George Lucas Educational Foundation

Differentiating Instruction Through Interactive Games (Tech2Learn Series)

Using tech tools and games acquired through grants and his own resourcefulness, second-grade teacher Robert Pronovost tailors math instruction to match students' individual learning styles. 
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Differentiating Instruction Through Interactive Games (Transcript)

Mr. Pronovost: Really trying to address giving every student what they need, and giving them that differentiated instruction is where the technology really comes in handy. Not only are they getting immediate feedback and they're able to move at their own pace, but then I'm also able to support the students who really need my support.

Today, what we are gonna talk about is addition and subtraction. If she gives away ten pencils, how many pencils will Teresa have left? I want you to think about it. Is this addition or is this subtraction?

So today when we started in math, we sat down on the rug and we were starting with addition and subtraction. We practice identifying clue words and knowing if we need to add or subtract.

How do we know we're doing addition?

Boy: Because you said "and all" and that means all together.

Mr. Pronovost: Okay.

Once I felt that students really were getting back into the rhythm with addition and subtraction, that's when I move them on to computers.

When you're at Planet Turtle, you're doing your independent practice. You need to practice at least three games, and you'll need to get about eighty percent correct in order to move on to Dream Box, or to the iPods.

Planet Turtle is a program that allows them to play games. In these games, they are being asked math questions. Planet Turtle gives them immediate feedback, whereas I would have to walk around the entire room to give them feedback. By them getting their immediate feedback through Planet Turtle, I could grab some students who really needed some support and work with them in a small group.

Mr. Pronovost: Please show me on yours--

Girl: What is ten minus nine, and then I know the answer, so I click, and you get a point.

Mr. Pronovost: For the students who were practicing on their own, Planet Turtle was the way to reinforce the addition and subtraction that we had practiced as a class. Once they'd shown mastery in Planet Turtle, they were able to move on to Dream Box, and Dream Box gave them that individualized instruction at their own level, whereas Planet Turtle was only providing a basic practice for the entire class at the same level.

I encourage my students to use all the tools that are available to them. One thing that we emphasize in this class is that using computers is not always the best tool. Using your hands may not always be the best tool. And so when I have some students on Planet Turtle, they might be solving the problem on their white board, or they might be counting on their fingers, because that's the best strategy for them.

And our final answer would be?

All: Fourteen.

Mr. Pronovost: Fourteen.

My first two years that I was teaching, I didn't have any technology in my classroom. Not having access to those tools and knowing how valuable they could be is what kind of drove me to reach out to companies around, which led to receiving a few computers from Apple, and then recently receiving a large grant from Facebook as well.

Girl: I wanna like practice a little bit more, for I could get like so much better here.

Mr. Pronovost: The iPod Touches came to us through a SIG grant, school improvement grant. Dream Box we started this year. We are just trying out, on a trial basis, because most of the software we use in this classroom I either get through beta testing or through free trials.

Boy: Whoo!

Mr. Pronovost: The iPod Touch might be valuable at one time for students to practice a certain strategy or game and then the MacBooks might support them in another way with their leveled reading or with differentiated math instruction.

What number do we have in the tens place right here?

Boy: Four.

Mr. Pronovost: Four. What are we subtracting?

Boy: One.

Mr. Pronovost: One group of ten. Four groups of ten minus one group of ten. So let's see. Four minus one.

Boy: Three.

Girl: Three.

Boy: Three.

Mr. Pronovost: Okay, three.

Every six to eight weeks, we take a benchmark exam, so I can compare where my students were at the beginning of the year to where they are now. So I have seen some great improvement. I have data that shows that they're improving at a much greater rate than my students had in the past two years when I didn't have any of these applications.

We all start right here. What number is this right here?

All: One.

Mr. Pronovost: One. What number is in the bottom right here?

Boy: Three.

All: Three.

Mr. Pronovost: Three. Is there more on the top or is there more on the floor?

All: More on the floor.

Mr. Pronovost: More on the floor.

All: Go next door.

Mr. Pronovost: Okay.

They are interacting in a much more fun way than say, you know, answering questions and then just saying, "Yes, you passed. No, you didn't. Move on to the next one." It's just a lot more engaging and exciting to them.

Six. So now I'm gonna take away three. One, two...

Boy: Three.

Mr. Pronovost: Three.

Because they're games, they are constantly being assessed. They need to pass this in order to move to the next level. So while students feel like, "Oh, I'm working. I got to the next level," truly that means that they've mastered this concept. They're moving on to the next concept. It's just a new way of phrasing it.

Girl: Five minus two.

Girl: That's three.

Girl: Yeah. We did this-- I did this on my--

Mr. Pronovost: Students could be doing the same kind of practice on a worksheet, but if they're doing it on a worksheet, they're going to get very bored easily. They're going to want to know what to do when they're done, because there's no built in levels to move on to, so I wouldn't have that time with the students who I really feel need my time and support.

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  • Producer: Zachary Fink
  • Producer / Director: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Vanessa Carr
  • Editor: Matthew Beighley
  • Title Sequence: Randy Murray Productions
  • Digital Media Curator: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producers: Erin Crysdale & David Markus

Produced in partnership with the Teaching Channel.

This 2012 work by The George Lucas Educational Foundation & Teaching Channel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Creative Commons License

Tech2Learn Video Series

Our new video series goes inside the classrooms of educators who use technology tools in their lessons every day. Learn from their challenges, celebrate their successes, and share their resources in every episode.

This series is a co-production with the Teaching Channel.

Additional Resources and Tools from Mr. Pronovost

Visit the Tech2Learn series page to see more resources.

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Mike Byster's picture

As an educator, I believe it is very important to teach material that is important for the future of the students. When inventing my math and memory system Brainetics (, I wanted to focus on new subjects and innovative methods to teach so I turn to technology and gaming. By teaching for the 21st century, students will be more prepared in the future. It seems like so many aspects of today's society centers around the digital environment and teaching should be altered to adapt.

Great article,

Mike Byster
Inventor of Brainetics, Educator, Author of Genius, Mathematician

BrittKastner's picture
Elementary Special Education Teacher Georgia

I found this lesson using technology in math to be wonderfully taught and extremely engaging. The school district I work for has recently recently received a grant for iPads. Looking at this video gave me several ideas on how to use the technology to reach my students.
Thank you,

Katherine Williams's picture
Katherine Williams
PreK-5th Elementary School Teacher

I loved the lesson that you posted. This lesson was very interactive and straight from the computer which I loved. School now a days has gone completely to technology so it is up to us as the teachers to keep up with the newest technological advances.

John Edelson's picture
John Edelson
Founder of and

One of the premier elementary school educational websites,, has just launched its app:
It's an example of streamlining the classroom workflow while adding games to the mix so that technology and student interest get leveraged for more engagement and simplified differentiated instruction.

Mr P, check it out!

Rebecca Law's picture
Rebecca Law
Student teacher from San Francisco, California

Wow, this video was very insightful. I had no idea how effective computer games and whiteboards were. When I was a kid, all we had were worksheets to keep us busy and learning. But after watching this video, I realized how effective using technology can be and how it can differentiate your low and high students. Thank you!

Rebecca Law's picture
Rebecca Law
Student teacher from San Francisco, California

Wow, this video was very insightful. I had no idea how effective computer games and whiteboards were. When I was a kid, all we had were worksheets to keep us busy and learning. But after watching this video, I realized how effective using technology can be and how it can differentiate your low and high students. Thank you!

Miss Harris's picture
Miss Harris
Student Teacher

This looks like an amazing classroom. However, I'm currently student teaching in a Catholic school where there is not a whole lot of funding. Our computers run slow and technology in the classroom is almost non-existent. Having technology incorporated into all of your lessons is a great way to differentiate instruction. I think every school needs to have at least 25 laptops/iPads to pass from classroom to classroom throughout the day.

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture

Hi Miss Harris!

Glad you enjoyed the video -- the teacher shown in this video is very resourceful and rounded up much of the technology you see on his own. But it's true -- funding and access is a huge barrier for many teachers who want to use more tech. I'd like to point you to these two articles from the Edutopia archives about integrating technology even with very few resources -- they're a few years old but I think the ideas still work:

Overcoming Technology Barriers: How to Innovate Without Extra Money or Support (by Suzie Boss)

Integrating Technology with Limited Resources (by Mary Beth Hertz)

Best of luck with your student teaching, and it's great that you're thinking about how to overcome access issues now!

Take care,

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