Category Archives: Universal Design for Learning

The Myth of Average

I was reading a book by Ken Robinson the other day that reminded me of this video.  I knew I had posted the video on my blog at some point, but didn’t realize that it was three years ago.  It definitely bears making an encore appearance.

In this TEDx Talk by Todd Rose, you will hear the astounding story of how the Air Force discovered that designing for the “average” pilot can be debilitating.

Apply this to schools, as Todd Rose does, and you can see why – by trying to help the greatest numbers, we end up helping the least.

The video is 18 minutes long, but well worth watching all of the way through.

Design to the Edges

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iCivics Drafting Board

It’s been awhile since I’ve visited the iCivics site.  You can see my last post about it here (2012!).  The site, founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, offers interactives, games, and lesson plans for learning about civics.  And it’s all free!

There is a lot of curriculum available on the site, and teachers can log in and add students to a class, giving them assignments that the teachers can then monitor.  One of the tools that looks really great for 5th graders and up is the Drafting Board tool.  This is a robust, thought-provoking interactive that leads students through steps that result in crafting a persuasive essay.  I’ve embedded the iCivics  introductory video to Drafting Board below.  This PDF thoroughly explains how to use the tool.

iCivicsDraftingBoard

There are several things that appeal to me about Drafting Board.  It scaffolds the process of writing a persuasive essay based on evidence very well.  The teacher has the capability of differentiating the assignment by choosing different “challenge levels” for students. Though there is a lot of reading involved, all of the passages have accompanying audio for students who need that support.  These features make this a great UDL resource.

One of the lessons is about whether or not 16-year-olds should be given the right to vote – a topic that is frequently brought up by my students. (Actually, they think “all kids” should have the right to vote.)  Another one that would tie in very well with my 5th grade unit on The Giver is the question of whether or not students should be required to do volunteer work in order to graduate.

Even if you don’t have access to 1-to-1 devices for your students, Drafting Board would be a valuable whole-class lesson, or even a center for groups of students, inviting an educated discourse about controversial topics.

Two More Fabulous Ways to Use Aurasma for Education

from:
from: http://augmentedrealityeducation.blogspot.com/

As I mentioned in “Trends for Education in the 2013-2014 School Year,” augmented reality is going to be big in education.  Really big.  It has the potential to allow students to experience learning in so many different ways.  For kids who do not learn best by reading or listening to lectures, augmented reality could definitely be the key to engaging them.  This is why I recently started a Flipboard magazine called, “Augmented Reality for Education.”  A prime example of the ripple effect of Augmented Reality was yesterday’s post about the ColAR app and International Dot Day.

Aurasma is another free app that can be used to create augmented reality experiences for your students.  You can see an example of how I used it for a presentation for teachers in Monday’s post, but the real power of AR is when it’s placed in the hands of the kids.  If you have not tried Aurasma before, you can find some excellent introductory resources here and here.  You can also find a list of my own posts on Aurasma here.

I recently found a couple of great example of Aurasma being used with students, and shared them on my Flipboard magazine.  But, since there are only about 20 people currently subscribed to that magazine 😉 I thought I should share them here, too.

The first video, which you can find here if the embedded version does not work, shows how Aurasma could be used to help a student with a standard worksheet when the teacher is not readily available.

The second video, which is  located here, shows how a music classroom can be brought to life using 2-dimensional photos.

Rows of Desks are SO Yesterday

Remember the post I did on adding a Genius Bar to your classroom?  Well, I decided that I must do exactly that.  So, I have been working on re-purposing an old bookshelf to become the countertop of my Genius Bar.  Have I mentioned that I am not very good at DIY projects?  First of all, I often forget to do a “Before” picture, so I only have a “During” one.  Secondly, it’s possible I killed more than one brain cell while I spray-painted this monstrosity – and that’s slightly ironic considering the fact that I am calling it a “Genius Bar.”   However, I cannot wait until the students see the finished product.  Maybe they will be so excited that they won’t notice my diminished capacity…

My Genius Bar in progress!
My Genius Bar in progress!

I am doing my best to re-design my classroom this year to support the type of learning that I plan to facilitate during the next nine months – lots of collaboration and creation.  I just got some great news – I will be able to use the empty classroom next to me, as well!  I am brimming with ideas.  Unfortunately, I am not not brimming with finances for this endeavor.  I am going to see how much I can re-purpose to create my “Learning Studio,” and then work on getting financing for the rest – perhaps through Donors Choose.  I will keep you posted on my progress.

Speaking of Donors Choose, check out the #RemakeClass Photo Sweepstakes sponsored by Edutopia, in which you can possibly win a gift card from Donors Choose!  If you’re like me, and don’t think you can get it together by the August 25th deadline, you might still want to visit the site to take a look at all of the fabulous photos for some inspiration.  If you are interested in entering the contest, here is a link to the F.A.Q.’s. (Also, here is a link to Edutopia’s weekly giveaways, which also includes a Donors Choose gift card this week for $500!)

For more inspiration, here are a couple of other articles that have great ideas for classroom makeovers:  “How to Make Your Classroom a Thinking Space” by Suzie Boss, and “My Top 10 Learning Spaces – A Universal Design in a Gifted Classroom” by Zoe Branigan-Pipe.

How About Adding a Genius Bar to Your Classroom?

from:  http://www.edutopia.org/remake
from: http://www.edutopia.org/remake

Ever since my former principal, John Hinds, recommended a book to our staff, Spaces and Places, by Debbie Diller, I have looked at my classroom with a brand new set of eyes.  I’ve tried to break out of the traditional mold, and to create an environment that promotes engagement, collaboration, and curiosity.  I still haven’t attained the ideal classroom, but I like to think that I improve each year.

This isn’t about themes or decorating.  This is about placement of furniture and learning tools.  It’s about visualizing the kind of learning that you would like to see happening, and then designing a space that facilitates that.

My ideal classroom would have mobile furniture, like the one I described here.  But, in the absence of that, there are still things that I can do to project the aura of a synergetic learning enviroment.  For example, this recent series of videos posted by Edutopia showing the transformation of a middle school teacher’s classroom gave me the idea of adding a “Genius Bar” to my room.   (I suppose, if one is worried about the implications of the word, “bar”,  “Genius Counter” might be a good substitute.)  In the video, it is one wall with a long dry erase board over a counter and two computers at either end.  What a fabulous idea!  This would help me with my efforts to encourage the students to consult each other to help with problem solving, rather than to immediately refer to me.

Most of us do not have the resources to design a classroom from the ground up, but this is a great time of year to consider getting rid of, or re-purposing, what we don’t need and finding the best placement for what have.  I know many teachers who have surrendered their teacher desks and/or filing cabinets because these pieces of furniture no longer serve a helpful function in the learner-centered, 21st-century classroom.

Instead of walking into your classroom and mechanically dragging desks into rows this year, consider what physical changes you can make to galvanize your students to become the kind of learners you have always imagined.

Since most of us don’t have a design team to consult, I highly recommend Spaces and Places as a more economical alternative.  Also, Classroom Architect is an online tool that you may find useful as you plan the structure of your classroom.

What Do You Think – How Individualized Should We Make Education?

from:  http://ednotesonline.blogspot.com/2011/01/my-article-on-teacher-value-added-data.html
from:  ednotesonline.blogspot.com

Recently I’ve run across quite a few articles that seem to give opposing viewpoints about the direction schools should be going in order to improve.  I would like to hear your thoughts on some of these topics.

Big Think recently posted an article called, “IEPS Shouldn’t Be Just About Special Ed.”  The article, by Chris Dawson, advocates the use of technology to differentiate instruction for all students.  The claim is, and to a certain extent it’s true, that only Special Education students have legal documents that specify the type of instruction they should receive.  However, all students should have this right, instead of being lumped into large groups who receive standardized lessons which are often directed towards “the middle.”

As a teacher of gifted students, I hear this observation quite a bit from parents and students.  While I certainly understand the difficulties with the current structure of most schools to make these types of accommodations, technology can definitely get us closer to customizing instruction.  We just need to be careful of the danger of automatizing learning too much. That is why I am a huge advocate of “Genius Hour” and projects like our district’s pilot summer program.  I also support Universal Design for Learning as a means for achieving this goal of creating a learning environment that supports and benefits all types of learners.

Interestingly, I found a comment on Dawson’s article that showed a different perspective.  “The problem with this notion is that life out of schools doesn’t accomodate to us. We accomodate to it. We also risk limiting kids to the things they are already good at. That they already like. Perhaps the Dawson family would enjoy a different brand of pizza on Friday night, or perhaps something altogether different than pizza.”

So, I wonder.  What do you think?  Does designing instruction so that it will raise the bar for every student based on his or her needs and abilities do them a disservice in the “real world?”  All thoughtful comments are appreciated!

iSolveIt

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Some people spent their Easter weekend camping out in parks. Some spent it cooking and baking feasts for their family. I spent it playing two new games on my iPad.

iSolveIt is brought to you by the Center for Applied Special Technology. CAST is “an educational research & development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals through Universal Design for Learning.”

I have mentioned UDL a few times in earlier posts. With iSolveIt, it appears that CAST is working on developing apps that fit into the UDL framework.

Currently, there are two app for iDevices: MathSquared and MathScaled. What I like about both of these free apps is that they allow multiple people to register on one iPad, so when they are using it they can just log in, and continue with the level they last accessed. I also like that the apps have a few levels which allows you to work at your own pace. Another advantage is that each one has a “Scratch Pad” option, allowing you to make notes to help you with your game. And, finally, I am thrilled by the reasoning skils that are required to play each of these games. These are not “drill and kill” games.

What I didn’t like was that I could not find the instructions for either app within the app itself. I ended up going to the iSolveIt website to figure out what I was supposed to be doing for both games. The website has helpful directions and videos, but it would be nice to be able to have tutorials within the app.

If you like Sudoku and Ken-Ken, then MathSquared is the game for you. If you like balancing equations in Algebra, then MathScaled will appeal to you. Or, you can neglect all of your other duties for the next few days, and try both.