Sunday, September 8, 2013

Creating a #UDL Toolbox: Expert Learning Begins with a Toolbox (Part 1)



No matter what the subject being taught in my classroom, I have the same goal: create expert learners. When I use the term "expert learners," I am referring to the intentional way I develop students to understand how they learn best, how to work with others, and how to know what is the best tool for the job. Finding and understanding what the right tool for the job is easier said than done. It is one thing to know that tools exist, but a completely different thing to understand why you should use a certain tool. This is the difference between digitally fluency and digital literacy. I want my students to have digital fluency or understanding what tool to use and why.

UDL and Technology

When I first learned about Universal Design for Learning several years ago, I read an article from Dave Edyburn, Ph.D. that stated that although technology and UDL were not the same, "technology (was) essential for implementing UDL." Although there tons of high-tech tools out there, there are still many low-tech options for implementing UDL too. This quote really made me think about how we could go beyond using "high-tech" options like YouTube clips and iPad Apps. 

Over the next few posts, I want to help you put together a toolbox of tools to help students in your classroom solve problems and understand topics deeper. Before we can begin, we need to have a toolbox to put our tools in.

Creating Your Toolbox

I wanted to create expert learners, who had a toolbox of tools to choose from in order to complete a task. In the past, I have used social bookmarking sites like Diigo and Delicious; however, I didn't like how these sites were organized for visual learners and confused my IEP students. In my opinion, there was too much text and I wanted something a little simpler. 

For the 2013-14 school year, I have decided to go with a Symbaloo webmix of tools. Why you ask? I really like the simplified look for my visual learners or students with IEP's. It is simple to use and share with others. Symbaloo basically takes all of the hyperlinks that you save and arranges them into easy to see / use tiles. 

How I Will Use My Toolbox

How you use your toolbox is probably the most important part of this entire article. Most teachers will simply put a list together of the 300 best websites that they have found. There is very little explanation and kids are often not taught how these tools can solve problems. I follow the K.I.S.S. principle, otherwise known as "keep it simple stupid." 
One teacher I know says that she creates her toolbox of tools in August through December. She makes it a requirement that students have to use the tools that she provides them during this time period. Students use various mediums like Prezi instead of PowerPoint. Google Docs instead of Word, etc. to gain understanding of various options for accomplishing the same task. Once January hits, she gives her students a task and has the students choose the best tool for the job! 

Conclusion: 

I really liked this approach and have decided that I want to do the same; however, it begins with having a toolbox to put all of your tools in. You may decide that you like something else and that's fine, but just begin with the toolbox in mind. Over the next few posts, we will talk about tools to put in your UDL toolbox to help ALL students learn.

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