My math/science block this year was composed of 34 regular education students. During the science portion, three students in special day class arrived with their aide. On Fridays, our second grade science buddies joined us too bringing the total to 64 students in the room. I had students from the primary level through gifted students performing at a high school level.
In spite of this diversity of talent and ages, the students often worked on their projects fluidly and with little monitoring from me. This always amazed me. If I had chosen to use direct instruction, the lesson surely would have fallen flat.
After the second graders returned to their class, my eighth graders could extend the application of the lessons. During our chemistry unit for example, we conducted the experiment with the 64 primary and middle school students. Then my eighth graders learned about the chemical reaction through research or direct instruction after the younger students left. The special education students worked with their aide to complete the lab sheet.
Often differentiated instruction provides more levels of work for the teacher. S.T.E.M. instruction makes this process much easier. Individual students or cooperative teams approach their problems their own way. During our robotics unit in which students make vibrating bugs using electric toothbrushes from the Dollar Store (click here), it was often my “lower performing” students who rose to the challenge and produced the most successful models.
I have students who are discipline problems or who do little work, yet during our project on designing a mousetrap car, some of them would go home and create models of their own to bring to class the next day. These students became the expert consultants to the rest of the class.
Differentiated instruction can be a challenge for the teacher who wants to provide the best educational setting for every student. S.T.E.M. instruction can make that road easier for us.