MSM 295:  What is this “Differentiation” you speak of?

Jokes You Can Use:

A woman visited a modern-art gallery. One painting was bright blue with vivid orange swirls and the one hanging next to it was black with lime-green splotches.

The artist stood nearby, so as politely as she could, the woman said to him, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand you paintings.”

“I paint what I feel inside me,” the artist replied.

“I see,” the woman replied innocently. “Have you tried Alka-Seltzer?”


A corny talk on the farm…

Do you know what the lettuce asked the radish? Let us be best friends?

And what did the radish answer? You naughty thing, you make me blush! you make me reddish!


Two old friends met by chance on the street. After chatting for some time one said to the other, “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name. You’ll need to tell me”.

The other stared at him thoughtfully for a long time, then replied, “How soon do you need to know?”


A brilliant young boy was applying for a job with the railways. The interviewer asked him: “Do you know how to use the equipment?” “Yes”, the boy replied. “Then what would you do if you realized that 2 trains, one from this station and one from the next were going to crash because they were on the same track?” The young applicant thought and replied “I’d press the button to change the points without hesitation.” “What if the button was frozen and wouldn’t work?” “I’d run outside and pull the lever to change the points manually” “And if the lever was broken?” “I’d get on the phone to the next station and tell them to change the points,” he replied. “And if the phone was broken and needed an electrician to fix it?” The boy thought about that one. “I’d run into town and get my uncle” “Is your uncle an electrician?” “No, but he’s never seen a train crash before!”

Eileen Award:

  • Twitter: Shane Howard, Ryan Coxx, Brad Bridges



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Middle School Science Minute

by Dave Bydlowski (k12science or


Water Rockets


I was recently reading the November, 2014 issue of “Science Scope,” a magazine written for middle school science teachers, published by the National Science Teachers Association.


In this issue, I read an article entitled “Redesigning the Water Rocket,” written by Allison Antink Meyer and Stephen Bartos.  The activities described in this article were developed to frame physical-science concepts appropriate to seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms in the context of a multiphase engineering-design challenge.




From the Twitterverse:

Calvin and Hobbes ‏@Calvinn_HobbesLow expectations, no tensions!

Calvin & Hobbes- Low Expecations

Susan M. Bearden ‏@s_beardenThere’s a calendar of edu Twitter chats within @tweechmeapp – makes it easy to add to your mobile device calendar 🙂 #nt2t
Mikkel Storaasli ‏@MStoraasliWell, this just got interesting. Chicago Public Schools defies mandate on new standardized exam, #PARCC  #CCSS
Diane Ravitch ‏@DianeRavitchTeacher: The Néw High School Equivalency Exam is a Travesty
Vicki Davis ‏@coolcatteacherNEW BLOG! RT @edutopia: 5 Fantastic, Fast Formative Assessment Tools:  via @coolcatteacher
Monte Tatom @drmmtatom  ·  7 Ways Students Use Diigo To Do Research & Collaborative Project Work ~ #fhuedu642 #tn_teta #edwebchat => @MSMatters
Jay McTighe ‏@jaymctigheGrant Wiggins’ response to the ED Week article, Differentiation Doesn’t Work. …
MiddleWeb ‏@middlewebMT @rickwormeli2: Also check out Tomlinson’s  for more responses to Mike Schmoker and others who diss differentiation.
#mschat every Thursday at 8:00 pm Eastern Standard Time.  And as Troy says, “The Twitter never stops!”



Differentiation Doesn’t Work

Let’s review the educational cure-alls of past decades: back to basics, the open classroom, whole language, constructivism, and E.D. Hirsch’s excruciatingly detailed accounts of what every 1st or 3rd grader should know, to name a few.

Starting with the gifted-education community in the late 1960s, differentiation didn’t get its mojo going until regular educators jumped onto the bandwagon in the 1980s.

Differentiation is a failure, a farce, and the ultimate educational joke played on countless educators and students.

In theory, differentiation sounds great, as it takes several important factors of student learning into account:

  • It seeks to determine what students already know and what they still need to learn.
  • It allows students to demonstrate what they know through multiple methods.
  • It encourages students and teachers to add depth and complexity to the learning/teaching process.

Although fine in theory, differentiation in practice is harder to implement in a heterogeneous classroom than it is to juggle with one arm tied behind your back.

‘We couldn’t answer the question … because no one was actually differentiating,’

“In every case, differentiated instruction seemed to complicate teachers’ work, requiring them to procure and assemble multiple sets of materials, … and it dumbed down instruction.”

It seems that, when it comes to differentiation, teachers are either not doing it at all, or beating themselves up for not doing it as well as they’re supposed to be doing it. Either way, the verdict is clear: Differentiation is a promise unfulfilled, a boondoggle of massive proportions.

The biggest reason differentiation doesn’t work, and never will, is the way students are deployed in most of our nation’s classrooms.

It seems to me that the only educators who assert that differentiation is doable are those who have never tried to implement it themselves: university professors, curriculum coordinators, and school principals.

Differentiation is a cheap way out for school districts to pay lip service to those who demand that each child be educated to his or her fullest potential.

Do we expect an oncologist to be able to treat glaucoma?

Do we expect a criminal prosecutor to be able to decipher patent law?

Do we expect a concert pianist to be able to play the clarinet equally well?

No, no, no.

However, when the education of our nation’s young people is at stake, we toss together into one classroom every possible learning strength and disability and expect a single teacher to be able to work academic miracles with every kid … as long as said teacher is willing to differentiate, of course.

A second reason that differentiation has been a failure is that we’re not exactly sure what it is we are differentiating: Is it the curriculum or the instructional methods used to deliver it? Or both?

The terms “differentiated instruction” and “differentiated curriculum” are used interchangeably, yet they are not synonyms.

Differentiation might have a chance to work if we are willing, as a nation, to return to the days when students of similar abilities were placed in classes with other students whose learning needs paralleled their own. Until that time, differentiation will continue to be what it has become: a losing proposition for both students and teachers, and yet one more panacea that did not pan out.



Random Thoughts . . .

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