Saturday, August 30, 2008

Universal Design and Classrooms for the Future

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach to instruction that utilizes multiple methods of presenation, engagement and expression to help students overcome learning barriers. Technology is maximized in a UDL model. Technology provides the venue for increased engagement. It allows for multiple methods of presentation and expression. UDL takes advantage of the technology in the room .... available to all learners e.g. interactive white boards, common software such as Inspiration, podcasts/podcasting, etc....

I am struck by how closely this mirrors the goals for the Classrooms for the Future (CFF) grant initiative. CFF is less about the technology than it is about critical thinking, collaboration, and engagement in learning. However, I think training in UDL could help teachers better understand the purpose of the CFF goals. UDL has the potential to deepen teachers thinking about how to create a learning environment that helps students overcome learning challenges. Technology has the potential to widen the net to help more students reach high levels of achievement, but we must learn to recognize the barriers students have to learning.

Great UDL Resources:
CAST - Center for Applied Special Technology
Universal Design Tool Kit - a fabulous wikispace by Karen Janowski & Joyce Valenza
UDL Stuff - great resource created by PaTTAN
Ed Tech Solutions - Teaching Every Student Blog - a great blog by Karen Janowski
Assistive Techology Collaborative Community - on Ning, a collaborative community

Curriculum Framework

Curriculum Frameworks is one of the six circles. The PA Department of Education created committees of teachers and curriculum specialists throughout PA to create curriculum frameworks in literacy, math and social studies. The curriculum framework consists of Big Ideas, Concepts, and Competencies. Big Ideas are the the overarching key ideas of a subject. Big Ideas are larger constructs and likely require more than one year to achieve. Concepts and the knowledge skills to be mastered in a particular grade level. Competencies are what students must be able to do by grade level.

The big question is if we already have standards and assessment anchors, why do we need curriculum frameworks? In order to answer that you have to think about what the standards and assessment anchors really offer us.

  • Standards are written as a menagerie of big ideas, concepts and competencies for grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.
  • Assessment Anchors are written for grades 3-8 and 11 based on the parameters of the PSSA.

The Curriculum Framework Advantage:

  • Focused documents that clearly delineate what students should know and be able to do in each grade level K - 12.
  • Expectations are clearly defined and prioritized by grade level.
  • Articulates virtical alignment in content knowledge K-12.

Click here to view the Curriculum Frameworks. Note not all of the frameworks have been completed as yet.

Social Studies



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Six Circles

Standards Aligned System (SAS) reflects the Pennsylvania Department of Education's vision for continuous school improvement. SAS, affectionately referred to as the six circles, reminds us that student achievement should be central to what we do.

No surprise there, school should be about the kids. Having worked with numerous school improvement teams, it is clear that students are sometimes overlooked. The graphic is a good filter for our thinking.... is it (whatever it might be) good for kids?

Then we need to ask.... does our thinking make sense? Do our assessments align with the curriculum? Our instruction? Do they align with our interventions? The caution here is to think through the questions and cite the evidence. Time and time again we see schools that say they have clear standards and fair assessments, only to later share that many of the special needs students do not have access to standards-based instruction. No evidence of IEPs being aligned to standards. We've also seen schools that indicate they have fair assessments and interventions, only to find PSSA data or benchmark data , rather than diagnostic data, has been used to place students into programs.

Fair Assessments have received considerable attention. The Department has been working through defining the different types of assessments and how they can used with an emphasis on formative assessments. The push is to view formative assessment as the key to effective instruction. Minute to minute types of assessments to maintain active engagement and to adjust instruction. I am anxious to see how teachers and administrators react to this vision of fair assessments.... relieved that PDE supports classroom assessments or continued resent towards assessment... I often hear if only I was allowed to teach.. etc..

Read more about the six circles at

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Virtual Math Manipulatives

I was glancing through the Journal of Special Education Technology and came upon an article on virtual math manipulatives. The virtual manipulatives are intriguing, providing practice and feedback at little to no cost. There is no clean up and kids have access at home. Below are the recommended websites from the article along with some examples.

Check out some of the sites:
National Library of Virtual Manipulatives -
Virtual Fractions -
NCTM Illuminations -
Project Interactive -
Base-Ten Blocks -

Skylar, A. (2008). Virtual manipulatives as an assistive technology support for students with high-incidence disabilities. Journal of Special Education Technology, 23(1), 47-5

Friday, August 15, 2008


Last week three national speakers, Dr. Tim Tyson, Doug Johnson, and David Warlick, came to our area and emphasized the importance of 21st century skills. They stressed that as administrators we must embrace web 2.0 tools to enhance communication, critical thinking, active learning, and ultimately student achievement.

So here I am.... taking the plunge. I choose a blog because I want to enhance as well as accelerate the level of communication across the three county area where I work. My hope is that participants will find the blog useful and insightful in their daily work.