Science: Personalization

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Review foundational knowledge about Personalized Learning in K-12 Blended Teaching (Volume 1).

9.1 The Importance of Personalization in a Science Classroom

Within a blended learning environment, personalized learning is one of many instructional strategies. When we personalize learning for our students, we allow the instruction to be adaptable to individual students' abilities, interests, and needs. When we describe personalized learning it is important to consider what from our instruction is being adapted, how it is being adapted, who or what is doing the adapting, the data that the adaptations are based on, and to what extent students are able to take ownership of the adaptations.

In a science classroom, personalization can take many forms and use a variety of strategies. When teachers allow students to have choice in the pace and path of their learning by using strategies such as playlists, they are personalizing. Allowing student to use inquiry skills to find their own path in a scientific investigation is also personalizing. Science teachers can personalize learning objectives by allowing students some choice in the research they do for a project. Activities and assessments can be personalized when students can decide how to meet the course's learning objectives and how they will demonstrate their mastery of the concepts. If a student is allowed to show their understanding via a test or a presentation, etc. their learning has been personalized. Notice that in all of these examples, students are taking some degree of control over their learning.

Teachers Talk: Personalized Learning for Maximizing Success

Matthew Harris

Matthew Harris

I feel like Blended learning has given me more options and more ways to try to gather valid data on how students are doing, which has enabled me to know which of my practices work and which ones don't, and made me realize how important it is to have a personal relationship with each student to maximize their learning and their success.

As mentioned in the data practices chapter, science students vary widely in their abilities to think critically, employ evidence, organize information, and understand various scientific concepts. Personalization becomes a way to help students develop their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. It allows students to focus their attention on areas where they can really grow and not spend time doing exercises in areas they have already mastered. It allows students to use their time efficiently for their own growth. It can also help students gain confidence in their ability to master scientific concepts by using a variety of different strategies and find ways that they can communicate their understanding.

One of the advantages of a personalized science curriculum is that students can be involved in the same or similar activity but be working on different areas of growth. For example, in a chemistry unit on chemical reactions, some students may need more time to master the process of balancing a chemical reaction, while others may be able to quickly move onto predicting products. The teacher may provide a menu of activities for students to practice balancing equations and once they have mastered it, provide them with a recording about predicting products. The students who are able to move on may have a variety of online and hands-on activities to practice how chemicals react to predict products of chemical reactions. During all of this, the teacher could be available for individual and small group conferences for students who need additional help with any of these areas. Personalization looks a little different for each student. The teachers in this chapter share some of their experiences with personalization and its effects.

Teachers Talk: Providing Access Anywhere, Anytime

Dr. Darren Ritson

Dr. Darren Ritson

Another girl, the blended learning worked in her favor because for her, she had five younger siblings and in a lot of cases she was the first mom. She had a permanent mom at home but mom had to work and all sorts of other stuff. So this girl, it came down to her for being the caregiver. So there were a lot of times where this girl would either miss class or she would come to class and she would have other issues. But because of the blended model, she was able to catch up and get all of our work done in a timely manner. So it worked to her advantage.

It is helpful to approach personalization and in two different ways: through personalizing along the dimensions of personalization and through personalizing learning objectives, assessments, and activities.

Teachers Talk: Students Benefit from Personalized Learning (3:42)

Reflection Questions: What areas of the curriculum did Dr. Ritson personalize in his blended classroom? Which strategies do you already use that you can incorporate into a blended learning unit?

9.2 Personalization Dimensions in a Science Classroom

One way to think about personalization is to examine the ways students can personalize instruction. The five dimensions of personalized learning are guidelines for ways we can adapt instruction or allow our students to adapt their learning. These dimensions are goals, time, place, pace, and/or path.

Figure 1

Five Dimensions of Personalized Learning


In the sections below we explore each of these dimensions.

9.2.1 Personalizing Goals

Goals are a means of making choices specific and purposeful. Facilitating goal setting increases student ownership of their learning, encourages lifelong learning skills and attitudes, and increases motivation and self-regulation abilities.

In order for students to personalize their goals, you and they need to understand something of their needs and proficiencies as science learners. This is where you can use the data you have gathered from the activities mentioned in the Data Practices chapter.

Information from such sources helps you understand where students are in their science abilities, knowledge, and aptitudes. Learning outcomes and standards provide a focus for where students are expected to be. The difference between where students are and the course outcomes is the place for growth—and goals.

Goals are not goals if they are just aspirations. Writing goals down and tracking them are important processes for achieving them. Here are a few ideas about goal-setting conferences and how they might be used in a science classroom.

In Class

Conferencing (regular goal-setting meetings)

Monitoring (tracking progress between conferences)

Teachers Talk: Personalizing Goals (3:11)

Reflection Questions: Is personalized goal setting something that would be useful in your classroom? What techniques does Matthew Harris use that you could fit into your own lessons?

Chapter 2 of this book refers to a taxonomy of student agency for guiding personalized learning. Level one of the taxonomy represents a one-size-fits-all generalized pedagogy, whereas level two is tailored to fit the interest or needs of each student, and levels three and four represent a more student-centered pedagogy and allow a greater deal of student agency. In Table 1, you will see some examples of what personalizing goals could look like in a science classroom that reaches levels 3 and 4 of the Taxonomy of Learner Agency.
Table 1
Examples of Personalizing Goals in a Science Classroom
Learning Objective Students will gain a unique understanding of Earth's place in space and time by studying the chemical, physical, and biological evolution of the Earth system. Level 3 Personalization Level 4 Personalization
Performance-based goals Students are given choices of what grade they want to earn in this unit. The teacher guides them to help them understand what they are capable of given their past performance and encourages them to challenge themselves but ultimately leaves the goal and strategies up to them. Students are asked to come up with a goal for their grade or level of mastery in the unit and asked to write about strategies they will use to achieve that goal as well as ways they will measure and track their achievement throughout the unit.
Activity-based goals Students are given a list of study strategies that would be helpful in this unit. Students pick one study strategy from this list that they will work on and come up with a goal and strategies for implementing it throughout the unit. Students are given the freedom to identify a behavior or habit that they want to focus their efforts on during the unit. The teacher gives them some possible examples of ways to improve their behavior or change their habits but ultimately allows them to come up with their goal and strategies on their own.

9.2.2 Personalizing Path

When you allow students to personalize their learning path in your classroom, your students are not all doing the same assessments and activities. You may find that you have become a curator of resources and activities that will best help your students. These resources/activities can be compiled in playlists or choiceboards, which give the students choice about the order in which they complete the activities or about which activities they complete. Table 2 describes ways in which the learning path can be personalized in a science classroom at levels 3 and 4 of the Taxonomy of Learner Agency.

Table 2

Examples of Personalizing Path in a Science Classroom

Learning Objective Level 3 Personalization Level 4 Personalization
Students will be able to identify the characteristics and basic needs of living organisms. Create a menu of learning activities about the characteristics of living organisms. Have an appetizer round in which students are introduced to the concepts, an entree round in which students practice the concepts, and a dessert round in which students demonstrate their understanding. Students pick one activity from each round based on their preferred learning methods (reading, hands-on, videos, etc.) and have to check in with the teacher after each round before moving on. The teacher creates a problem-based learning lab in which students are given several organisms and have to identify if they have the characteristics of living things. The teacher provides access to resources that may help in students' investigation but does not direct the students down any particular path (i.e., to specific resources) that they could use to solve the problem.

9.2.3 Personalizing Pace

Personalizing pace means allowing students to take more or less time based on their own ways of learning, their mastery of the content, and their personal or life circumstances. It often includes giving students a window of time to meet due dates for completing activities, assignments, and assessments. Personalizing pace encourages students to manage their time. They know what they need to do and when it needs to be completed, but they also know the other demands on their time (e.g., sports, school, plays, family and work obligations) and learn to plan for these situations. Table 3 provides examples of personalizing pace in a science classroom at levels three and four of the Taxonomy of Learner Agency.

Teachers Talk: The Benefit of Personalizing Pace

Alan Schwalb

Alan Schwalb

Personalizing the pace allows me to focus on their challenges. I go over and sit down with them and work with them one on one because I know that the rest of them were being successful. So some of the lower kids might need more time.


Table 3

Examples of Personalizing Pace in a Science Classroom

Learning Objective Level 3 Personalization Level 4 Personalization
The students will learn the laboratory skills needed to design, safely conduct, and interpret chemical research. The teacher assigns a simple laboratory experiment to teach the concepts of laboratory skills and safety. The investigation contains several sections and multiple learning activities in each section. The students can pace themselves within each section but are given checkpoints by which they must complete each section. Using the same investigation explained in the level three example, students are allowed to complete the entire investigation at their own pace, understanding that the course contains additional content that they must master for credit.

9.2.4 Personalizing Time

In a traditional classroom, students may have a class period to finish an assignment. In a blended classroom, this time can be expanded to include time outside of the class. Because activities can be accessible outside of the classroom, students can choose times that work well for them. For example, a student may have a difficult time learning in the morning, when he has his science class, but because he can access his assignment later in the day, he is able to complete it at a time that works for him and to perform well on the assignment. Time is closely related to pace because students are not bound to a specific time to complete an activity; they can increase or decrease their pace according to their own preferences, needs, and abilities. Table 4 provides examples of personalizing time in a science class at levels three and four of the Taxonomy of Learner Agency.

Teacher Talk: Give Students More Control on Assignments (2:13)

Reflection Questions: What were some of the reasons that Mr. Schwalb's students needed flexibility in their time and pace of the coursework? What was his goal of allowing students this flexibility and do you think it was successful?


Table 4

Examples of Personalizing Time in a Science Classroom

Learning Objective Level 3 Personalization Level 4 Personalization
Students will be able to classify matter by observing the patterns that occur when it undergoes physical and chemical changes. A teacher does a large group lecture on physical and chemical changes and then gives the students in-class work to complete. Anything that is not completed in class can be completed at home, after school. The teacher gives students video lectures on the content and a checklist of work to be completed on that topic. Students can work on the videos and checklist at a time of their choosing as long as it is completed by a specific deadline.

9.2.5 Personalizing Place

Personalizing place revisits traditional practices about where learning occurs. Because blended courses include online instruction, students can choose to do activities at home or at school—or even during a break at their job. In addition, they can access instruction when they have to miss activities because of illness, travel, or extra-curricular activities. Personalizing place also includes allowing students to choose where in the classroom or school to learn, as well as with whom students want to learn.

Classrooms are often viewed as rows of desks or sometimes desks grouped into tables. But classrooms don’t have to look this way. They can use flexible seating to be made more comfortable, inviting, and conducive to the kinds of activities that take place in a science classroom. In addition to providing students with flexible seating within the classroom, students can also be allowed to work in the hallway, library, or computer lab. Personalizing place also includes allowing students to learn from other teachers or with other students. Table 5 provides some examples of personalizing the place of learning at levels three and four of the Taxonomy of Learner Agency.

Table 5

Examples of Personalizing Place in a Science Classroom

Learning Objective Level 3 Personalization Level 4 Personalization
Students will be able to communicate physics reasoning in oral and in written forms. Students are given an assignment to research a physics topic assigned by the teacher. They are given a written research assignment and a recorded video assignment. The teacher provides stations around the room for researching, quiet writing, and recording videos. The students are able to choose where they want to work during class. Students are given an assignment to do an online debate with their classmates about a controversial scientific concept. They are able to work on this assignment from home or at school because the materials are all provided in the online learning management system. Some students choose to work on their own to complete the discussion while others choose to work in groups.

9.3 Personalizing Instruction

Approaching personalization through the five dimensions is one way of implementing personalized learning. Another way is to look directly at what you do in your classroom. Typically teachers plan assessments and activities around learning objectives to make sure they cover the material they are mandated to cover. Finding ways for students to exercise choice in some or all aspects of these learning objectives, assessments, and activities is another way to foster personalization in your classroom.

9.3.1 Personalizing Objectives

In Tables 1–5 above, we provided several examples of learning objectives. While many of these learning objectives may not provide us or our students with room to adapt them to individual students' abilities, interests, or needs and are mandated by the states or organizations we teach for, other learning objectives do allow for such customization. For example, the following learning objective can be personalized in several ways:

"The students will learn the laboratory skills needed to design, safely conduct, and interpret chemical research."

In many ways, personalizing learning objectives creates a guide for personalizing the assessments and activities used to prepare students for and measure their mastery of the objective.

9.3.2 Personalized Assessments

What do assessments look like in your classroom: an essay? an exam? a final paper? a lab report? short answer questions about a text? a presentation? Do all of your students do the same thing? Do they all need to do the same thing?

Personalizing assessments means giving students choices in the ways they demonstrate mastery of a learning outcome. Often this means creating a list of assessment methods that students can choose from, while also allowing them to suggest their own ideas. This would allow students to personalize the path they take for demonstrating their understanding. Table 6 provides examples of ways to personalize the path of assessments. While you look over these, consider the following questions:

  • What are the different paths that these assessment options create for students?
  • How are these assessments different from traditional assessments?
  • What kinds of growth do these assessments encourage in the students?

Table 6

Personalizing the Path of Assessments

Personalized Assessments
Students choose the media they use for the assessment: PowerPoint, Google Docs, video, etc.
Students choose the form of the assessment: mindmap, essay, documentary, brochure, story, art, performance, exam, etc.
Students choose the topic they will focus on for the assessment (i.e. students could choose one form of alternative energy on which to complete an assessment).
Students choose to do the assessment in groups or on their own.

While assessments may most commonly be personalized according to path, they can also be personalized by allowing students to create their own performance or learning habit/behavior goals for the assessment, to choose when they will complete the assessment, to choose where they complete the assessment, or to choose how long they will spend on the assessment or how many attempts they will use on the assessment.

In your Blended Teaching Workbook, create a few ideas of personalized assessments that students can choose from in order to show mastery of the content area you chose earlier.

If you haven't already opened and saved your workbook, you can access it here.

9.3.3 Personalized Activities

Personalization of learning activities should be based on students' data and goals. Students can choose activities that help them accomplish their specific performance or activity goals from playlists and/or choice boards, giving them choice in the time, place, pace, and path of their learning. Personalized learning activities may include both online interactions as well as online integration activities that are adapted based on individual students' abilities, interests, or needs. Table 7 provides examples of ways to personalize different learning activities in science.

Teachers Talk: Benefit of Using Playlists

Matthew Harris

Matthew Harris

When it comes to the playlist, I give them more information than they need in the playlist and I put the most important one at the top. If they still can't figure out an objective, there's more resources underneath going on for quite a while. And the objective is that they learned to self-select from that list what they themselves need to understand the concept and to know whether they've understood the concept and move on.

Table 7

Personalized Learning Activities

Personalized Activities
Create a choice board or playlist of activities for exploring or reviewing a scientific concept.
Introduce inquiry activities by providing links to simulations and allowing students to investigate a new idea by exploring and answering some guiding questions you have provided.
Have students choose a scientist and write about the discovery of a scientific theory from that scientist's perspective. Share the writings in a discussion board and have the other students ask the scientist questions about their theory and investigation process.
Allow students to complete the work in a unit in the order they choose and at their own pace. This can be done by assigning the students a checklist and providing them with clear instructions and support via blended teaching strategies.

In your Blended Teaching Workbook create a few ideas of personalized activities that students can choose from in order to show mastery of the content area you chose earlier.

If you haven't already opened and saved your workbook, you can access it here.

Personalization is a powerful pedagogical strategy. It allows students to grow where they need to grow and in a way that is meaningful and impactful to them. It combines all of the other competencies of blended learning: online integration, online interaction, and data practices to create unique learning experiences for each student. Throughout these chapters, you have learned how to use these competencies in a science context. Now it is up to you! You are ready to take your first small step towards a blended learning science class!

Previous Citation(s)
, , & (2022). Science: Personalization. In , , , , & (Eds.), K-12 Blended Teaching (Vol 2): A Guide to Practice Within the Disciplines , Vol. 2. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/-rgk

This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.

Access it online or download it at https://edtechbooks.org/k12blended_science/science_pers.