Sunday, December 4, 2011

Universal Design For Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) incorporates different teaching strategies into curriculum development to provide students equal opportunities to learn. UDL uses research into neuroscience to engage three primary brain networks: recognition, strategic and affective. According to the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), “UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” I used the CAST UDL lesson builder to analyze and improve the Principles of Engineering Lesson 3.1 Machine Control with a focus on Project 3.1.7, the culmination of the lesson (see lesson plan here).

Recognition Network
Within the Recognition Network area, I found that I am already implementing some of these strategies, which include presenting information in different ways. Throughout Lesson 3.1, Machine Control, I provided my students with materials to supplement the Project Lead the Way curriculum. I know some students find programming languages difficult to learn and implement. It can be like learning a foreign language so I provided some pictorial references that they could use to help them learn the material. I made copies of the power point charts for students to glue into their engineering notebooks. I found flowcharts which correspond with the language and added them to the power point and printed them out for the students as well. Students can also re-read the power point presentations on the class website; in order to provide another means of perception, I am also trying to find a Text-to-Speech tool that I can embed in the class website.

Strategic Network
In the Strategic Network, which is the “how” of learning, I found that I could do better providing options for students for navigating the learning environment and expressing what they know. The design problems in Project 3.1.7 do allow students to choose the level of complexity for their build, which means students with movement impairments can choose less complicated builds. Students also have choices on the level of programming they are comfortable with and the option of designing their programming plan using flowcharts, psuedocode, natural language or code. Students who struggle with writing can type their journal entries and glue them into their engineering notebooks. There are also technologies available for taking pictures and using 3-D modeling software for students who struggle with drawing. In order to help all students, not just those who struggle with organizing their process, I start the project with a group brainstorming session about questions that they will want to answer as they brainstorm solutions to their problem. I found last year that most students didn’t know where to start so this year, I elicited a list of questions during the anticipatory set. I wrote the questions on the board including some quick sketches and a discussion.

Affective Network
In the Affective Network, which focuses on student motivation, Project 3.1.7 provides several different areas for choice. Students choose which problem they are interested in and spend time brainstorming individually. After they have some ideas down, whether it’s drawings, notes, questions, or flowcharts, I have students get together with other people who chose the same problem and share their ideas. Then students have the choice of which group to be a part of or working alone. In this way, there are different options for engagement.


  1. Jennie--I really like you have broken the lesson down into the three networks. This helped me re-focus on these three pieces.What you have done here is great! And again, this will help me re-think how I can differentiate the lessons approaches, instructions, and evaluation. Great blog!

  2. Wow!! I am so impressed by the level of work that your students accomplish. I would not even know where to begin to do what they do. I like how you broke down your descriptors of your lessons into the three UDL categories, really helped me to understand exactly what you were doing.

  3. Hi Jennie! After looking at your lesson on the Google doc, I can see that you really are/have been implementing solid UDL practices. (You must be a good teacher :) ) I especially appreciate how you include pictorial references and have the PowerPoints available for students. Being a visual learner, I know these would help me. It looks like some of our classmates have found some great text-to-speech tools . . . maybe one of those will work for you. Sara R.