Colin's Sandbox

Goal Three: Differentiation

Using Educational Technology to Aid in Differentiation

In my work over the past year, I’ve used Minecraft (and its derivative, MinecraftEdu) in other’s classrooms and taught its use to various groups of teachers, both in a formal education setting (University of Alaska Southeast’s EDMA693 course entitled “STEM in the K-8 Classroom” offered in the spring semester 2014), as well as informally (sessions held at ASTE’s 2014 conference held in Anchorage). Using Minecraft for lessons allows the teacher to differentiate in several ways: product, environment, content, and process. Although in my Educational Technology Master’s coursework at University of Alaska Southeast I have participated in many areas of research and study I focus mostly on Minecraft for certain aspects of this portfolio because my work with it has produced the most tangible outcomes.

Differentiating the Product

The teacher can allow the use of Minecraft as an option for the student who is already familiar with the game in order to complete project work. An interesting aspect of the culture of Minecraft players and gamers in general is that of presenting examples of their work on YouTube and more focused tutorials as well. The student could simply decide to demonstrate their understanding of the course material and present it in such a way that millions of other people are already doing.

Differentiating the Environment

The teacher has a great degree of flexibility in how they set up the physical environment in which their students are learning. With games such as Minecraft, it is no different – a teacher may choose to set up the experience so that the student engages individually with the world he or she is building, or may choose to incorporate more collaboration into the project, either with other classmates, across different classes, and even across different districts. Each world can be set up differently depending on the needs of the student – is the the student one who needs a constant challenge in order to stay engaged? Set up a quest! Or is the student someone who does best with a 3D-CAD modeling style environment, with an infinite supply of blocks to choose from for their creation?

Differentiating the Content

The flexibility that games offer in their ability to differentiate the environment also allows a teacher to differentiate their content based on the concept of stations. Students could work their way through puzzles at one station, explore models of famous architecture at another, build and model parts of a cell at yet another, and finally engage in an geopolitical exercise in still another. As a High School special education teacher, Nathan Adams used MinecraftEdu in his classroom to ask different things of different students depending on their grade, ability level, and their course requirements.

Differentiating the Process

So much information is available on the Internet nowadays that it would be impossible to capture the most current knowledge of any field in any single textbook. Current events from just about anywhere around the world are available to anyone with a mobile device, laptop, or computer. For every subject out there there are multiple ways of bringing the core concepts to the student: science, math, social studies, English, computer science, etc. Today’s learner has a wealth of information available to them and it is up to the teacher to guide the learner and assist them in determining the quality of the information used.

Goals and Standards

University of Alaska Southeast School of Education Standards, Education Technology, Goal 3

a. identify strategies for differentiating instruction based on student differences. (K).
b. design instruction that incorporates characteristics of the local community‚Äôs community and that is appropriate to students’ individual and special needs. (K)
c. apply local and Alaska knowledge to the selection of instructional strategies, materials, and resources. (S)
d. demonstrate their belief that all students can learn and that they appreciate multiple perspectives and value individual differences (D)

ISTE Standards for Coaches (2011)

2e. Coach teachers in and model design and implementation of technology-enhanced learning experiences using differentiation, including adjusting content, process, product, and learning environment based upon student readiness levels, learning styles, interests, and personal goals
3d. Select, evaluate, and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning
5a. Model and promote strategies for achieving equitable access to digital tools and resources and technology-related best practices for all students and teachers


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