The plan for differentiating a unit starts with a pre-assessment that gauges student knowledge and gives teachers ideas of how to split up the instruction and in what areas certain students need further background information before more complex instruction begins. In the area of nuclear chemistry the concepts build on previous chemistry units and students need to be assessed to see how many concepts they remember and what their exposure has been to applications of nuclear chemistry. For example, a student living in Los Alamos, NM would undoubtedly have been exposed to more nuclear history than a student living in Ames, IA simply because of their hometown. The pre-assessment I designed includes questions about chemistry as well as questions that judge students understanding of nuclear chemistry in the real world. Since one of the major goals of the unit is to have students understand how nuclear chemistry relates to the world around them, it makes sense to test both the strictly scientific knowledge as well as the cultural and historical knowledge.
The pre-assessment questions are included here to give the reader an idea of what concepts will be included in the unit as well as the extent of the pre-assessment. Of note are the questions that ask students about topics they are unsure about or nuclear chemistry applications they are most interested in learning about. These questions help tailor the curriculum to the interests of the students, thus making the material more engaging.
Based on the results of the pre-assessment students will be put into different groups to work on a range of activities. Normally I would shy away from dividing students up by ability level, but these activities are specifically tailored for different levels of comprehension and will help students learn collectively with peers facing the same conceptual difficulties. These students are encouraged to grow and learn through these experiences, not to feel like they are being excluded from another group.
The activities are summarized in an organizational map included here. The most advanced students are given the opportunity to further their knowledge and participate in an inquiry-based activity where they explore chain reactions using computer software. These students are challenged by the activity, which could be used at the college level, and encouraged to work together to understand nuclear chemistry concepts that are beyond the scope of the high school science curriculum.
The students who show generally good comprehension of the material, but are missing a few key points are given an activity where they work through the contents of a nuclear wall poster designed by the National Nuclear Security Administration. They will review concepts that they likely had trouble with on the pre-assessment while also learning more about the context of nuclear chemistry and its applications. Students will work in pairs and create mini presentations about three new things they learned while going through the online activity.
Students showing the most difficulty in the pre-assessment will be given a written worksheet that mixes several fun activities (such as word search and a maze) with important vocabulary words and concepts. Students will work as a group and create a list of concepts they don’t quite understand that they will discuss with the teacher. During and after the activity the teacher will meet with the group and help define and teach these concepts.
These activities differentiate nuclear chemistry in innovative ways while keeping all students engaged and working toward the same goal: full comprehension and understanding of nuclear chemistry and how it applies to real world situations. Students will continue to be assessed through Do Now activities, exit tickets, quizzes, worksheets and oral participation throughout the unit.
Although it is not always a good idea to divide students on the basis of comprehension, these activities will not discourage students and will help every student learn more about important concepts in the unit.