Financial Literacy Infographic

Many of you know me as a passionate educational technology and Universal Design for Learning blogger. One of my other passions is financial literacy. Why?

We live in one of the most educated countries in the world; however, many of our finest members of society have no concept of how money works. Marriages are breaking up from financial debt. Families in this country are one illness or job loss away from bankruptcy. 

A lack of understanding about financial literacy impacts families, communities, and entire countries. This infographic was sent to me by Cara Delany from Online Accounting Degrees. This information is easy to understand and is very useful in helping our kids understand the importance of smart money management.

Dollars and Sense: How Wise Are We With Money?
Source: Dollars and Sense: How Wise Are We With Money?

Reading Assignments the #UDL Way: Creating Meaning and Interaction (Part 3)

Over the past several posts, I have talked about how to use low-tech and high-tech options to create "UDL-friendly" reading assignments. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Step 1: Have a central location to place all of your supports in one easy-to-find place. LiveBinders is a great way of helping keep everything organized and together!
Step 4: Engage Students Differently to Find Meaning 

Reading an assignment is one thing, but comprehending what you have read is totally different. We all have ways of structuring reading assignments. Some of us use discussion protocols like the 4 A's model. Some of us have students take notes. Others like to use graphic organizers. All of these options are appropriate and help our students make meaning of an assignment. 

In this example, I had my students read an article called "A Tale of 2 Cultures," which discussed the differences between Enron and Zappos. Obviously there are some major differences between these two companies, so I had my students take notes using a Venn Diagram. When it is appropriate and available, I give my students the option of using technology to complete this part of the assignment. I used Read-Write-Think's Venn Diagram Maker. My students absolutely loved it! They took notes and had the option of printing out their diagram or saving it as a PDF. 

Technology is a great tool to use to engage our students; however, not all students feel comfortable using it all of the time. Sometimes they want to have options. With this is mind, I want to give my students low-tech options. I give them a paper copy of a Venn Diagram or I give them post-it notes. Why post-it notes? 

They were able to write down the characteristics of each company as they read. Then they were able to arrange them as a Venn Diagram on their desk and take a picture of it to turn in. They could arrange it on a wall in the classroom or they could arrange their ideas on a blank sheet of paper. The point is, each type of learner was doing the same thing, but in a different way. 

They had the option of interacting with content in a way that was comfortable for them. Obviously we don't always have this option; however, choice has a major impact on learning (when appropriate). 

Step 5: Show What You Know

When students are finished with the article and we have had time to analyze the objectives of the assignment, it is time for them to show what they know. I like to use Padlet as a way for students to answer the essential question of the lesson. 

With Padlet, students are able to create electronic post-it notes without a username or password. Students sometimes have to answer the question in a sentence or two. Sometimes they have to respond to other classmates. Sometimes they have the option of creating their response in another program and attaching the file or URL to the post-it note. The idea is to have them create meaning in different ways and share that meaning with their classmates!

What Does it Look Like? 

I know that you have been anxious to see what this looks like. Attached is the link to my LiveBinder. You will notice that I do not have an actual link to the audio file (as of today) because its currently under construction! However, all of the other links are in place. Feel free to use this model when you are creating reading assignments. 

I have notice that it has changed the way that my students read and comprehend information. They are more engaged, there is less complaining, and comprehension levels have significantly increased!

Do you have other UDL ideas? Please feel free to share. Comment below or send me an email!  

Reading Assignments the #UDL Way: Vocabulary Supports (Part 2)

The Barrier of Poverty and Vocabulary

In previous posts, I have mentioned that when working with students in poverty, "the achievement gap is largely a vocabulary gap." One of the main reasons why reading assignments are such a challenge, is that students do not understand the vocabulary. Why?

Many of our students living in poverty come from disadvantaged backgrounds, where they did not experience many of the same enrichment opportunities as their peers. When students come to the Milton Hershey school, we often have to help them play "catch-up" with learning vocabulary. My experiences made me think about how to Universally Design reading assignments for ALL students to read the SAME article (required by the curriculum) and experience success at the same time. In my previous post, I discussed different options for text. Here are some thoughts on how you can provide vocabulary supports for students:

Before We Get Started: Have a Central Location! 

One very important item that I failed to mention before is the fact that you should have a "central location" for all of your students to access materials. This could take the form of an Edmodo post, class website, or network folder. I have found that embedding all of my supports into a LiveBinder is very much effective. If you are not familiar with LiveBinders, it is a way to create an electronic binder that you can fill with documents, websites, and media files. I highly recommend that you check this out!

Vocabulary Support # 1: For Key Vocabulary Terms

I usually begin a lesson by pre-teaching or reviewing key vocabulary terms that students will need to understand before reading the article. I have found that students often forget these terms once I have taught them. It goes back to what Marzano has said about learning new vocabulary terms. Students need to have 6 "meaningful interactions with new vocabulary terms" in order to understand them. With this in mind, I create a set of Quizlet flashcards. They serve a few purposes.

First, they are a tool to help me review vocabulary terms with students. No worksheets or PowerPoint slides needed. I just go to Quizlet and pull up the flashcards.

Secondly, when students are reading the article, they can go back and reference the cards if they get stuck.

Finally, my students can go back and use the games / quiz features to study the terms, which will appear on an assessment in the future.

Vocabulary Support # 2: For Other Words

Let's face it, we can pre-teach vocabulary terms and still miss a few words. I will never forget when one of my students thought that "New England" was in Italy. I had assumed they knew this! Ugh!

For these moments, we need to have supports in place for our students to understand some of the words that we don't pre-teach. I provide a few different options because I have different types of learners in my room.

For my "book worms," kinestic, and advanced visual learners, I provide them with VisuWords, which breaks the definitions of a vocabulary term into a web-like graphic organizer. My kinestic learners like this tool because they can move and manipulate the bubbles in the graphic organizer. I find that my basic visual learners are overwhelmed with Visuwords.

For my other visual learners, I provide them with a basic visual dictionary. Although there are many out there, I really like Shahi, which provides students with actual pictures of the vocabulary terms in Google, Yahoo, and Flickr images. I would recommend using this with older students and using a basic visual dictionary for younger students. One recommendation is Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary.


The idea is for students to have the supports that they need in one location, so that they will actually use them when they need them. When students understand what they are reading, they are more likely to read and comprehend what they read!

Watch out for my last installment of Reading Assignments the #UDL Way, when I discuss how to create interaction! In this installment, I will reveal what my LiveBinder (with all of the supports in place) will look like! 

Reading Assignments the #UDL Way: Text Options (Part 1)


As I have mentioned before, I am a teacher at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. The mission of our school is to give students living in poverty a quality K-12 education and provide opportunities to obtain a post-secondary education. Due to the fact that 100% of my students come from poverty, they learn and interact with content differently. This makes reading assignments a challenge. It made me think about how I could develop supports for my students to read the same article (as required by the curriculum) and still experience success. Over the next few installments, I will be sharing how you can structure a reading assignment that is UDL "friendly":

Step 1: Provide Options for Text

Not all students like to / can use the paper handouts that we often distribute in the beginning of class. We throw them at our students and expect them to read. Talk about losing engagement quick! Think for a moment of the diverse students you have in your classroom. Some may have visual impairments, others may have auditory impairments, some have learning disabilities, and others don't. Due to the fact that our classrooms are diverse, we need to rethink the options we give students for reading.

Option 1: Paper Copies

Paper copies still have a purpose. Many of our kinestic and visual learners like the ability to "mark-up" the text with pen, pencil, or a highlighter. This option is still very much appropriate; however, it may not be the single-most appropriate means of communication.

Option 2: PDF Copies

One of my students had a visual impairment, which caused him to need the ability to increase the font size of text. Instead of making "blown-up" photo copies of the article, I provided him with a PDF copy. This gave the student the ability to zoom in and out of text.

Another student of mine has organization issues. If you look at his backpack, it looks as if a natural disaster occurred in it. PDF copies have been the perfect way for this student to always have the article on my website or his network folder, even if he isn't a shining example of organization.

Another student has trouble concentrating on the text when she is reading a paper copy. She likes the ability to zoom in and read one paragraph at a time. This makes the task less overwhelming for her and reduces the anxiety she feels when reading.

Option 3: Audio

One of my students would always begin acting up when we had in-class reading assignments. Like clockwork, he would try
to not do the assignment as soon as he felt the paper in his hand. I talked with this student and learned that he wasn't the best reader. He felt more comfortable "hearing" the article as he moved through the actual physical article.

I began reading the article myself and recording it using a free audio recording program called Audacity. I would save the file as an MP3 and he could download it onto his iPad, iPod or computer. It was amazing to see how this increased his comprehension level and changed his behavior.

Audacity does take some getting used to, which can be a barrier for the teacher. One new idea I came across is using a website / app called AudioBoo. It's easy and free. In fact, I am using AudioBoo to Universally Design my blog posts. Check out the embedded recording! The free version allows you to record up to 3 minutes worth of content, but the paid version does give you more time.

I noticed other students really enjoyed this option. Some of my athletes would download the MP3 file, so that they could listen to the assignment on the bus. It did take some time to prepare the materials, but now I have an audio library for next year!

I do have a great tip for you. Some of my trustworthy students would finish assignments early and have nothing to do. So like any good teacher, I had them record their voices reading the article!


Unfortunately, standardized testing usually provides a singular way of reading a text; however, if we give students the ability to use different options for regular assignments, we are giving them confidence and strategies to be successful when they actually take the test.

Look out for the second installment of Reading Assignments the #UDL Way:Vocabulary Supports

Quizzing Students the #UDL Way

Sorry I haven't posted in a few weeks! It's been a really exciting time. My good friend Jon Mundorf (@fundorf) and I have been developing an online Universal Design for Learning course for Regional Training Center. Jon is an amazing fifth grade teacher from Florida. When you get the two of us together in the same room, the ideas just start flowing! Over the next few posts, I would like to share some basic Universal Design for Learning techniques that ALL teachers can use to create a positive learning environment for ALL students.

Jon was telling me about how he has to prepare his students for standardized testing. His school district has a mandatory time period where teachers are expected to quiz students each day. This can be draining for both teachers and students. Jon was telling me about some tools that he uses to prepare his students. I want to share a combination of Jon's ideas and mine in this post: 

Socrative  - An Engaging Way to Move Beyond "What" into "Why" 

Whether you need to create a quiz in advance or on the fly, Socrative is a great way to have ALL students participate in answering questions. Jon has been piloting a BYOD program at his school and has used Socrative as a way to replace the traditional "clickers."  Many schools are paying thousands of dollars for something they really don't need. 

 Socrative is a free alternative that students can access on any device!  Jon gives a quiz in a short amount of time and is able to download reports of student progress. He uses these reports to drive instruction. Jon uses this tool to move beyond "what" the answer is and uses it instead to discuss "why" the answer is what it is. 

Edmodo - An Engaging Way for Students to Work at Their Own Pace and Use Data-Driven Instruction

Social media is changing the way students, teachers, and parents communicate. Edmodo is an educational social network that is changing the way that we do school! Students can post responses in a typical Facebook-like discussion forum and upload assignments. I like the fact that students can take quizzes on Edmodo and get instant feedback. Edmodo may be more appropriate if you want your students to go at their own pace. 

At the Milton Hershey School, I am evaluated on the percentage of students who pass national certification exams. I have used Edmodo as a study tool, where students take a quiz and get instant feedback. I have also used Edmodo as a traditional assessment tool, where they take the quiz and will have to wait to get feedback (so there is no cheating!). Edmodo's data analysis tools helped my students reach a 100% pass rate on several national exams!

4 Corner Trivia - Low-Tech Kinestic Activity with Amazing Results! 

Let's face it. Not all students like to use technology because they may want to move around. When we take quizzes, we often leave our kinestic learners in the dust. They are left sitting in a seat with an electronic device. When I review for quizzes, I often put review questions on a PowerPoint slide. Before the review begins, I place a piece of paper with the letter A, B, C, and D in each corner of my room.

My PowerPoint slides have a series of multiple choice questions. I ask a question and have my students walk to the most appropriate answer. It's a great way see what students are thinking without having them say a word. Many of my "shy" students like this activity because there is very little social interaction involved. 


When assessing "what students know," it is important to provide a variety of ways to assess how learning is taking place. Kids hate the "drill and kill" methods we often employ. Rather than reviewing materials, we are doing more harm than good; therefore, using a combination of different review methods is important!

Although standardized testing is often limited to paper and pencil, having kids "show what they know" in different ways will solidify the concept in their brain and help them perform better on standardized tests. 

#ISTE13 GEMS: QRPhoria and How QR Codes are Being Used

As QR codes are gaining popularity in society, they are also gaining traction in education. They are being used in some unique ways to enhance student learning. One of the knocks on QR codes is their appearance. Some of them are just plain ugly!

QRPhoria is a free website, which can be used to create customized QR Codes that contain various patterns and colors. Perhaps a "prettier" QR Code would increase engagement??? Just a thought!

How are QR Codes Being Used:

A few weeks ago, I learned of a librarian in Oklahoma who is trying to promote books from the Sequoyah Reading list. To engage her students, she has them read the book and write a book review. Here's how QR Codes come into the mix. She has them record their recommendation using AudioBoo and generates a QR Code for her students to listen to the actual review! Check it out below:

One of my former graduate students is a Pre-Calculus teacher, who uses QR codes for his students to complete homework problems. He gives his students a half sheet of paper with a copy of the directions and a QR code. Students use their iPhones to scan the code and access the online homework. Students complete the homework and turn it in the next day. If they have a problem, they have a separate QR code with supports and video clips!

#ISTE13 GEMS: #AudioBoo App on #Edmodo

I had the privilege of helping demo the AudioBoo App in the Edmodo booth at #ISTE13. I have used the iPhone App for several months now, but I had no idea how much of a game changer this is for Edmodo. It allows both teachers and students to create audio clips that are easy to upload and share. The best part is that because it is on Edmodo, it is private!

During the course of the week, I learned that teachers have the ability to create their own audio recordings called "boos" or access the vast library of user-generated content from the AudioBoo site. Teachers can save these "boos" to their Edmodo library.

In today's diverse classrooms, AudioBoo makes it easy for teachers to Universally Design lessons for all students to access materials. For example, teachers can write out instructions for students to read and/or use AudioBoo to record audio instructions. Whether a student has a visual disability or is an auditory learner, they can access instructions.

This App is making it even easier to "flip" the classroom because teachers can pre-record lessons in the form of a "boo" or have students listen to a user-generated boo. Teachers can pose a question and have students respond via text or through AudioBoo. The best part is that this is completely private! Only the teacher and student can access the recording.

This App is currently free and available to educators in the Edmodo App store. Not an Edmodo user? The AudioBoo App is available on your smart phone, tablet, or computer.

#ISTE Gems: Want to Create Your Own App?

Have you ever wanted to create your own App? I know that is something that I have been very interested in doing, but I just didn't have the time and resources necessary to learn the coding required.

While I was at #ISTE13, I walked by a demonstration called AppShed. With a few clicks of a mouse, you can very easily create your own App and have the ability to share it with others. My demonstrator showed us how he was going to make an App that featured the Pixar movie Cars. It literally took him 10 minutes to put together the App, which featured links, pictures, and YouTube videos. When he was finished, he shared the address of the App through a QR code. All of us were able to download it onto our iPhones and use it immediately!

Imagine the possibilities of AppShed in our classrooms. We could design an App for students to study for the chapter test on Friday. We could design an App with summer resources to help promote summer reading! Regardless of the grade level, this could be very useful to educators, parents, and students.

I am pondering some ideas of my own for next year. How about you? Leave comment ideas below.

Although there are several different priced versions, there is a free version of AppShed available. It does contain ads and limits the amount of downloading and data that you can use; however, it can be very useful to creating an App for your classroom. Give it a try and let me know what you think about it!

#SimplyNoise is a Great Way to Focus

A few days ago, I needed to get out of the house to prepare for a presentation I was making. Usually I head to the local library, but I needed a caffeine fix and headed to my local Starbucks instead. I love the smell of coffee, but I am often distracted by the sound of music, cash registers, and personal conversations. 

I came across a website called SimplyNoise to help drown out the background noises and chatter. It gave me several different "types" of noise to choose from: white, pink, or brown. After using it for an hour, I was amazed at how it improved my concentration. I was able to enjoy my coffee and still be  productive!

Imagine how our students could use this site to study. Many of my students tell me that they need some type of background noise while they do their homework. Most of our students have the television on, listen to their iPod, or chat with friends. SimplyNoise may be a great way for students to have non-distracting background noise to help improve their concentration. No Internet access? There is even an App that they can download on the iTunes store for .99 cents. This is perfect for playing on an iPhone or iPod while on the bus ride home!

I am currently using it as I make this blog post. Ironically, my four year-old son and eight year-old daughter are playing together nicely, the television is tuned to Nick Jr. and my wife is on the phone. The best part is that I can't hear a thing! 

#ISTE13 GEMS: Plan Board

Check out my son Trey and I on our own "boo":

One of the things that I love most about conferences like #ISTE13 is that you have the chance to connect with people face to face. Regardless of how much technology changes the way that we socialize in the 21st century, I am still convinced that meeting face-to-face will always be necessary.

Introducing PlanBoard

As I had mentioned before, I was working in the Edmodo booth demonstrating the new AudioBoo App (more on that later). Several educators from around the world stopped by to see the App and also give me some great blog ideas! I was talking with a gentleman from Houston who introduced me to a free lesson plan creation site called PlanBoard.

PlanBoard gives educators the ability to easily create lesson plans, find lesson plans, collaborate with others, share materials, track standards, and share lesson plans with students and parents. In the era of the Common Core, educators are more concerned than ever about meeting every single academic standard. PlanBoard not only lets you record which standards you have met, but it will tell you which standards you have not met.

I love the fact that you can keep every single lesson plan from an entire school year in one place! What's even more exciting is the fact that there is an iPad App in development! Can't wait!

How Will I Use It? 

It's July and already I have a few ideas! I have been searching for a way to share my lesson plans electronically with administrators, students and parents. I have experienced problems when I tried creating Google Docs to share with others through out gradebook system.

I've tried creating websites, sending out emails, and even printing out all of my plans. I've decided that I am going to try PlanBoard this year and see how it works! I'll let you know what I think in a later post!

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 ...