Systems of Support Supporting Educator Excellence through Technology and Strategy

Category Archives: Udl

Changing Education Paradigms

I really dig this animation that goes along with a talk by Sir Ken Robinson on changing education paradigms.

Flocabulary for Multiple Means of Representation

If you can’t tell from the name of this blog, I’m big on Universal Design for Learning.  The first principle of UDL is Multiple Means of Representation.  We have known for some time now that stand and deliver lecture is the primary way content is delivered in Middle and High Schools.  If we are lucky, many times this is mixed with PowerPoint or the occasional video.  Well, recently a literacy consultant told me to check out Flocabulary and let’s just say I am impressed.

Flocabulary uses  very high quality hip-hop music to explain concepts.  Hip-Hop music is popular among students, and it is very cool to see how engaged they become with the content when it is presented in this fashion.  In addition to the music, the lyrics are available in print and there are other activities and workbooks that accompany each song.

So if you haven’t already, check out today.  Many of the resources are free, but there is a paid option as well.

Learning Technology in Schools

I like this post from Marc Rosenberg on Learning Solutions Magazine’s website.  It covers a topic that I think about often when delivering training in schools.  Specifically, does technology help with effective instruction in schools?  I like to think that it does, but only if it is used appropriately.  This seems to be what the article suggests and Marc offers 8 suggestions that you (the parent, the business person, the techie teacher, etc…) can do to help.

A colleague and I have been saying for some time now that cool technology + poor instruction = poor academic outcomes (and lots of wasted money).  How do we overcome this?  First, we need to make sure teachers are trained and armed with tons of research based teaching strategies.  Only then can we expect them to use the strategies with technology.

Once we are sure educators are comfortable with the strategies, we start to slowly introduce new technology.  When I say introduce, I do not mean hook a smartboard up in the classroom and leave.  I mean start with one piece of technology (like a smartboard), train the teacher how to use the technology, then how to integrate it with the instructional strategies.  Be sure to give adequate time to practice and follow up with them on a weekly basis to ensure it is working out.  Once this piece of technology is mastered, consider introducing something new.

This isn’t rocket science, but I can’t count the number of “smart” classrooms I’ve come across over the last couple of years.  These classrooms have the latest technology, but few know how to use any of it and even fewer understand how to integrate it with sound instructional strategies.   And this is not a knock on teachers.  If they are not trained appropriately, how can we expect them to use it effectively?

20 Free Video Sites

I just ran across a blog post, that referenced yet another blog post listing 20 Free Video Sites.  Many of  you are probably familiar with the majority of these (YouTube, TeacherTube, iTunesU, etc…) but there were a couple I had not heard of before.  You find the blog post here:

Media Converters

We all know that it’s a good idea to use multiple means of representation when we present content.  There are several ways to do this including lecture, images, PowerPoint, audio, video, etc… Many times video poses a problem however.  First, it is not always easy to find sites that schools allow us to access.  Then of course, if we do find videos online it isn’t always easy to get them on your computer so that you can insert in a PowerPoint or share when internet (or certain website) access isn’t available.

To help with this, there are two websites I use when I need to grab a video from the web and save it on my computer to include in a presentation.  There’s been countless times when I found the perfect video to share while presenting at a conference only to find out there was no internet service, leaving my links useless.

Both resources are similar in the way they work.  First, find the youtube or other video you would like to download.  Next, simply visit one of these sites and paste the url of the video in and choose a file format.  If you are using windows, choose .avi or .wmv.  For macs, choose .mov.  Click submit and in no time you will have a copy of the video available for download.

Would love to hear your favorite resources in the comments section below.

The case for mobile learning in schools

I read an article in Fast Company magazine the other day that talked about the rise in popularity of smartphones and other devices that allow kids to access information anywhere.  There are over 6 billion people in the world today and according to the article, it is estimated that there will be 5 billion cell phones by the close of 2010.

To experiment, I downloaded one of the apps (pocketphonics) recommended in the article and turned my 2 year old loose with it (she’s familiar with the iphone already).  In no time she was following along with the program and learning to write letters.

So this got me thinking about the larger picture of mobile devices in classrooms.  There’s the iPhone, iPod touch, and now the iPad from Apple.  Then there are the droid smartphones that Google has a part in, not to mention the growth of affordable netbooks.  A recent survey showed that over 70% of kids already have access to these devices, but unfortunately are not allowed to use them in schools.

Without writing a book, here are a few of the reasons I think that schools should be seriously considering the use of mobile devices in classrooms:

  • Cost (Hardware) – A laptop computer runs close to $1000 on most state bid contracts.  An 8 GB iPod touch is under $200.  In fact, you can buy an iPod touch station that comes with 30 touches and a macbook pro for substantially less that it would cost to buy a few laptops.
  • Cost (Software) – Software may be more expensive than computers by the time you add up all the software that needs to be on every computer.  Many apps on the other hand cost .99 cents to a few bucks.  And if I’m not mistaken, with iPods, you sync all of the touches up to one computer… So if you buy an app once for .99 cents, you can then load it onto all of your touches.
  • Fidelity – Not all classrooms I visit are using research based strategies.  I know that with RTI, “research based” is kind of a buzz phrase right now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.  Something is researched based because it works.  Things that aren’t researched based may work, but we don’t know that for sure.  If you download an app that uses a research based strategy, you know that each student is getting that strategy every time he or she uses it.  This isn’t the case in classrooms where lecture is the primary medium used.
  • Cost (technology support staff) – I work quite a bit with Assistive Technology.  It can be a pain to install, maintain, troubleshoot, etc… A friend of mine in the software world was just telling me that the cost of supporting software in schools is actually more than the software itself.  With apps, they are downloaded, maintained and updated through a system separate from the school.  Other than a quick how-to tutorial, the technology support team can spend their time on other projects.
  • Access – Many kids already have these devices.  They can use them at home, school and anywhere in between.

Having said all of the above, there are still all sorts of things that can cause this to not work.  For one thing, there is a cost involved.  Although computers are more expensive, those are probably already in the district.  Setting up an iPod touch or iPad station would have a significant start up cost.  Then there is figuring out how to go about purchasing apps, letting students check the devices out, etc…

Of course, we can always think of reasons to not do something, but I challenge people to come up with solutions to make it work rather than why it can’t.

There’s more to this from a global perspective than what I am writing here.   I’ll save that for another post.  In the meantime, I am working on a session for a few upcoming national conferences.  Hope to see you at one of them.

Digital Text Resources

Finding sites with digital text (mostly free) is a job in itself.  However, this is one of the most important things overlooked when schools decide to purchase text to speech software.  I remember doing a 2 or 3 hour training on how to use such software, then asking participants where they were going to get their digital text to use with the software.  You would have thought I had asked how to solve a complicated mathematical equation.  Needless to say, I start my trainings off with this question now.  If participants leave thinking that they are going to have to scan in text books from beginning to end, I can pretty much guarantee you the use of the software will be around the same level as it was before you bought it.

I’ve included in this post a few places to check out.  The best thing to do is just CLICK HERE to download the Word document.  I can’t take credit for developing it, but it’s been past around so many times I cannot credit the original author.  I did however remove several out of date links and check the others to ensure accuracy.  This of course doesn’t include every resource out there, so if you can think of something else I encourage you to post it as a comment on this blog post.

Here are a few of the included resources along with descriptions (usually from the site itself).  Note that this is for free/non-copyright text.  Therefore they will not include links to textbooks or other copyrighted literature.  Those types of texts will many times need to be purchased separately or only used with students with specific disabilities.


Bookshare offers more than 42,000 digital books, textbooks, teacher-recommended reading, periodicals and assistive technology tools. It is free for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities.

Project Gutenberg

There are over 27,000 free books in the Project Gutenberg Online Book Catalog


Free Online Literature with more than 2000 Classic Texts


AcademicInfo is an online education resource center with extensive subject guides and distance learning information. Our mission is to provide free, independent and accurate information and resources for prospective and current students (and other researchers).


Offers thousands of free books for students, teachers, and the classic enthusiast

Kids Corner

Contains a collection of Beatrix Potter’s books with text available in English, German, Japanese, and French.


The Intersect

A Library of “Supported Text” books incorporating resources and study strategies that help students learn more from what they read.


Alex catalogue of electronic text

The Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts is a collection of about 14,000 “classic” public domain documents from American and English literature as well as Western philosophy.

Page by Page Books

Offers hundreds of free classic books with frequent additions to the collection


Offers public access to over 27,000 books and materials (choose public access from menu at top of page to access). Paying a nominal membership fee of $8.95 per year allows access to over 100,000 additional books and materials. Reading lists prepared by the University of Hawaii sort books by grade level.


Provides free books and other materials covering a wide array of areas. Topics include history, garden, children’s books, how-to books, home repair and decoration and fashion.

Classic Reader

Offers a large collection of free classic books by authors such as Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare and many others. You can read, search and even add your own annotations to any of the classic books. A selection of author biographies and portraits are also available.

Cool Whiteboard Software

Just finished reading about how to integrate whiteboard lessons into online learning environments where the FREE software LectureScribe was mentioned.  LectureScribe is a software developed by Brian Dean, an assistant professor of computer science at Clemson University.

I viewed a demo of the software and found it very well put together.  Although it is recommended that you use a tablet PC or WACOM (input device you for computers that you can use a digitized pen with), you could always use a regular PC with a mouse (just know it may be a bit frustrating).

The software gives you multiple boards so that you don’t have to include your entire lecture on one board.  It also allows you to record audio.  When finished, it saves as a .swf or flash file, which is compatible with almost all web browsers.  From there, you can post it to your site, blog, eLearning course or whatever floats your boat. Currently the software is PC only.

Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE!  Check it out at

A UDL resource you will want to bookmark

Many of you may already be aware of the Free Tech Toolkit for UDL, but just in case you haven’t had a chance to visit it, you should do so now.  It’s actually a wiki and the address is  For some reason, during the time of this post, I was having trouble getting the homepage to load, but you still view the information by clicking on a category link on the left of the page.  Categories include free text to speech, graphical organizers, writing tools, research tools, reading tools, and much more.

The wiki is maintained by Karen Janowski, who also happens to have a cool blog I read on a normal basis at

Academic Earth makes going to college easy

I ran across one of the best sites I’ve seen recently after reading about it an article.  The site is called Academic Earth and this is how they describe themselves:

We are building a user-friendly educational ecosystem that will give internet users around the world the ability to easily find, interact with, and learn from full video courses and lectures from the world’s leading scholars.  Our goal is to bring the best content together in one place and create an environment that in which that content is remarkably easy to use and in which user contributions make existing content increasingly valuable.

The colleges you can visit include the most pretigous in the United States.   Here’s a list:

  • Berkley
  • Yale
  • Harvard
  • MIT
  • Princeton
  • Stanford

The lectures are great and users can rate the lectures after watching.  I have never been one of the YouTube types that can sit around watching videos on the web all day, but I literally spent an hour (56 minutes to be exact) today listening to Paul Brown at Yale discuss Sigmund Freud.  I learned more in 56 minutes than I can remember from my entire college psych class and found the whole thing very enjoyable.

So in addition to giving you something useful to do during your free time, what else can Academic Earth be used for?  Just think of the opportunities this gives many of our students.  Not all of us are able to go to Yale or MIT, but viewing lectures from some of the worlds greatest professors gives us opportunities we may have never gotten otherwise.  This is just another example of how education is becoming more accessible.  You’ve probably heard of California’s Open Source Textbook Iniative or MIT’s Open Courseware project.  Academic Earth is another one of those great free resources to add to the list.