Tag Archives: Universal Design for Learning

Use your makerspace for instructional shifts this year

It’s that time of year again! Time for New Year’s resolutions!

Could you use a little boost as we kick off the new year? Then why not visit your school’s makerspace? Did you know that you can use your makerspace for instructional shifts?

This includes shifts to:

There’s a reason that more health club membership sales occur in January.  And those reasons are very similar to the reasons a makerspace can help you stay on track with your instructional shifts in 2020!

Health clubs provide support and remove barriers towards reaching your goals. They’re stocked with tools you might not have at home (due to cost or space).  They’re filled with inspiration and community working towards their own personal goals.  And there are personal trainers with expertise available if you need a little help getting started or getting ‘unstuck’.

Are you working on a  shift towards a more constructivist learning environment? 

We all know that “they who do the most work, do the most learning”, yet so often we as teachers feel we need to know ‘how’ to do every tasks we expect our students to complete.  Sometimes our inner voice prevents us from moving forward with a new idea. “If we don’t know ‘how’ to do it ourselves, how will we help them when they get stuck.”  It’s hard to shake the imposter syndrome that comes when everyone in the room looks to you to be the expert.  Sometimes our students expect us to have the answers.

In a makerspace, the expectations shift.

The tools are not the same ones found in traditional classrooms. The understanding is that these are “new” tools and “old” tools with new possibilities and that we will be learning together. We will be learning ‘just in time’ as we need, rather than “just in case” we might need this skill someday. Students step up to the plate to figure out how to use a new tool or process  and are happy to show you what they figured out.

Are you trying to make the shift towards more project based learning?

making with cardboard
Game Design Prototypes at Proctor Elementary School

Do you have an idea for designing a project based learning experience, but wondering where you will get the tools or expertise to pull it off?  Are you concerned about the space for creating and making projects, or perhaps for storing projects in progress? Are you wondering where you might find the supplies you’ll need?  A school makerspace might not have every tool or supply you need, but they can remove some of the barriers. When you need a hole punched in a plastic bucket, someone pulls out a hand drill. Or someone adds it to the list of tools that you need to get.

Sometimes a quick shout-out to our school community brings in just the tools or expertise you need.  Many parents, grandparents, and community members have tools they no longer need or skills they’d like to share. And many would be more than willing to share their skills or be an extra set of hands during project time. Engaging your community? Is using your makerspace for instructional shifts.

Are you looking for ways to include more inquiry based learning in your classroom?

Makerspaces in our schools are evolving. They are not a silver bullet.  You might not find all the “answers to life’s most persistent questions” — but what you will find is a MAKER MINDSET. In most school makerspaces, you will find design thinking at play, where both students and educators are asking questions that start with those powerful 3 words – HOW MIGHT WE?  

design thinking bulletin board
Bulletin Board at Grand Isle School
  • How might we store student projects in a way that makes it easier for them to continue their projects over time?
  • How might we create an artifact that uses light to helps us visualize the impact of our personal use of plastics across the world?
  • And how might we create a learning experience that plays to the strength of learners not currently being reached in our classroom?

Makerspaces provide some very tangible hands on ways to learn design thinking.

What starts off with a straightforward design challenge —  “How might we create a cardboard chair that meets the needs of a storybook character or puppet?” becomes a challenge for moving towards real-world problem-solving.

It’s the first question in an inquiry that winds up being more along the lines of: “How might we spend more time on the mountain and less time getting everyone on the bus that goes to the mountain on our school ski days”?

Do your goals include a shift towards more student choice and voice?

Grands Isle students
Students designing wearables at Grand Isle School

Makerspaces can provide your students with the inspiration they need to move beyond a PowerPoint presentation as a way to show what they know. As you walk through a school makerspace, the materials and tools available might be just what you need for them to come up with new options for student choice.

  • Does the green screen inspire you to create movies with settings in places you can’t travel to?
  • Does a microphone and wind-shield inspire an idea for a podcast episode?
  • Or does a 3D printer inspire your students to design a new solution to a pesky problem?
  • Does a sewing machine inspire an idea for designing a new wearable?
  • And that a pile of cardboard and some cardboard tools: can you imagine some new prototypes?

We all need inspiration!

Take a walk to your school’s makerspace and take the time to play with materials and tools?  Take on a few creativity sprints?  Something as simple as “How many ways can you think of for using a paperclip?” can reach a whole new level when you try them in a school makerspace..

Are you looking for tangible ways to reach more students through Universal Design for Language?

A makerspace can provide educators for new options for creating multiple means of representation. What if you could 3D print a calculus equation to students could feel it between their fingers?  What if you could laser-cut a puzzle that helps students learn new vocabulary?


Monkton Central School student includes a 3D printed prostethic in her science inquiry project

A makerspace can provide students with multiple means of expression.

Might students use paper circuits to illuminate a statement related to their current unit of study? Could students use micro-processors to create an interactive poster? Might they build a 3D printed model of a solution that might enable others.  Could they build a cardboard prototype of an  invention or design a 3D model of a tool from a historical era?

A makerspace environment is the perfect setting for multiple means of engagement.

Just as a health club might be the perfect place to help with your personal New Year’s resolution, a makerspace can help you with your professional resolution. Use your makerspace for  instructional shifts you know are good for kids. A makerspace can provide support and remove barriers towards our goals.

maker burke school
Community mentor and school board chair Anthony DeMasi working with students at Burke Town School

What are you waiting for?

Is there a makerspace in your school or community that could help you meet your goals in 2020?  If not, why not make your new year’s resolution creating one in your classroom or school?

How to use data to inform progress

Involve learners with actionable data

Wondering how to use data to inform progress for users in proficiency-based education? Assessment provides both learners and educators with data. One of CAST’s Top Ten Universal Design for Learning Tips for Assessment  is involving learners in their learning progress through assessment data:

“Communicate with learners about their progress towards the intended learning goals through formative assessment data, mastery-oriented feedback, and providing guidance for possible adjustments or new strategies that may support the intended skill. This allows learners to become active advocates and take ownership their learning.”

These questions provide an effective guide for educators:

  • Have I offered timely, goal-related feedback on the assessment?
  • Have I offered learners the opportunity to assess individual learning progress and process (for example, through regular check-ins)?
  • What about sharing options, strategies, and background knowledge needed to build the necessary skills and expertise for achieving the targeted learning goals?

How can we involve students in formative assessment so they can be empowered to take next steps?

Technology allows us to build assessment opportunities with our students. And those opportunities generate data. Students can then make informed decisions about how to move forward. Let’s look at some ways technology can help us answer the CAST questions.

Have I offered timely, goal-related feedback on the assessment?

Consider Google Forms. A form can become a self-grading quiz providing instant feedback that allows for review, reflection, and retakes.

My colleague Scott Thompson walks you through how to set up a Google Form quiz so students get both immediate feedback and resources to learn from on each answer they select.

Have I offered learners the opportunity to assess individual learning progress and process (for example, through regular check-ins)?

Padlet is a versatile tool for assessment purposes, especially when learners use the KWL template  (Know, Want to Know, Learn) to track their growth. Ask students to create a Padlet during a project or unit. Build in routine times for them to update it as a means of tracking progress.


Check out this how-to create a KWL chart video to create your own.

And, Common Sense Media provides some sound advice about how to make formative assessment more student centered.  “To unlock formative assessment’s full potential, go beyond the bar chart and get students to reflect on their own progress, areas for growth, and next steps. In the end, it’s not the quiz that counts but the thinking that happens after.”


Have I shared options, strategies, and background knowledge needed to build the necessary skills and expertise for achieving the targeted learning goals?

I’ve written about one of my favorite edtech tools Nearpod in the past. Nearpod invites learners into active participation with content. The power of this tool lies in the ability to easily include formative check-in activities in content delivery directly. And, the results are easily shared with students – data that then the class can act on. 

Want another example in practice? Consider using Nearpod to introduce peer instruction as a collaborative learning strategy so students can receive immediate feedback on developing concepts.  Interested in more?  Pedagogue Padawan offers other similar technology tools for peer instruction and peer critique . He shares his search for tools that allow sharing student responses with all students in the class.

Consider where you are on the continuum

The folks over at Ed Elements share a helpful continuum on how teachers can move toward adopting effective formative assessment and data-driven decision practices:

  • Getting Started: “Teacher uses formative assessments to check for student understanding”
  • Going Deeper: “Teacher shares data with students on a periodic basis; students review their data individually.”
  • All In: “Teacher uses data to provide immediate feedback to students; teacher and students consistently review data together to identify needs and teacher adjusts instruction accordingly.’

Teachers can harness the power of technology to generate easily shared data to help all learners grow. Want to know more? Visit our Formative Assessment Toolkit. And check out these 75 Digital Tools and Apps Teachers Can Use to Support Formative Assessment in the Classroom

Using audiobooks for Universal Design for Learning

Expanding student access to reading

audiobooks for Universal Design for LearningAs a school librarian, I needed to think how I could adopt Universal Design for Learning (UDL)  in my own teaching and library space, but I also needed to think about how I could support my teachers as they implemented it in their classrooms.  With UDL, teachers can allow students to have choice and flexibility to interact with the content.

And one option that I could help provide was audiobooks.

Continue reading Using audiobooks for Universal Design for Learning