Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Category Archives: Udl

Tips for Turning Classroom Content Digital

In last week’s post I talked about the importance of using digital text in the classroom. However, making the transition from traditional content to digital is not always an easy process. While there are many digital resources available, you still have to find them. And if nothing suitable is found, you may have to resort to converting/scanning your traditional materials into a digital format. The purpose of this post is to provide a few ideas for finding and creating digital content of your own.

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The Importance of Using Digital Materials in the Classroom

Over the last few years digital content such as educational websites, electronic textbooks, and online journals have become more available to classrooms than ever before. Unfortunately increased availability does not always equal increased use. Despite the number of iPads, Chromebooks, and other devices in schools today the amount of print based material remains roughly the same. Reasons for this vary, but understanding the importance of having digital materials available can go a long way in helping classrooms make the transition.

Digital Materials flying out of computer

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A Necessary Component of Student Engagement

Just wrapping up two days at an incredible conference in Indianapolis put on by the PATINS project. One of our sessions centered on student engagement and we taught how to actively engaging all learners using creativity, evidence-based strategy (example), and technology (example) through the UDL framework.  In sharing strategies in how to engage all learners from the start, we spent a few moments on key prerequisites to hooking learners into the lesson. I wanted to expand on one here that is critical for all classrooms. Read more →

Haiku Deck: An App that Facilitates Good Presentation Design

Last week Jason Carroll shared 3 presentation apps for the ipad. Though there are many many more (and we’ll keep sharing them), I wanted to dig a little deeper into Haiku Deck. As he mentioned, Haiku Deck naturally leads you through good presentation design principles. This is important to highlight as you may have heard us say at conferences that “great technology requires great strategy to make a difference.” This still holds true with your presentation.

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Word Clouds in Education

Word Clouds are more popular than ever. They frequently appear in social media posts, advertisements and everywhere in between. If you aren’t familiar with a word cloud, it is basically a graphical representation of text based content. Relevant words that are used more in the text appear larger. They attempt to provide an aesthetically pleasing graphical summary of what the text is saying. Here’s an example of a Word Cloud I created from a question I posted on Facebook and Twitter (I asked people to list two qualities of a great teacher):Image of Word Cloud

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Universally Designed is now Systems of Support

Just a quick update regarding our blog if you are a subscriber… For years this blog has been referred to as Universally Designed.  Its purpose has always been to provide tips and tricks related to Assistive/Instructional Technology and Behavior.   The blog was part of our website, where we shared handouts and other materials used in keynotes, conference workshops, and webinars.  We have now decided to merge the two and call the blog Systems of Support.  This will allow us to continue to provide relevant information dedicated to helping educators succeed in the classroom while keeping all content in one location.

If you are a subscriber you will continue to receive weekly updates when new posts are made.  We know we’ve been a little behind lately on our postings, but the idea is that this transition will help us to once again make the blog a priority and deliver content you expect.

You will notice that the handouts and downloads on the resources page is now password protected. As always, that content is free so no worries about that! If you are already subscribed to our blog, then you will receive an email in the coming days with the password for the resources page. If you are new to the site, subscribe to our blog and once you confirm, you will automatically receive the password get access.

-The Jasons

Quick Tip for Supporting Student Achievement: Add a Generalization Probe

Everyone is searching for strategies to evoke quality learning while supporting successful performance on high stakes tests. I wrote about knowing your learners to support the pursuit of this magical combination. In that post, we walked through the 4 phases of learning (Acquisition, Fluency, Maintenance, and Generalization) and I shared a quick example about multiplication facts. In this post, I want us to dig deeper into the Generalization phase, because it is one of the keys to student success. Especially in how it relates to UDL.

One of the difficulties with the UDL instructional framework is making the connection between multiple means of expression (many ways for the learner to demonstrate knowledge acquisition) and performance on high stakes testing that only allows students to respond ONE way (e.g., multiple choice, short answer, true/false questions). Unfortunately there are times our learners do not get credit for knowledge that they have acquired because of the limited scope of this type of assessment. We have all heard the phrase “don’t teach to the test” which I whole-heartedly agree. However, I firmly believe we should teach how to answer content questions in the manner the questions are asked. This is where Generalization comes to play.

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Free Digital Text Resources (Updated)

I did a post a few years ago on Digital Text Resources.  While many of these are still applicable (and a couple are included here) I needed to update this list for a newsletter I am creating.

The primary reason I do these lists is because I’ve found that people rarely have trouble operating text to speech software, but instead struggle when it comes to actually using it in a classroom with a diverse group of students. However, in order for this type of software to be beneficial you must have digital text to accompany it.  Here are 11 resources to get you started. Know of more or better resources? Please leave a comment!

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How to Present with an iPad

The iPad is becoming a common tool found in classrooms everywhere.  I work with schools across the nation and can honestly say that I haven’t come across a school in the last year that doesn’t have at least one “i-device” available or is planning on having one soon.  Some have carts containing 30 or so of these devices (usually iPads, sometimes iPod Touches), while others have a full 1 to 1 initiative going on.  Some locations are making better use of these devices than others, but in almost all locations a common question i hear is… “How can teachers better use these devices as a presentation tool?”  This post aims to provide a few ideas.

Creating Content to Share

Before presenting content, you must first have content to share.  The iPad offers several apps that an help create content:

  • Keynote – This app is the equivalent to PowerPoint for the PC.  While the app is more limited than the full Mac desktop version it still does a nice job
  • Corkulous – This app allows you create very visually appealing brainstorm type notes.  Great for class discussions
  • Penultimate – One of several notebooks that allow you to draw or write notes
  • Whiteboard HD – Turns your iPad into a whiteboard, add diagrams, common shapes, notes and more.
This is obviously just a few options out of the hundreds available, but enough to get your started.

Connecting Your Device

Now of course for this to be useful you need to be able to project the content created in the apps above for your class to see.  The simplest way is get a VGA or HDMI adapter from the apple store.  Plug one end of the adapter into your iPad and the other into your projector.  Note that the first generation iPad is much more limited in what you can project.

Another idea that is becoming more common and is much less limiting is using an Apple TV to stream your content.  The Apple TV is designed to allow you to stream content from your mac or iPad to a TV.  However, you can achieve a similar result for presentations.  Just take your $99 Apple TV and use the HDMI port to hook to your HDTV or Projector (as long as the projector has an HDMI port).  This will allow you walk around the room and present content “wirelessly” instead of being forced to stay close to the projector because of cables.

Finally, if you are in a 1 to 1 situation where all students have an iPad, you can install an app such as Idea Flight.  Idea Flight allows you to remotely control up to 30 iPads on a wireless network.  It also integrates with Dropbox, so you can load your presentation or PDF files into dropbox, connect the other iPads with Idea Flight and control what they see on their device.  So instead of everyone looking at the screen in the front of the classroom, students can just look at their iPad and see exactly what you see.


It’s one thing to project content for others to see, but that’s so web 1.0.  With today’s apps you can create a truly interactive environment with students.  For example, using  something such as lino – (use through a website or an app is also available). You can add brainstorming notes to a board and let others within the class add notes to it as well in real time.

Or divide the class into groups and use something such as iBrainstorm.  This allows users with an iPod Touch or iPhone to create a sticky note and “swipe” it to connect to an iPad.  At the time of this writing you can only pair 4 devices up with the iPad, but putting students into groups will help.  Plugging the synced iPad into the projector allows students to instantly see the ideas being generated in each group.

There are also at least a dozen different whiteboard apps that allow you to collaborate with others.  Here’s a nice post highlighting five of them –

Hopefully this will get you started successfully using the iPad as a presentation tool in your classroom or office.  Others ideas?  Please post a comment.

Creating Effective AT Guidelines

A couple of weeks ago I made a post on the top barriers to implementing assistive technology.  In it I discussed the top 10 barriers we found when surveying school districts.  I then put the barriers into categories.  The largest category was guideline and procedure barriers.   This is no surprise because effective implementation of assistive technology usually starts with having solid guidelines in place.  In fact, one of the most requested workshops I do is working with teams to develop guidelines.  I’ve included some of the things I cover in these workshops in this post.  I hope that you find them beneficial and will add any additional resources you find to the comments section below.

Work through the QIAT Matrices

The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology (QIAT) website contains a wealth of information.  If I were to only use one resource during a workshop on developing AT guidelines it would be this site.  On day one of a 2 day workshop on developing guidelines I will have participants work through the self evaluation matrices available on the site.  This basically takes you through all 8 indicators and provides descriptions of what poor through excellent implementation of each indicator looks like.  Teams rate themselves to see how well (or poorly) they feel they are doing in each area.  This is a great place to start because not only does it get groups thinking, but it also gives me a framework for facilitating the remainder of the workshop.

Do a Google Search on AT Guidelines

It’s tough to start from scratch when developing AT guidelines for a district.  Therefore I always have teams search for Guidelines other districts or states use to get an idea of how they would like the “layout” of their guidelines to appear.  A simple search of “AT Guidelines” will produce results from Michigan to Minnesota, Hawaii, New Zealand and more.

Develop a Flow Chart

Rarely is the expectation that a fully developed set of guidelines accepted by everyone in a district be complete in two days.  However, requiring two days to work on these things better produce something.  At a minimum I like to have a flow chart of what the process will look like in a district.  I like this flow chart to be complete with names.  For example, the top of the chart may be an event (IEP meeting for a student for example).  During this meeting AT must be considered (I use the BEEC AT consideration guide to help with this).  There are typically three possible outcomes from this question: 1.) No AT needed, 2.) AT Needed, Document in IEP 3.) AT may be needed, request consult or evaluation.  Options 1 and 2 are pretty straight forward.  Option 3 requires some work however.  Developing a flow chart will help to know where to go from this point.  For example, a team in a district will likely change depending on the school a student is in, the area of AT needed (communication, writing supports, etc…), and the availability of staff.  Developing a flow chart that shows who is responsible in various situations will be a tremendous asset.  I recommend developing the flowchart in Google Docs or another format that allows everyone to have access.

Disseminate the Information

AT Guidelines will be a living document.  Staff will come and go, modifications to documents will need to be made and up to date information will always need to be available.  Creating a document, then printing and disseminating to all staff will stay to up to date for a few months, however creating your guidelines as a wiki will allow folks to always have the most up to date information at their fingertips.  This is great from a district perspective as well because once a change is made the entire district will have access to it without having to wait for version 1.1 to be printed and released.

This post could go on forever, but I think I’ve already exceeded the length that most of our attention spans can handle in one setting.  The take away is that successful AT Implementation is dependent upon having solid guidelines in place.  Having 3 people in a district develop some bullet points isn’t enough.  You need buy in from everyone.  Using some of the ideas above in combination with staff meeting discussions and plenty of revisions will eventually get you to that point.  Just remember that we’ve only scratched the surface in this post.  Reviewing all of the indicators on the QIAT website will show all of the areas that must be considered when putting guidelines in place.