Differentiation on Demand: High School Biology

In this episode, I take a real, live high school biology lesson and suggest ways in which I’d approach differentiating it for high level learners.

The Backstory

I received an email asking me to give suggestions for how to differentiate this DNA structure lab.

I decided to take a stab at it, and I found that it was a little tricky because the Lab itself doesn’t have the instruction the teacher gives (of course), so I’m missing information that I’d need to really implement differentiated tactics. That said, here’s what occurs to me with what I’ve got.

What I’d Suggest:

  • The objectives could be pretested for the high ability kids. Because a construction is required, the pretest would have to include that (could be asking them for a drawing).
  • I’d consider if high ability kids could do a MOOC course lecture. Even one like this  – to get their information at a slightly higher level than the teacher can give them (because the teacher has to account for lower level kids as well and can’t teach it like a college class).
  • If this is what’s given to the kids, there are areas where it’s somewhat confusing. For example, in part 2, it says, “Every three letters (of the bases) on the RIGHT side of your model is known as a triplet.” I had to look at that several times, because the far right of the model is phosphate, not the bases. I realized what the teacher meant eventually, but it was confusing and could be avoided. That kind of thing can slow struggling kids down, and even GT kids who want to argue the point.
  • The product piece of the creation of the model is too low level for the high ability kids. Consider a 3D or digital model for them. For struggling kids, the time it takes to color and cut out may be a hindrance, so you may wish to provide that step already done or extra time for it.
  • Without the actual instruction, it’s hard to tell, but the struggling kids may need access to a video tutorial for refresher of the structures.
  • Some of the questions in the section “Answer the following in complete sentences…” could be revised for high ability kids. For instance, both number 4 and number 7 give away the answer in some way. Consider stronger, but fewer questions for the high level kids, perhaps giving a single scenario to be evaluated.
  • Part 3 is all low level knowledge questions until question 10. Even 10-14 are not as challenging as they could be. Struggling kids might need a word bank. Here are a couple of revisions for high ability kids:
    • #12: Break it into three subquestions: 1) Imagine you are talking to a Kindergartener. How would you describe and explain a gene to them? 2) Now imagine that you are talking to Kanye West. Explain to him what role genes play in determining traits in an organism. 3) What question could you ask him to make sure he understood you?
    • #11. Someone tells you in a science class that protein, enzymes, and genes are not related. Refute their argument.
  • The follow up (part 3) abandons the construction of the model. I’d include some kind of diagram, either given by the teacher or required of the students.
  • There’s no broader application for the lesson. What is the essential question? What is the big idea?
  • If the teacher uses the Depth & Complexity model, I’d use Patterns, Details, and Rules for this.
  • I’d also find something that requires critical thinking. For example, this analogy: “DNA is like a book which is made up out of four letters: Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, and Thymine (A C G T) that appear in a certain sequence. One chromosome is like a sentence, much of it doesn’t make any sense to us: the letters seem to be in a random order. But sometimes the letters DO make sense, and that is a gene, like a word.” Have kids come up with another metaphor. Use the metaphor from the beginning, and refer to the gene “words” in the lab. This will raise thinking level for high kids, and give a concrete image to struggling kids.

Here are the fundamental principles:

  • Where can I pretest my advanced kids & what can they skip or do more quickly?
  • What high level resources can I give?
  • How can I make the questions stronger or better supported?
  • How can I bring in critical thinking?
  • What elements of the Depth & Complexity model apply?

Your Turn

If you have a lesson that you would like me to differentiate, feel free to email it to me at lisa@www.giftedguru.com. Make sure it is an actual lesson plan, not just a topic. Please no copies of textbooks.

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