science to government.

How do you differentiate instruction in your class? Do you find yourself relying more often on tech to accomplish this?

More posts on using tech to differentiate teaching:

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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, a columnist for, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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