The other day I came across an excellent photo editor site called FotoFlexer, which allows you to edit your photos online for free!You can easily upload photos from your computer or sites like Picasa, Photobucket, and Flicker.

I really like the fact that you don't need a username and account to play around and edit photos. You may want to sign up for the extra features and ability to save your photos, but this may provide you an excellent way of letting your students create without being bombarded with another password. I also like the fact that you can save photos back to your computer as either a JPEG or PNG file. There are numerous effects, ways to decorate, animations, ways or distorting or manipulating text.

How could I use this for UDL? 

Vocabulary is always a difficult thing to teach, because our kids are often bombarded with it throughout the day or just plain don't remember the terms. FotoFlexer could provide another way of representing terms, increasing retention for our students. For example, students could create a PowerPoint Presentation with the term, definition, and an edited photo that they created, which would define the term.

Don't have the ability to use computers? Just being able to "create" a visual example of a vocabulary term not only provides multiple means of representation, but it also provides another way of engaging or hooking students with content.

No Money for Field Trips? Visit an Art Museum Without Leaving Your Classroom

Art has played such an important role in history. It has influenced rulers, social reforms, and led revolutions. Not only has it played an important role in history, but it is very closely linked to many of the subject areas that we teach in our schools today. Yet, due to budget cuts, it is one of the first programs to go.

Not to get into a debate about the importance of the arts, but I would like to give you a way to share those historical paintings with your students without leaving the classroom. Google's Art Project provides a way of representing the important works of history all from your computer. This site is very UDL friendly! Why do you ask?

  • Click on any painting of your choice and you have the ability to zoom in and zoom out, customizing the display of information (Checkpoint 1.1). This is perfect for students with disabilities, but it is also a great tool for your students to analyze a painting even further. 
  • The Create an Art Collection feature, gives you the opportunity create your own collection of paintings from Google's 1000+ artworks. You can create your own customized views and personalize the artworks with adding comments. 
  • Google also gives you the ability to use its Street View technology (very popular on Google Maps) to navigate through some of the world's most famous art museums. This is a great way of providing your students with options for learning, proving them with ways to respond and navigate through material (Checkpoint 4.1). 

How could I use this in my classroom? 

Imagine that you are a history teacher and you are beginning a unit on Communism. As students walk through your room, they see a painting of Red Square in Moscow on your projector screen. You begin class by having students write a response the writing prompt on your board about the painting. This gives students a chance to write their ideas down.

After a few moments, you have students share their responses with a partner in the room, providing students with a way to verbally express themselves (multiple means of action and expression). This leads to a discussion about the painting.  You use the zoom feature to zoom in on important pieces of the painting (multiple means of representation).

This leads to the lesson, which you talk about the significance of Red Square and what it meant to the communist movement. You teach by sharing video clips, a PowerPoint, and a guided note outline (multiple means of representation).

Near the end of your lesson, you provide students with an opportunity to explore the Tretyakov State Gallery in Moscow, Russia. Maybe you have laptops or computer in your classroom or maybe  you don't. If you do have computers, you ask students to navigate through the museum and find another painting that most signifies the communist movement (multiple means of action and expression). Maybe you provide links for students to research at home or on their cell phone. This may not work in many districts, due to the fact that some of our kids may not have computer access.

Maybe you don't have laptops or computers in your classroom. Maybe you navigate through the museum on your screen and show students 2 pre-selected paintings that relate the communist movement (multiple means of action and expression).

Whatever your situation, because you know your kids better than I do, you decide to have students do a writing assignment about this selected painting and how it relates to the class discussion earlier that day (multiple means of action and expression).

Need Help Getting Started with iPads?

The holiday season is approaching and many of us have that "have-to-have" item on our list. The iPad. There has been a tremendous amount of attention given to the iPad,  particularly in education. Everyone has to have one. Everyone needs one. We want them in our classrooms for all of our kids.

But once you get one, what do you do with it?Many of us are lost when it comes to how they work and apply to education. Here are some good resources to use when it comes to using them in your classroom:

There are literally thousands of different sites, blogs, etc. devoted to the iPad and education. These are some of the best that stood out to me. 

Move Over Brittanica and Make Room for Life

Recently I came across a very impressive resource called the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL), an online encyclopedia collection of information about all living things on Earth. EOL was started in 2007 with the impressive task of "providing a webpage for every living species." How are they doing it? They have created a trusted online community where information is freely exchanged and made available to anyone and everyone.

After exploring the site, I began to realize this is a great tool for science teachers who want to design a lesson that will impact all kinds of learning styles (UDL). For example, imagine that you are a teacher who is taking the opportunity to teach your students about your local habitat. You may begin by having students research a specific plant or animal on EOL. Students can learn the scientific name, habitat and ecology information, population, diet, etc.

Multiple Means of Representation: 

Sometimes reading does not "connect all of the dots" for our students. This site provides multimedia clips in the forms of video, audio, and maps, providing another way of representing material for our visual and auditory learners. There are filters available, which makes navigating the different resources easier. Many of the maps are powered by Google, which gives students an opportunity to interact and "zoom in" on the natural environment of plants and animals.

Multiple Means of Action / Expression: 

We've talked about the visual and auditory learners, but we are forgetting about your hands on learners! EOL has an activities section that contains a variety of hands on learning activities for our students to deepen their understanding. Imagine that you are teaching this lesson and use the Field Guide activity. This allows you to print out and create your own field guides, which could be used to help students explore their own back yard.

Multiple Means of Engagement: 

When we are trying to create "expert" learners, we need to give students a chance to reflect on what they have learned, ask more questions, and make more connections. Some of your students may want to write a traditional paper in Microsoft Word or on a piece of notebook paper. However, EOL offers a way to for students to "reflect and connect" with other learners and experts.  Simply by clicking the Community tab, students will be able to ask questions of experts of other EOL members who share the same interests or expertise. Obviously this should not be an option for some of our students!

When our students are able to connect with different ways of representing material, expressing their knowledge, and engaging with content, we are creating a successful lesson or unit. No matter what format you use, incorporating the elements of UDL can enhance any type of lesson plan format! 

Making Word Walls A Part of Your Classroom

Our students are learning, reading, and interacting with content in so many different ways each day. Yet, how much time do we spend on developing vocabulary? Do we expect our kids to "know" it from either reading the book or listening to us. It may not be happening. There is a major emphasis on the development of vocabulary skills in education today. From professional development to graduate courses to initiatives...all are talking about it. Why? Because our students need to be able to understand vocabulary to understand what they are reading.

This has brought up the importance of developing Word Walls in our classrooms, which is a visual representation of important terms for the unit or chapter . Word Walls not only emphasize "seeing" the word, but also it encourages students to "listen" for and "use" it. Simply put, they offer multiple ways of representing and expressing the meaning of vocabulary terms.

What are the limitations of Word Walls? One of the biggest limitations may be shear space. It's difficult to find the space in our classrooms today.  Another limitation is the fact that students cannot "take the wall with them." Here are some ways to use the concept of a Word Wall, when you space is limited or you just want to try something different:

  • EdHelper Word Wall Maker - gives teachers the opportunity to develop a word wall in a Microsoft Word document. It is a great tool for foreign language teachers too! Why? It gives you the opportunity to place two words on the wall (1 in English and the other in ____ with a picture). 
  • Free Word Wall Editor - is a great site with pre-generated vocabulary terms, which are ready to print. Foreign language teachers may find this site very useful, because there are several pre-generated lists for students learning a language! 

Sites like Glogster may also be a helpful and creative alternative for sharing vocabulary terms with students, allowing them to actually "take the wall with them." 

QR Codes in Education

The other day I was hungry, so I walked over to the counter and grabbed a banana. To my surprise, I noticed a new sticker next to the Chiquita Banana sticker. It was a funny looking thing called a QR code. You can't go anywhere these days without seeing them on business cards, products, and yet many people are unaware of what these things look like.

QR stands for Quick Response Code, which is essentially a bar code that you can use to access websites, videos, etc. on your SmartPhone. Many of our students have SmartPhones to begin with. Why not provide a QR Code for students to access your class website, extra study materials, etc.?

QR Codes are so easy to create. You can go to websites like or Create QR Code.  Simply generate the code and copy and paste into a worksheet. This may be a great way for students to access extra materials for your class.

One teacher that I know provides students with a homework assignment that contains both a website link and a QR code. She used QR Codes as a way to engage students and motivate them to access materials outside of the classroom. She found that more students were doing homework and learning material outside of the classroom. Why? Simply, because they could access material from the computer in their pocket - a cell phone.

Instead or Re-teaching....Why Not "Re"-Cord?

A few months back, I had met a math teacher who was teaching in a new way. He would record his lesson using screen recording software ahead of time. When students arrived, he would press play and change roles. Instead of the teacher, he would shift into a support role with students. He then places these video clips on a website that he developed, so that students can access it later in the evening. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

Many teachers are already teaching this way, using sites like Khan Academy. Khan Academy is great, but its subject matter is pretty limited to math, history, art, and science.

What if what I teach isn't available? You may want to consider using a screen recording site like Screencast-O-Matic, which allows you to record your voice and computer screen in just a few simple clicks. There is no software to download and it's pretty easy to use.

I teach Accounting and often have a difficult time finding tutorials online.  Many of my students are absent on a daily basis, which makes me have to re-teach material everyday. I have found that this tool helps cut down on the amount of time that I have to spend "re-teaching," so that I have more time teaching that day's subject matter.

Why Even Bother? 

We know that learning is becoming a 24-7-365 business. Students need to have access to information beyond the school day. If our students are anything like me, they may need to see, hear, or read it a few times to understand it. Creating screencasts provides a way of scaffolding information for students to develop fluency and a better understanding of material (Principle 2 of UDL - Multiple Means of Action and Expression).

Directions? You're Posting About Directions? Directions? Really?

I don't know about you, but I have noticed that the "honeymoon" period is over in my classroom. My students have revealed their true selves! Can you believe that they don't pay attention to the directions I have projected on my computer screen or written on the board? Notice that I'm being sarcastic :) ?

Depending on the type of directions that you are writing on the board, you may be able to get away with just using a picture or pictures to describe the task. For example, the other day I didn't want my students to log onto their computers. When I have written the instructions on the board, it is often ignored! The other day I tried something new. I put a "No Computers" sign (see picture) on my board. Can you imagine my excitment when my students actually got it? Usually there are about 3 to 4 students who just don't understand or look at the directions. Imagine my excitement when every single student got it!

I tried taking this a step further when I needed my students to open up their PowerPoint projects up to start peer editing. Once again it worked! As students were walking into my room, they made it a game to see who could recognize the message first. Then they started quizzing their friends if they "got it."

I know you may be thinking, why is this guy writing about this? The reason why I write this is because sometimes you need to switch things up every once and awhile to keep your students engaged and paying attention. This is a very low tech way of having some fun with students who are ready for upcoming holiday breaks! 

Something as simple as using pictures to represent simple directions may work. NOTE: I wouldn't recommend doing this all of the time (because it loses its purpose) or for complex instructions (because students may become confused).

5 Tips for Engaging Learners with UDL

Phillip Schlechty (2011) theorized that the highest levels of learner engagement require learners' full attention and commitment. While ...