Saturday, April 30, 2016

UDL Cases

I've been fine tuning my thinking and work with Universal Design for Learning for about a decade now--and that's after 15 years of wrestling with the ideas, though without formally calling it UDL.

Below are 10 'cases in UDL' that I developed and have used in professional development and training.  They are 'ripped from today's headlines' as they are composites and tweaked examples of classroom innovations that I have actually seen.  Use the 9 UDL Guidelines from CAST and identify the top 3 for each.

Here they are (more details here):

1.         Provide options for perception
2.         Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols
3.         Provide options for comprehension
4.         Provide options for physical action
5.         Provide options for expression and communication
6.         Provide options for executive functions
7.         Provide options for recruiting interest
8.         Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
9.         Provide options for self-regulation

Identify the Three Most Salient UDL Guidelines in Each Case using the numbers 1-9.

Case 1: Household Vocabulary . UDL Guidelines _,________________________________

Ms. Fernandez teaches Spanish. She is introducing students to the “vocabulary of the household.” She gives students a list of vocabulary words and four different options—draw a diagram, create a short skit, write a poem, or create a comic—each must include the set of household vocabulary words.

Case 2: Unlike Denominators UDL Guidelines ________________________________

Mr. Kouse teaches a mathematics class. He notices that many students have problems adding and subtracting fractions with unlike denominators. He gets a bunch of pebbles and puts them in plastic mixing cups and demonstrates adding amounts with unlike denominators (e.g. 1/4 of a cup and 3/8 of a cup). He sets this up as a station and rotates groups of students through as other groups do different activities.

Case 3: Enacting Novels UDL Guidelines ____________________________________

Mrs. Fodole teaches tenth-grade English. When reading novels and short stories, she notices that many students get confused when characters are speaking to each other. Students are unfamiliar with the conventions of dialogue in prose. She takes small excerpts from the book and has the students write and act scripts from these sections. The students exchange their scripts and enact the scenes.

Case 4: Feedback on Cards UDL Guidelines _____________________________________

Ms. Baer is reviewing the scientific method in the Intro to Science Class. Whenever she lectures for more than 5 minutes, she gives the students index cards with Y on one side and N on the other. Before she moves on to a new concept or idea she asks the kids if they understand and makes them all indicate by showing the Y or the N side of the card. Sometimes she re-teaches it another way, or other times she addresses student questions one at a time. She aloes creates a short action plan for each student to help them better attend and participate during lectures.

Case 5: Historic Tours UDL Guidelines ___________________________________

Mr. Harrigan teaches American History. The students were asked to prepare a ‘tour’ of a public place that is important to them. The tour can be a brochure, audio recording, public presentation. The teacher gives examples of each format. They can choose the place (a park, a street, a restaurant). They need to include the history of this place as well as interviews with people who have experiences at this place. As the students brainstorm and draft their tours, the teacher includes suggestions to make the tour more interesting to potential tourists.

Case 6: Figurative Language Contract UDL Guidelines _____________________________________

Mrs. Jones teaches ESL and is working on figurative language. She has 7 activities relating to figurative language. She believes that students can do 4 of them to demonstrate mastery. Each student must fill out a contract and indicate which 4 they will do. The students keep a checklist and their work in a separate folder. Each day for the week Mrs. Jones will consult with students on their progress through the checklist and contract, giving help and modifying the contract as needed.

Case 7: Pictures and Labels UDL Guidelines _____________________________________

Mrs. Sibli teaches Biology. During the lab she notices that many students have trouble remembering the terms for the equipment. Traditionally, students would have to pass a test on these terms before they began labs, but she worries that that would take too long for this group of students. On the written lab directions she inserts images of the pieces of equipment, and on the equipment she places tags and labels with the names.

Case 8: Cheat Sheet UDL Guidelines _______________________________

Ms. Anderson teaches chemistry. When she covers ionic and covalent bonds, she notices that students have trouble remembering major relationships of the concepts and definitions. In the textbook there is a full chapter of important information. She created a one page “Cheat Sheet” that she gives to every student and had them staple inside of their notebook. She also keeps a few laminated copies on her desk for kids who ‘forget’ theirs.

Case 9: EROX Learning System UDL Guidelines ______________________________________

EROX is an adaptive learning system to help with math. The system consists of assessments, practice problems, and tutorials that are customized to the characteristics of the learner. A student will practice a skill. If she is proficient, she will move on to the next skill. If the student is not proficient, she will practice with ‘hints’ or see a video of a solution method. The student’s home screen is a pie chart with segments of the different skills that show how much h of each skill they have mastered. The goal is for students to autonomously organize their time and resources to appropriately achieve their goal.

Case 10 Remixing Fables with Speech to Text UDL Guidelines ____________________________

Ms. Garcia is a 3rd Grade language arts teacher. Part of the curriculum is for kids to write their own fables. Some students have difficulty with both handwriting and keyboarding., so she has installed a speech to text program on several of the computers. So although all students will produce a written document, they have options for physically getting the words to paper. Some students have trouble ‘beginning from scratch’, she has given kids a list of fable beginnings, characters, settings, scenarios, and morals, and encourages students to choose and remix these critical features and big ideas while adding their own words at ideas at the computer stations.

Answers (of course, there can be very good cases for different answers, but even that activity of disagreeing with these 'answers' is a healthy exercise).

Case 1: Household Vocabulary UDL Guidelines _3,5,7,_____________

Case 2: Unlike Denominators UDL Guidelines __2,3,4,___________

Case 3: Enacting Novels UDL Guidelines _____2,4,6,__________

Case 4: Feedback on Cards UDL Guidelines ___5,8,9,________________

Case 5: Historic Tours UDL Guidelines ___5,7,8,__________

Case 6: Figurative Language Contract UDL Guidelines __5,8,9,_____________

Case 7: Pictures and Labels UDL Guidelines ___1,2,3___________

Case 8: Cheat Sheet UDL Guidelines ___1,3,8___________

Case 9: EROX Learning System UDL Guidelines ______6, 8, 9_____________

Case 10 Remixing Fables with Speech to Text UDL Guidelines ___3, 4, 7________

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Paraprofessionals: The Future of K-12 Education

School paraprofessionals are in an increasingly precarious position due to major changes in education and the economy--their story is very telling about two major trends affecting US education. Over the last several years I have been involved with the training of school-based paraprofessionals, and got to see how social, economic, and educational trends affect their lives.

Paraprofessionals are generally known as teachers' aides and provide a spectrum of services to classroom teachers. The main distinction of paraprofessionals is that they cannot initially teach a new concept or skill. They can provide physical or academic assistance to an individual student, reteach in small groups, provide translations, and help with classroom management. Unlike custodial stuff or food service workers, the majority of the paraprofessional's time is spend in direct contact with students--from ages 3 to 21.

There are two major trends that are meeting in the world of paraprofessionals.

1) Outsourcing and privatization--Though paraprofessionals typically make significantly less than teachers, they often have comparable benefits packages. Privatization makes sense to school districts looking to cut expenses. There are hundreds of news articles on the privatization of paraprofessionals throughout the United States, and a good summary in District Administrator.

2) Increasing Population of Students with Special Needs-- typical schools are become more inclusive of students with special needs. There is both a civil rights imperative and a financial one for school districts, as it generally costs more to send a student to out-of-district placement. With an increasing population of students with varying disabilities in local schools, there comes an increase in the need for human intervention in the form of paraprofessionals.

The problem is that these two forces are often at odds. Parents and advocates of students with special needs frequently oppose the perceived lowering of quality that privatization brings (see news stories from Hawthorn NJ, and Westmoreland, PA, as examples).

The growing trend of inclusive education, budget battles at local school districts, and the responses the private sector will all factor into the future of the educational paraprofessional.

 Photo credit, some rights reserved "New Classroom" by Bart Everson
Article first appeared in LinkedIn Pulse, by Christopher Shamburg 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wearable Technology Educational Incubator--Invitation

This group will explore the educational applications of wearable technology and e-textiles. 

What are e-textiles?

The cutting edge field of electronic textiles or e-textiles is a recent development in both design and engineering. E-textiles are fabrics with embedded electronics, including sensors, lights, motors, and small computers. Designers of e-textiles keep things soft by employing new materials like conductive thread, conductive fabric, and flexible circuit boards. E-textiles are used in many different domains and settings including astronaut space suits, wearable medical devices, and haute couture fashions. You’ll find them in Lady Gaga costumes that change shape, high-tech military tents, and jackets that keep you warm while you snowboard. (Sew Electric, 2014)

Our Objectives:

  • Build technical capacity among non-technical educators to teach with the e-textile kits 
  • Develop innovative teaching applications for e-textile and wearable technology applications
  • Consider opportunities and logistical challenges for using e-textiles is k-16 settings.

No prior knowledge in wearable technology, computer programming, or textiles is required. 

If you have an interest in this (and are in the NJ/NY area) please complete this RSVP form. Our first meeting is October 16, 2014 from 6pm-8pm at New Jersey City University.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Game Design in Education

What makes a good educational game? 

This semester I included a section on games and game design in my authoring tools course, a graduate level course in the Educational Technology MA.  It's the first time for this unit, so I was interested in how it was going to go, and I kept the parameters and assessment loose.   I'm very happy with the work, and I hope many of the students continue with their games.   

As I review the students' work I' have made some observations on what would make a good educational game:

Fable Table Game
Fable Table: A game where students create fables
from remixing elements of existing stories.
  1. The game cannot simply be an assessment (any Jeopardy-like game is a nonstarter).  
  2. At its best, the game should teach something, not just reinforce.
  3. The game should give a kids with a variety of subject area knowledge a chance to be engaged. e.g. it doesn't reward kids for what they came into class with.
  4. The game mechanic should be the message. i.e. the skill, habit, knowledge should be baked into the game play.
  5. Engaging and fun
  6. Simple instructions
  7. Low barrier to entry
  8. Try to avoid a zero-sum/winner-take-all objective 

The element of luck helps to move the game from an assessment and gives kids with different abilities a fighting chance at engagement, dice, wild cards, switches, and reversals.

Competitive games that have a strong assessment element just reinforce traditional teaching and reward the advanced students and stigmatize the struggling students.

I must admit that I was a skeptic to games in education.  For every student who loves Monopoly, there's one who hates it.  However, there's something about the 'timelessness' of games that makes me respect them too.  Almost every civilization has used them for teaching, culture, and socialization.

Here's the actual assignment:

Develop a Game

Games have been defined as:
“One or more causally linked series of challenges in a simulated environment” --Adams and Rollings
“A system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome.”-- Salen and Zimmerman

You will design a board game, a card game, video game, online game, a web-based game (not a webquest).
Game Criteria
Your game should have:
  • A worthwhile objective for playing the game. This is not the objective of winning the game, but the objective of playing the game…e.g. the game objective of SuperBetter is to score a certain number of points but the objective of playing the game is to get mentally and/or physically healthy.
  • Inviting and low-barrier to entry (invite people to continue once they start and increasingly challenge them them as  they continue)
  • 3-6 core mechanics (main, important actions a player does).  “The mechanic is the message”
  • Increasing challenge
  • Rules

Feel free to think of an existing game and modify it.  
Your game should have a short explanation (3-4 pages) and a working model.

  • A description of the objective of the game
  • A description of the core mechanics and an analysis of why they work in the service of the objective of the game.
  • A description of the rules
  • A description of how the game would be played, with an emphasis on how it starts and how it gets more challenging
  • Influences or inspirations (this can be other games, books, experiences)
  • A working prototype of the game (card game, board game, etc.)



We use the work of Institute of Play's Gamekit as well as these books.


Koster, R. (2004). A theory of fun for game design.  Phoenix, AZ: Paraglyph Press.

Mcgonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world.  New York, New York: Penguin Books.

Salen, K.  (2007).  The ecology of games:  Connecting youth, games, and learning (p. 278).  Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Salen, K, Torres, R, Wolozin, L, Rufo-Tepper, R, & Shapiro, A. (2011) Quest to learn: Creating the school for digital kids.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  Available online at

Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E. (2004). The rules of play.  Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Visitors from H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai India

Last week I had the privilege of presenting some of my work to a group of educators from Mumbai.

My focus was on how remix (the digital thing kids do at home and post to Youtube) has important connections to history, culture, cognition and globalization...and it can be a powerful teaching tool.

After the talk they gave me so many new ideas, I was starting to regret that I talked so much in my presentation.

Below is the presentation, and an article about their visit from

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Creative Constraints and Teaching

According to The Design Council, six 8-studded Lego
blocks can be put into over 900 million different combinations.
The core of the issue is this:  when you tell most people to 'be creative' on demand, they'll freeze. When you give them 3 crayons, 6 legos, or 17 syllables, they'll make something interesting.   They'll learn, they'll think deeply, they'll get creative.

This concept has been employed by playwrights, computer programers, architects, and CEOs.  It's worth looking at in detail. 

One feature of my work that I'm going to explore more is the concept of 'creative constraints'.  It's been a big but unspoken part of a lot of work that I do, including the six sounds project.  In the six sounds projects, participants get a short tutorial on audio editing, and then have to create a one minute story using six sounds (phone ring, engine, heart beat, match strike, splash, crickets).

It's been a popular activity for ISTE, NJAET, and classrooms around the world.  I've heard comedies, dramas, sci-fi..and quite a few camping stories.  This goal of this isn't just to teach audio editing--but the power or remix, the power of people to take the same group of items and synthesize them into new kinds of creative blends.

I've experienced this myself and used it in my teaching. However, I've only recently focused on the research behind this phenomenon--'creative constraints'

The concept of creative constraints is that creativity and innovation are fostered not by complete freedom but by limits.

In my research on creative constraints I've come across examples from poetry (Lehrer, 2011), computer engineering (Mayer), management, architecture (Sturt, 2013), and improvisational comedy (May, 2013).  It's also one of the fundamental principles of game design (see Salen and Zimmerman's seminal work The Rules of Play--the title tells the story).  Any time a concept is useful to playwrights, computer programmers, and CEOs, it should be taken note of.

When people work within restrictions, they test boundaries, challenge assumptions, and innovate with a set of resources.

One recent example of this in my work was when I was with a group of English teachers in Massachusetts.  They were struggling with teaching The Odyssey.  Kids were frustrated with the language and lost with the plot.  The textbook's emphasis on the historic background was not helping matters.   So, we brainstormed on the 'big ideas' of The Odyssey.   What ideas, language, knowledge and skills do you want kids to have from this?   We came up with the concept of a hero's exciting and serendipitous journey and the use, beauty and power of epic similes (similes and metaphor are some of the original remixes, IMHO).  We came up with the recipe for the 3-Minute Epic.

The 3-Minute Epic employs filmmaking, remix, and creative constraints to engage students in these ‘big ideas’ of epic poetry.

In the Three-Minute Epic students must create an adventure story with a set of ‘items’—particular images, sounds, and epic similes from The Odyssey. This can be a model for working with other literature or history topics.  They can use a variety of technology--from PowerPoint, Photostory, iMovie, or Final Cut Pro.

However, sophisticated editing and technical skills are not one of our goals, so I would keep this as simple as possible (hint, PowerPoint).

For Students:

For this project you will create a three-minute digital story using existing language and media.

It should be an adventure of a 'hero'. It is up to you to determine, and eventually explain, what is adventurous and heroic about your story.

Your final project should have images, narration, and sound effects; music is optional.

In your story, you need to use the following similes from the Odyssey. ( What kinds of experiences can these descriptions apply to?):

  • some animal surrounded, dreading the gangs of hunters closing their cunning ring around him for the finish...
  • some lion of the wilderness that stalks about exulting in his strength and defying both wind and rain; his eyes glare as he prowls in quest of oxen, sheep, or deer, for he is famished, and will dare break even into a well fenced homestead...
  • an octopus, when you drag one from his chamber, comes up with suckers full of tiny stones...
  • a judge at the end of a day at court, who’s settled the countless suits of brash young claimants, rises, the day’s work done, and turns home for supper...

You need to use the following images in your story:


Striking a Match

You need to use the following sound effects in your story:

Beating Heart

Chirping Crickets


  • It must be between 2 and 3 minutes
  • There has to be a story with a beginning, plot, and conclusion (extra credit for starting "In Medias Res")
  • You can cross genres and mix your epic with true life, drama, modern, comedy, detective, romance, action, fantasy, horror, scifi; the setting can be contemporary, historic, fantastic, etc.
  • No profanity or use of personal information
  • It can have characters and a narrator, just characters, or just a narrator.
  • You can add images, sound effects, and narration, but you must use the quotes and media above
  • You can get pictures from the Web or use original images (e.g. a close up of a group member as the hero/villain)


Story is between 2-3 minutes (pass/fail)

25% Plot Elements--story is entertaining and coherent with an engaging beginning, action throughout, and a clear conclusion.

25% Mix--narration and media elements complement each other; audio is clear and read with appropriate tone

20% Required Elements--all required media and quotes are used appropriately to tell a story; similes compare different things

20% New Elements--new images, sound effects and music advance the story

10% Hero and Adventure--each member of the group can explain why the main character is a hero and why the story is an adventure (odyssey, epic, etc.)

References on Creative Contraints

Lenrer, J. (2013) Need to create: Get a constraint. From Wired Magazine Online, retrieved November 23, 20013 from

May, M. (2013). How intelligent restraints drive creativity. From Harvard Business Review Blog Network, retrieved November 24, 2013 from

Meyer, M. A. (2006). Creativity loves constraints. From Business Week Online, retrieved November 29, 2013 from

Sturt, D. (2013). Creativity: How constraints drive genius. From Forbes Online, retrieved November 24, 2013 from

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Sound of Science: Remix and STEM

Here's a course that I am teaching for the HP Catalyst Academy--it's called "The Sound of Science"

It's interesting
It's free
You can register here.

This mini-course explores the educational possibilities of digital audio creation in physical and life sciences. Digital audio is a powerful and growing medium inside and outside of education, and participants will learn how to use it to communicate complex topics, capture field experiences, enhance visual inspections, and augment real or hypothetical locations — all with common hardware and free software. Explore ways to edit, mix, use, and teach with accessible audio editing technologies. Four projects within the mini-course will build upon educators’ technical, creative, legal, and ethical knowledge and skills.