CEP 810: Lesson Plan Version 3.0: UDL Revision

Education, Technology

In my prior revision to the Folds & Fractals lesson plan, I proposed having students use computer software to view and create patterns in order to better understand their fractal nature. I recognized that students would have different comfort levels with this technology due to differences in accessibility to computers in home and school life. Once beginning to view the lesson through the lens of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), I realized that there would be many differences in learning that would have an impact on effective use of computers, and I could not determine a general way to utilize this technology and adapt their use later for learning differences. As Rose and Meyer (2000) state, teachers cannot “provide one-size-fits-all representations but highly malleable environments that provide the right level of support and challenge for every individual student” (p.5).

 

Due to the outreach context this lesson is presented in, I had problems narrowing my focus to a particular difference that we encounter on a regular basis. In discussions with Spencer, he pointed out the on-going discussion of the role of gender and equal accessibility and engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields could be addressed through UDL. As I delved into the resources available to us at the library, I also found studies on gender as it related to using computers to assist with learning. In this post, I wish to investigate effective lesson design within STEM fields using computer supported learning (CSL), with a focus on addressing learning differences between genders using the UDL framework.

 

Research has shown that while gender gaps have begun to close in terms of accessibility to computers, confidence in using them, and importance assigned to the technology, there remain differences in motivation and approaches to learning, but often this is not reflected in the final grades for a course where males and females end up with similar achievement (Gunn, 2003). This same study noted that there were differences in support structures, where females prefered to email the instructor and males would engage face-to-face more. I typically do not think about having students ask for help in ways other than raising their hand, but since they will have access to a computer, I could provide the opportunity for them to send a tweet or create a Google Hangout to communicate among their group or ask for assistance for assistance from the instructor in a variety of fashions. This would align with Guideline 8.3 of UDL by creating cooperative learning groups, in which the instructor would be included, but not having one correct way for the group to interact (CAST, 2011).

 

Another difference in approaches to CSL noted by Gunn (2003) was that females spent considerably more time preparing for portions of a lesson that was conducted on computers, and suggests this may be related to the fact that females reported that they were more than three times more likely to be apprehensive about using computers for their lesson. This may have well changed in the decade since that study, but I believe it would still be important to address UDL Guideline 6.1 of guiding appropriate goal-setting for all learners. Those in a traditional classroom could make use of programs such as TrackClass (http://trackclass.com) that could accomplish both helping students be able to get a sense of the amount of time and effort needed for upcoming lessons but also help develop confidence by being aware that the tasks are manageable and an undue amount of time preparing is not necessarily required (CAST, 2011). In the outreach context, we could be more upfront about what we will be expecting of students as we proceed through the program, how long it should take, and what we will do to help manage those tasks.

 

It has been well documented that while interest in science drops with all students by the time they reach middle school, the decline in motivation is greater with female students, possibly due to viewing science as a masculine field, not wanting to risk confirming a stereotype, and because science may not be viewed as being people-oriented, among other factors (Taasoobshirazi & Carr, 2008). Computer science is increasingly being integrated in the sciences, such as computational biology and chemistry, and the aforementioned attitudes towards computing found with females will only contribute to the loss of interest. To address this, I would turn to UDL Guideline 7.2 that guides educators to provide resources and activities that show relevance and appropriateness for different groups, including gender groups (CAST, 2011). Connecting the importance of science and other STEM fields to what is valued by different groups can be done by providing the context in which these disciplines contribute to those values. Authentic experiences with strong role models that represent their group can be useful. A recent initiative from Google called “Made w/ Code” (http://www.madewithcode.com) attempts to do this by showing female role models that create through computer programing. Utilizing examples from that site before assigning programming of fractal designs may help show the relevance to a wider range of students.

 

A significant part of the Folds & Fractals lesson covers paper engineering, an application of engineering that is not often considered. From my own experience, attempting examples of paper engineering, essentially cutting and folding patterns, is met with mixed success with middle school students. Although I have found that both males and females get frustrated in roughly equal amounts, it is the male students who tend to loudly proclaim they are giving up, while the female students tend do so privately. So while we can engage the students who have made their failure known, we need to find other ways to address the quiet failures. UDL Guideline 6.4 seeks to address this by providing students with the knowledge of what they can do differently, without waiting for instructor intervention (CAST, 2011). Basham and Marino list Engineering “Habits of Mind” that align with UDL, including creativity that allows “students [to] develop multiple solutions to problems” and optimism which will “encourage students to develop workable solutions to problems large and small” (2013). I see multiple solutions that fit with these habits. Instead of having a single end product that we tell students we would like them to achieve, encourage their own variations, whether they are achieved by accident or on purpose. If the student is focused on matching the solution that the artist arrived at, I would see value in having a virtual sheet of paper to act as a sandbox that can not only guide students but also be easily reset without consequence.

 

I realize that some concepts we present can be complex for our middle school audience and we are constantly exploring alternative means of presentation, so the notion of using games and play to better reach all the diverse learners audience is intriguing. It would also allow us to reach students that we could not reach in person. I found a surprising amount of research on games and how they align with UDL. One study followed students with learning disabilities within the middle school science classroom, and found that there was higher engagement in enhancing a lesson with content presented in game form, but there was no significant increase in test scores (Marino, Gotch, Israel, Vasquez, Basham, and Becht 2014). This would align with UDL Guideline 2.5, which seeks to find alternatives to presenting information in simply a text format but find a variety of representations (CAST, 2011). Marino et al. (2014) cited other factors that could explain no difference in assessment results, such as teaching to the test with a traditional format, but increased motivation may be enough for our context to consider it. I think it would be most interesting if students themselves created the games, perhaps in a prior program, using tools such as Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu) or Unity (http://unity3d.com).

 

Although it is not explicitly stated in the lesson plan, we provide a multiple choice assessment before and after the program. As we grade these assessments, we notice patterns such as students getting an answer right on the pre-test and wrong on the post-test, or circling the same letter for each question, which shows student disengagement. This is understandable as they know this is not contributing towards a grade, so I would also like to explore gaming as a means for assessment. A study on gender differences in preference and skill in different game genres found that there was equal interest in Adventure games, males had a clear preference for First Person Shooters, Role Playing Games, and Sports, while females preferred Fighting, Managerial and Puzzle games (Bonanno & Kommers, 2005). With careful planning of these assessments, we could provide students with a choice of genre when selecting a game assessment, as well as provide different difficulty levels. This would fit with UDL Guideline 7.1, which provides students with choice to allow for greater chance of success and greater ownership of their learning (CAST, 2011). However, we would want the game to be accessible to as many students as possible, so we would also integrate UDL Guideline 1.1 to allow for customization of the game in terms of font type and size, sound, account for color blindness and the like (CAST, 2001). These games would have to be professionally researched and designed, but if a flexible framework for many games was created, they could be modified and reused.

 

Universal Design for Learning provides a helpful approach to curriculum design that addresses the wide range of learning differences from the very beginning. To implement all three UDL principles would take significant time and energy, but adopting the mentality of designing for all learners even within the context of a single lesson provides a fresh perspective on how to address my students’ needs.

 

References

 

Basham, J. D., & Marino, M. T. (2013). Understanding STEM education and supporting students through universal design for learning. Teaching Exceptional Children, 45(4), 8-15.

Bonanno, P., & Kommers, P. A. M. (2005). Gender differences and styles in the use of digital games. Educational Psychology, 25(1), 13-41.

CAST (2011). Universal design for learning guidelines version 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines

Gunn, C., McSporran, M., Macleod, H., & French, S. (2003). Dominant or different: Gender issues in computer supported learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1), 14-30.

Marino, M. T., Gotch, C. M., Israel, M., Vasquez, E., Basham, J. D., & Becht, K. (2014). UDL in the middle school science classroom: Can video games and alternative text heighten engagement and learning for students with learning disabilities?. Learning Disability Quarterly, 37(2), 87-99.

Rose, D., & Meyer, A. (2000). The future is in the margins: The role of technology and disability in educational reform. Retrieved from http://udlonline.cast.org/resources/images/future_in_margins.pdf

Taasoobshirazi, G. & Carr, M. (2008). Gender differences in science: An expertise perspective. Educational Psychology Review, 20(2), 149-169.

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