How Do You Give #Directions? - The Medium is the Message (Part 1)

What do you do when your directions are the barrier between your students understanding or not understanding how to do something? It's a good question to think about.

Several years ago, there was a study conducted by California State University (Heyward). Students were given two sets of directions and asked to perform the same task. The first set of directions contained detailed text based instructions. The second set contained text directions with visual representations. Students performing tasks with the visual representations with text instructions performed better.

It reminds me of the late Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who argued that the medium affects the way that we absorb information. In other words, the “medium is the message.” If we are striving to make lessons accessible to ALL students, then we may have to rethink the ways that we provide instructions. I've talked about how I have addressed this topic a few times, but I would like to devote a series to helping students understand directions. Understand? LOL.

Biology + Art = Understanding:

A good friend of mine, Denny Moore, is a Biology teacher at the Milton Hershey School. He is blessed with the ability to take a complicated concept and make it easy to understand through visual representations. Recently he shared with me a few modifications that he was making to help his Supportive Biology students complete a complicated lab that was required by the curriculum.

First, prior to the lab, students read through the directions to the lab and would color code important words that appeared in a "New Terms" word bank. Denny would explain the terms and then have students color code these terms. For example, every time that they would see the word "diffusion," they would have to draw a green box around it.

Second, Denny rewrote the directions to contain "visual" representations for the students to understand tools they should be using, ways they should be mixing chemicals, how they should store solutions, etc.  As they would go through the lab, they are able to connect background knowledge with new knowledge through visual and text directions.


Denny has been doing this for years in all of his classes, but it is starting to gain some much needed attention. Why? Because the "medium is the message." We need to start thinking beyond whether we need to make modifications to directions because a student may or may not have a learning disability. We need to start thinking about the ways the communicate directions to students based on how they learn. Are they visual, kinestetic, or auditory?

In other words, how do you give directions? Are they the barrier or the access point to learning and growth? Check out some more creative ways to give directions in my next few installments. 

Creating a #UDL Toolbox: Tools to Overcome Barriers (Part 3)

So I have been giving a lot of thought to the idea of creating a "UDL Toolbox" for my room. Last week, I described several ways I integrate different presentation tools into my classroom. You may want to see my growing list in my Symbaloo webmix. Feel free to use any of these tools and to offer me suggestions!

What do you do when students are not very comfortable with using the new technologies or with content in class? This is a common barrier that occurs in any classroom, regardless of whether you use technology or not. You need to think of some supports to help your students overcome these learning barriers, so that they can fully participate in their learning. I want to offer several common barriers students face and some tools to help them "get-it."

Barrier / Excuse: "I don't understand"

This is a common excuse that you hear from students. Maybe they legitimately don't understand how to do a homework assignment and need your help. Perhaps they legitimately can't follow your step by step written instructions. If these students are visual and need to see how to do something, I have 2 solutions for you:

Option # 1: Screencasts

Screencast-O-Matic is a free screencasting program that records anything on your computer screen. It places a yellow circle around your cursor, so that users can track where you are moving your mouse to. You can upload clips to your own library, YouTube, as well as a variety of other options. In the free version, you can record up to 15 minutes worth of material. Here's how I use it to help my visual learners and confused students:

  • I created1-2 minute tutorials for my students on how to complete or submit an assignment. Check out my most recent video on how to turn in a Prezi to Edmodo
  • When students are not very familiar with how to use new forms of technology, I usually explain how to use it in class; however, students often have the most questions when they are not in your presence. I created a brief tutorial on how to use Prezi
  • Perhaps you gave a PowerPoint presentation in class or went over a math problem. You could create a brief screencast to help students, who were absent or confused, understand material. Check out my Accounting screencast
Option # 2: iPad Apps

I also like to diagram materials for my students. I use the free Educreations App on the iPad to diagram and record myself. I like how easy it is to draw a concept on a whiteboard and share it through a hyperlink, social media post, or email. You may want to check out one of my most recent clips on the Accounting Equation. 

Barrier / Excuse: "I don't like reading" 

Many of our students don't like to read because they don't understand vocabulary terms, hate sitting still to read a book, or need to "hear" content being read. With this in mind, I have used several tools to help my students with their reading.

Option # 1: Audacity

One tool in particular is a free audio recording tool called Audacity. I downloaded this program, so that I could record myself reading to my students. Now you may be thinking, "wow! Good for you, but I have a life and don't have that much time!"

I would have to agree, but once you have recorded your voice, you no longer have to worry about doing it again! Also, we all have those brilliant students who are done with assignments early. Why can't you have these students record themselves reading an article? This is a great way to quickly build up a library!

I use Audacity to provide my students with different reading options. To read a text version, to listen to an audio version, or do both. To my surprise, my students really enjoyed these options. One of my students would listen to reading assignments on his way to sporting events. Another student would listen to the reading assignment, while following along in the book or article. You know what? I found that their comprehension of reading assignments went through the roof!


Overcoming barriers in learning is all about front-loading curriculum with supports to provide access to students. It is impossible to plan for every barrier that will occur in our classroom, but if we can provide a toolbox of supports, we can overcome each barrier as it occurs.

Creating a #UDL Toolbox: My Presentation Tools (Part 2)

Helping our students find the right tools for the job is so important! When you are providing students with a "toolbox" of tools, you want to think of providing students with different ways to represent concepts and show what they know. If you remember my post last week, I had mentioned the story of one teacher, who requires her students to learn how to use specific tools from August to December. In January, she begins having her students use the best tool for the job.

Today I want to focus on presentation tools that I am going to introduce from September to December. What's in my toolbox?

  1. Prezi - this is a free web-based program that has been around for awhile; however, it is becoming easier to use and create web-based presentations. Students can use it individually or use it to create collaborative presentations. Prezi can be used on any device and anywhere there is an Internet connection. I also like that it automatically saves your presentation in the "cloud," meaning it saves it to the Internet and not a computer. 
  2. Google Presentations - this is another free web-based program designed by Google. If you are familiar with PowerPoint, using Google Presentations on Google Drive is very similar. I often have students in my class work on collaborative assignments. Using Google makes it so much easier! 
  3. VoiceThread - do you have students who struggle with putting ideas on paper, but can speak them? VoiceThread gives users the ability to create or contribute to class discussion through audio, webcam, pictures, or text. Recently, I took a graduate class, where my instructor created a VoiceThread prompt. Everyone had to respond to the prompt and introduce themselves! It was a really unique way of presenting information!
  4. Domo.GoAnimate - there is something about the power of humorous cartoons  to get kids thinking! Domo GoAnimate is a free tool to help you create cartoons. Recently, I had my students review for a test by creating a review cartoon about class concepts. It really helped improve test scores and the kids had fun doing it! 
  5. Wideo - this is a new tool that I am experimenting with. Wideo is an online animated video creation site, where users can create, edit, and share animated videos without very much experience. You can create high quality videos that contain your own images, backgrounds, and music to make a powerful statement! It made the cut!
How I Plan to Use These Tools:

As I have my students create various projects throughout the course of the first semester, I will require that they gain experience with all five platforms in September and October. Due to the nature of my course, I will most likely have more than five!

Once late October and early November happen, I will give my students options to use one or the other. For example, they may use PowerPoint or Prezi to create a presentation.  As we get into the months of January and February, I will have students pick the right tool for the job. This could mean rethinking the way that I design my rubrics. I may need to rethink what I want to grade and what I do not want to grade. More about that later!

Join me next time, as we keep building our toolbox! 

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! 


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.

A Tool for Any Interactive Classroom: Triptico

I love getting new ideas from other educators because there is so much going on in the world of educational technology, that it is hard to keep up! Plus you all have the best ideas! This week's "App of the Week" and cool idea come to us from Angela Rutschke @ARutschke. Angela sent me a URL to a really cool desktop App called Triptico.

 There are two versions -a free and paid "plus" version. If you are a creative educator, then you will definitely want to download this App because it provides free templates of interactive resources for students. I tried out a few of the games and really enjoyed how easy they were to create and use.

You very easily could use this with an interactive whiteboard to engage students in different ways:
  • Manipulatives- There are plenty of free manipulatives to use for your classroom. For example, magnets allow you to create magnets made of words, sentences, or equations. Then Triptico breaks each part into a separate magnet for students to move. I even enjoyed using a matching game type of App.
  • Classroom Management Tools - there are a variety of classroom management tools like timers to keep track of time and keep your students on track! There is even a free template to keep score or choose groups.
  • Quizzes - want to give a quiz in a unique way? This App has plenty of free quiz templates to choose from. This is a perfect way for your kinestetic learners to feel at home!
Check out this video to learn more!

Try it out and let me know how you like it! If you have other cool ed-tech ideas, I'd love to hear about them! Email me or send me a tweet @mattbergman14.

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