Series Edutopia Tech2Learn: Differentiating in Math Using Computer Games


Common core State Standards

  • Math:  Math
  • 2:  Grade 2
  • OA:  Operations & Algebraic Thinking
  • B:  Add and subtract within 20
  • 2: 
    Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.

Download Common Core State Standards (PDF 1.2 MB)

Differentiating in Math Using Computer Games

Lesson Objective: Use technology to practice addition and subtraction
Grades K-2 / Math / Technology


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. How does using technology give Mr. Pronovost the freedom to differentiate?
  2. Notice the difference between Planet Turtle and Dream Box. Why did Mr. Pronovost choose to use both programs?
  3. How does Mr. Pronovost structure his lesson to incorporate technology?


  • Private message to Matteo Tancredi
  1. How does using technology give Mr. Pronovost the freedom to differentiate?
    1. The technology allows for Mr. Pronovost to be able to help individual groups of students while other students are busy working independently. There is a variety of applications and games that he is utilizing in his classrooms for all of his students to use and work with.
  2. Notice the difference between Planet Turtle and Dream Box. Why did Mr. Pronovost choose to use both programs?
    1. Planet turtle was allowing for his students to get feedback immediately on their answers and dream box allowed for each of his students to have work tailored to their own individual academic levels.
  3. How does Mr. Pronovost structure his lesson to incorporate technology?
    1. Mr. Pronovost used the technology and games as an informal assessment tool. He would use it after he would teach students. He would then assist smaller groups of students  who may need additional support. It saved him time from walking around the classroom and checking on each student.
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  • Private message to Donald Bonham
  1. How does using technology give Mr. Pronovost the freedom to differentiate?

    Utilizing technology grants Mr. Pronovost the freedom to differentiate because he can implement multiple modes of learning to allow his students access to mathematics material. For example, his students have the ability to use a lot of their senses and they can become engaged. 
  2. Notice the difference between Planet Turtle and Dream Box. Why did Mr. Pronovost choose to use both programs?

    Dream Box gives them individualized instruction at each student's level, and Planet Turtle gives their students immediate feedback. They both have benefits that lower the workload on Mr. Pronovost's part. 
  3. How does Mr. Pronovost structure his lesson to incorporate technology?

    Mr. Pronovost structures his lesson to incorporate technology by having it as a transition, in a sense. He utilizes it as an alternative to informal assessments, like a worksheet.

    Overall, I like how Mr. Pronovost emphasized the encouragement of using every tool in the classroom. Sometimes, using a whiteboard or using their fingers or using technology can benefit certain students or it can be a hindrance to a few students. Every student learns differently and educators should acknowledge this, as Mr. Pronovost did. I will definitely take this sentiment into my future vocation as a special education teacher. Not every tool that can be accessed will work for everyone or for every problem. 
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  • Private message to Paula Pleasant

Paula Pleasant

I loved this video!! I wish I had just some of this kind of technology in my Kinder class room

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  • Private message to LORRAINE DZAPATA

It is good to note that technology can be used as a way of differentiating students' learning styles. I realized it also supports student agency as every individual is responsible for their own learning from picking the gadgets and being able to start on the games. The fact that some apps give instant feedback helps students to learn more, correct where they missed and they do self assessment.For the teacher it helps identify when and where there is need to intervene and also know those who are excelling thereby giving the teacher time to assist those in need of the teacher's help. The students were learning in a relaxed manner, i.e learning through play. Visual learners tend to gain more as the math games show pictures. 

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  • Private message to Nicole Bilek

This video showed how it is very efficient to use differentiated instruction through technology. It is awesome that students get the power of choice in regards to picking a technology tool! It is so helpful for the students to receive the immediate feed back from the programs they are practicing on. One of them even offers the students to move on in the lesson at their own pace.  The students receive immediate feedback from the application Planet Turtle which allows the teacher more time in the classroom to help struggling students. It is also a benefit that instead of giving out a worksheet and having to grade papers, the teacher has more time on his hands and therefore can accurately assess the students who need the teachers support at the same time others are practicing with the gaming applications. I can see myself using differentiated instruction through technology as a future educator!

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  • Private message to Donald Bonham

I also took note of how the students were allowed the power of choice. I think this is very critical for educators to allow students, particularly at the elementary level, since this has the potential to become a building block for self-advocacy later on in their lives. The immediate feedback on Planet Turtle is also quite significant-- if students do not get feedback on their tasks in a timely manner, they will most likely forget about it or lose interest. I like that Dream Box gives students individualized instruction, especially since I want to be a special education teacher, but I also like that Planet Turtle, like you said, offers time for the educator to assist students who need additional supports. Thank you for sharing!

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  • [00:00:00]
    Pronovost: Really trying to address giving every student what they need, and giving them that differentiated instruction is where

    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 them I'm also able to support the students who really need my support.

    [TITLE - "TECH 2 LEARN"]

    Pronovost: [TO STUDENTS] Today, what we are going to talk about is addition and subtraction. If she gives away 10 pencils, how many pencils will Theresa have left? I want you think about it. Is this addition or is this subtraction?
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] Today, when we started in math, we sat down on the rug. We practiced identifying clue words and knowing if we need to add or subtract.
    [00:00:54] [TO STUDENTS] How do we know we're doing addition?
    Student: Because you said [sounds like:] "in on" (??) and that means altogether.
    Pronovost: Okay.
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] Once I felt that students really were getting back into the rhythm with addition and subtraction, that's when I moved them onto computers.
    Pronovost: [TO STUDENTS] 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 80% correct in order to move on to "Dream Box" or to the iPods.
    [00:01:25] [TO CAMERA] "Planet Turtle" is a program that allows them to play games, and 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.
    F: What is 10 minus 9? And I know the answer so I could ... you get a ... a point.
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] For the students who were practicing on their own, "Planet Turtle" was a way to reinforce the addition and subtraction that we had practiced as a class. Once they've 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.
    [00:02:19] I encourage my students to use all the tools that are available to them. One 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 whiteboard, or they might be counting on their fingers, because that's the best strategy for them.
    Pronovost: [TO STUDENTS] And our final answer would be ... 14.
    [00:02:45] [TO CAMERA] 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.
    F: [PLAYING VIDEO GAME] I want to, like, practice a little bit more, for I could get, like, so much better here.
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] The iPod Touches came to us through a SIG grant -- School Improvement Grant. "Dream Box" we started this year. We are just trying it 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.
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] 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.
    Pronovost: [TO STUDENTS] What ... What number do we have in the tens place right here?
    M: 4.
    Pronovost: 4. What are we subtracting?
    M: 1.
    Pronovost: One group of 10. Four groups of 10 minus one group of 10. So, let's see ... 4 minus 1.
    Many: 3.
    Pronovost: Okay. 3.
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] Every 6-8 weeks we take a benchmark exam so I can compare where my students were at the beginning of the year, umm, 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.
    Pronovost: [TO STUDENTS] We all start right here. What number is this right here?
    Many: 1.
    Pronovost: 1. What number is in the bottom right here?
    Many: 3.
    Pronovost: 3. Is there more on the top or there is more on the floor?
    Many: More on the floor.
    Pronovost: More on the floor.
    Many: "Go next door."
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] 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.
    Pronovost: [TO STUDENTS] So now, I'm going to take away 3. 1, 2 ...
    M: 3.
    Pronovost: ... 3.
    [00:05:05] [TO CAMERA] 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.
    F: 5 minus 2.
    M: That's 3.
    F: [sounds like:] Yeah (??).
    Pronovost: [TO CAMERA] 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.


School Details

Belle Haven Elementary School
415 Ivy Drive
Menlo Park CA 94025
Population: 577

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Robert Pronovost


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