UDL and SMART Boards

The focus of this session was on how using an interactive whiteboard (in this case a SMART board) can support the principles of Universal Design for Learning.  Although this was supposed to be my one hands-on session at the NJAET 2010 conference, technical difficulties, change of location and IT department roadblocks resulted in a “semi-hands on”session.  The original plan, according to the Carolyn Bennet, our presenter, was to have session members test out the SMART Notebook software and experience how using an interactive whiteboard (IWB) can suport the creation of learning experiences that  follow Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.   Instead, we viewed lessons that the Ms. Bennet had created with the software and were able to try out some of the interactive features in the lesson on the SMART board.  Having limited experience with IWB, I was happy to have the chance to try it out.

We began with an overview of the UDL principles as created by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST).  Here is a brief (approximately 5 min.) video about Universal Design for Learning:

This session demonstrated examples of how a lesson can be enhanced using the Notebook software and the IWB technology to provide students with multiple means of representation, expression and engagement.   View the  handout, Creating Classrooms for Everyone (interactivewhiteboardsanduniversaldesignforlearningjan20),created by SMART, that outlines these concepts. The SMART Notebook software allows you to create and save interactive lessons to be used with the SMART board.

The lesson examples provided, illustrated some of the opportunities a SMART board can offer to support the three principles of UDL.  The first lesson highlighted that “multiple means of representation” is possible through embedding multimedia into a lesson and providing interactive, tactile experiences. A lesson on the Little Red Hen may include a recording of the story being read, interactive activities for the students to drag and drop words in a grammar/ comprehension activity, and view a video on how flour is made from grain.

“Multiple Means of Expression” was highlighted in the ability of IWB to support students with disabilities.  Changing text and graphic size, brightness and contrast can support visually challenged students.  The touch screen and the mobility of items within a lesson, improve access for student with physical disabilities that may have difficulty writing, typing or reaching higher on the board.  The ability to include visual reinforcement and other sensory support  can help  maintain the attention of students that have processing and attention difficulties.  During the presentation, session participants were invited to suggest (and demonstrate) how to modify a given lesson to support students in one or more of these categories.

The final principle of UDL, “Multiple Means of Engagement” was illustrated by using the IWB  technology as a way to draw students’ attention.  The presenter illustrated a lesson that incorporated students’ work to highlight a writing technique, making the experience both rewarding to the students and related to their real life.  She also provided an example of a “teachable moment” that occurred during a lesson where the students were able to answer a question that was posed by completing an internet search as a class using the whiteboard.

It is clear that the SMART board is capable of supporting Universal Design for Learning principles.  But during this presentation I was reminded of a study that I read, called “Teaching and learning with an interactive whiteboard: a teacher’s journey”, about a teacher’s self-study on the implications of adopting an IWB on her teaching practice.   In the initial phase of her adoption, she reported that although the students were fully engaged with the use of the IWB,  it actually caused her to move away from her usual active learning pedagogy.  She found that her students were spending more time in a whole-group, teacher-led lesson than actively exploring a topic (Hodge & Anderson, 2007).  Most of this session involved the presenter demonstrating her lesson design and the session members sitting and watching (she repeatedly apologized that she was forgetting to invite us to the board to try for ourselves).  I could see how easily this tool could encourage teacher-centered learning, even if the lessons were multi-media based.   The supplementary lesson that I learned in this session is to consider how the use of  a technology tool affects your pedagogy and how you can make it work to support student-centered practice. While we often hear how technology can be a catalyst to change a teachers practice, we need to be sure that it is for the better.


Hodge, S. and Anderson, B. (2007), Teaching and learning with an interactive whiteboard: a teacher’s journey. Learning,Media and Technology,23(3), pp.271-282.

CAST’s website on Universal Design for Learning, http://www.cast.org/research/udl/index.html

SMART Webinar on Universal Design for Learning http://www.smarttech.com/us/Resources/Webinars

A (Differentiated) Classroom in Your Pocket



The iPod as a learning tool was the focus of this session, A Clasroom in your Pocket,  at the NJAET conference.  Mike Marra, a senior systems engineer from Apple, was the presenter.  Going into this session, I was familiar with iPods and had considered some of the applications it could have for classroom use.  I have used math games on my iPhone with the students that I tutor and my children love to play learning games when we are stuck waiting in line.  But, as I listened to the description of the multi-media capabilities that allow the iPod touch to capture and record video, photos and audio, I began to better understand the potential of this tool .  Its wireless capabilities, access to internet, and video conferencing applications make it a useful communication tool.  This is in addition to the more obvious gaming and media player features.  However, it wasn’t until we began discussing the accessibility features that I fully understood the power of this tool to serve as a classroom differentiation device.

IPods offer the opportunity to support learners on a more individualized basis. It has the potential to support differentiation by interest, learning style, and readiness as well as applications for use with English language learners and students with special needs.  Here are just a few examples of potential applications where the iPod touch could serve as a differentiation tool, based on features presented during this session:

  • Voice Recorder:  It can be used to support language learners (and some special needs learners) with recordings of lessons or directions that students can play back as needed.  It can also can help with recording students for practicing pronunciation and reading fluency.  In addition, accessibility features allow for screen reading, zoom and other setting to help those with physical impairments.
  • Media Player:  Support interest based and content learning by taking advantage of the many podcasts available through iTunes U and other educational sites, as well as the many audiobooks that are available.  Many museums and libraries have content available in video and audio form for use with students.  ITunes U also allows you to search for content (including lesson plans) by state standards indicators associated with the resources.
  • Applications: There are thousands of  learning games and support tools (flash cards, dictionaries,etc) available in the Apple Education site that can support the needs of individual students.  You can search for applications  by subject area and grade level.
  • Multi-media capture capabilities:  The iPod touch can serve as a digital camera, and video/audio recorder all in one, giving students more opportunity to create their own multi-media as part of a project based learning activity.  Video conferencing can also allow for additional  tools for students (and teachers) to communicate with experts in various content areas.


A logical question that follows is how to manage so many devices for so many individuals.   Mr. Marra demonstrated some of the products and tools that are available to help manage a classroom set of iPods, including power sync carts/ cases (shown here), managing playlists in iTunes to sync to a set of ipods, and the general settings feature that allows teachers to control what is accessible to students via a password lockdown.  All of these tools are meant to make using iPods with students easier and less time consuming.

Teaching with both differentiation and technology require advanced planning in order to be successful.   What I learned from this session is that there are great products and services available to help.  In order to get the most out of the technology tools available to you and your students, you have to make the tools work for you.    That means understanding and thinking about all the applications that one tool may have (even the ones that are not so obvious). It also means understanding and planning for  how the tool can support students in reaching the goals of a lesson.   Following this session, I googled “classroom differentiation with iPods” and immediately found many great resources and ideas that other educators have shared.   The presenter, an Apple employee, works with schools  and in the classroom to help teachers use their products effectively.  The information gained through this session illustrates the importance of taking advantage of resources and experts who are willing to share their knowledge.  Adopting a new technology or using a tool in a new way should be worth the work involved.  Technology should be used to make life easier and/or to enhance student learning.  The iPod is  an example of one tool that can be used in a multitude of ways to support individual students- a differentiated classroom tool that fits in your pocket.

Tech Life Preserver

The third session that I attended at the NJAET conference was entitled “When You’re Riding the Tech Wave, Sometimes You Need a Life Preserver!”  The life preserver in this analogy is a student tech corps that is specially trained to provide teachers in a school with “just in time” help.  This idea resonated with me for two reasons.  The first is that in this time of limited funding and increasing technology demands, this is a clear demonstration of a school thinking outside of the box to find a solution that makes technology work for them.  Secondly, it illustrates a paradigm shift necessary in the recognition of students skills and abilities.  A recent volume of Education Leadership was dedicated to the importance of making work in school meaningful to students.  One article in particular, “The Big Wait” (Allen & Allen, 2010), identified the 4 R’s of teaching students real life skills: relevance, real-world feedback, responsibility, and respect.  The Student Tech Corps described in this session was a perfect example of this concept in practice.

The presenter, Barbara Lohse, walked the session members through the creation and implementation of this program at the Allamuchy Township School in New Jersey.  The tech corps was comprised of 7th and 8th grade students who were required to submit an application, complete 3 after-school training sessions, and attend a monthly lunch meeting.  In addition these students were expected to demonstrate maturity, communicate well with others, and maintain a passing level in all of their coursework.  The corps was trained on professional work behavior and communication skills, basic computing and applications, network and hardware basics, printing and audio/visual basics, and presentation equipment.  Once students were trained they were presented with an official ID card.  Students would be called to assist teachers with troubleshooting (hardware, software and network connectivity), setting up presentation equipment,using scanners and digital cameras, and tutoring/training teachers and students.  Teachers could submit a ticket for a tech corps assistant ahead of time, but could also call the tech room to have an emergency tech volunteer sent to their room.  Tech corps students were sent based on availability through free periods or from a classroom (teachers reserved the right to deny release a student for tech corps duties if necessary- but the presenter said that it was not usually an issue).

But the most important thing to consider in this program are the student and school outcomes.  The students that have been part of the tech corp not only have further developed their technical skills, but have also been exposed to real world communication, leadership and work skills.  The teachers at the school have been more willing to use technology because they know that they have technical support available to them when they need it.  This allows the teachers to focus “in the moment” on their students and their learning, not the technology tools.  The students of the school have also benefitted from the increase in teacher training and support as they are now using more technology in the classroom.  All of this has helped the school as a whole have greater productivity, make better use of technology, and fulfill the goals outlined in the district’s technology plan.

There were an obvious number of questions about the details of implementing a program like this.  And as Ms. Lohse indicated, the structure and support for a project like this will have to be designed to fit an individual school and their scheduling system and technology needs.  The biggest take away for me was that when you are trying to make technology work in a classroom, it is necessary to use all of your resources.  Many students, as digital natives are excellent sources of knowledge and skill.  Providing them opportunity to “show what they know” can have benefits for everyone.  This also seems like a “learn by example” situation, in a time where there is so much buzz around 21st century classrooms and shifting the teachers role from a provider of information to a facilitator for learning.  Using students in such a capacity as a tech corps may lead teachers to consider their students from a different perspective, opening a door to a partnership for learning between students and teachers.


Allen, J.P. and Allen, C.W. (2010) The big wait, Educational Leadership, 68(1), pp. 22-26.

Student-Led Projects and 21st Century Learning

As I was choosing sessions to attend at the NJAET conference, this was one that I immediately selected. I am very interested in learning more about how teachers are using project based learning that incorporates technology. Sadly, although initially interesting, this session turned out to be an advertisement for a company called Teach4Learning.  While the presenter, Denise MacDevette,  a sales representative for Teach4Learning, did give an adequate presentation  covering the basics of project based learning (PBL) and showed many student examples of how teachers have used the Teach4Learning programs to create projects, I feel that there was a missed opportunity in terms of how to implement PBL in a classroom setting.  Instead, a great deal of time was spent showing the participants how each program works (considering that most of the programs run on similar platforms, I did not feel it was necessary to go through the steps on every program).   The programs that were highlighted were Pixie, Wixie, Share and Frames.  To be fair, Ms.MacDevette was  there to sell her product, but in terms of educating the members of the audience on 21st century learning and student-led projects, I think the concept of the  how and why were missing.

But let me begin withwhat I did find interesting and helpful.  The presenters main point about the current buzz terms “PBL”  and “21st century learning” revolved around thinking about students as producers, not just consumers.  Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, as shown in the first image, was provided to illustrate the higher-level thinking skills that teachers need to focus on with students.  I’ve also included an image that I really like that shows this taxonomy from a digital standpoint, including many of the things that the Teach4Learning programs will allow your students to create.



Project based learning is most effective in a student-centered classroom where students are actively engaged in self-selected topics that allow for options when demonstrating learning.  Collaboration and creativity, individual learning styles, and higher order thinking skills are at the center of this style of learning.  The concept that resonated the most with me was the importance of the question(s) posed by a teacher at the beginning of a project.  One participant asked, “How do you get students to create a project that does not just involve cutting and pasting from various resources?”.  Good questioning should require students to analyze and evaluate resources before synthesizing the information into their projects.  A very important and key concept to implementing PBL that was not explored in this session.

Instead, we moved on to examples of  projects students created through programs such as Frames and Wixie.  The projects were great and included original student drawings, photographs taken by students, and voice recordings of students.  The projects ranged from a class encyclopedia of explorers to digital storytelling and field trips.   One great resource shared was the Digitales project.  As a teacher I was left wondering how the teachers and students got to these wonderful end products.  For me, project based learning is equally, if not most importantly, about the learning process.  I think a great addition to this session would have been a teacher “digital tale” that demonstrates how the projects were implemented.  What questions were used to get students started? Where and how did students get their resources?  What were some of the challenges of creating these projects?  How was student learning evaluated throughout the process?   Perhaps a joint presentation with the technology program expert and a teacher participant would have provided a better learning scenario that  included the how and the why of project based learning.

Reaching the Digital Immigrant

The first session that I attended at the NJAET conference was called “Reaching the Digital Immigrant”.  It focused on the challenges teacher educators and technology trainers may face when working with teachers that are not tech savvy.  The learning objectives of this session were:

  • To learn successful professional development strategies to reach reluctant Digital Immigrants
  • See various technology-based learning tools which will be highlighted and demonstrated in order to facilitate learning
  • Network and build new partnerships through discussion with other

NJAET digital immigrants wikiOne of the best features of this conference was how the presenter, Mike Marotta, incorporated technology into his presentation.  His presentation was created in a wiki on Wikispaces and presented using a SMARTboard.   The wiki had pages for each of the topics covered in the presentation with embedded video and links to further resources.  In addition, as the members of the session discussed the topics that were shared, notes were added to the wiki pages as a record of the discussion.  The handout for the session was a single piece of paper with the address of the wiki.  Participants were invited to return to the wiki as a resource and to continue the discussion, share comments and ask any questions that the session time did not allow.  The wiki became an online resource of the presentation and a way to continue learning after the event.   As a firm believer in “teaching by example”,  I think this provided a very clear example of the application and benefits of use for wiki technology. An image of the wiki is provided and you can visit the wiki at http://reachingthedigitalimmigrants.wikispaces.com/

The session itself provided a brainstorming and discussion session about the different learning styles of teachers (digital immigrants) and students (digital natives).  We also identified the how the needs and desires of students are changing in the age of technology (see the video below and on the Vision… page of the wiki).  Mike presented a few key ideas to reaching out to late adopters and/or reluctant technology users (see Reluctant Learners) and the factors that influence the use of technology in the classroom  (see Lessons Learned) experiences.  These points and the subsequent discussion of experiences by the group focused on two main topics: planning for technology use and supporting teachers in their adoption and use.

Having a Technology Plan was highlighted as key to steering and supporting teachers.  It is important to know what the goals and expectations are for technology use, how teachers will be supported as they strive to reach these goals, how to deal with organizing and funding technology to reach the goals, and to collect feedback from teachers.  This last portion was highlighted as an important component that is often overlooked.  Feedback is a powerful tool in developing and revising strategy.  Again, a “teaching by example moment” for me was that following these steps with teachers is the same steps that they will need to (or should) follow when incorporating technology in their classrooms.

In terms of teachers adopting and using technology with students, leadership is key.  In this age of no funding, teacher leaders are key in helping to implement technology goals.  Many session participants shared that they are operating with very little support staff and that most of the technology professional development and support is falling to principals and teacher leaders.  This environment is causing technology proponents to have to “think outside the box”. (see my “Tech Life Preserver” post about a session that provided an example of this- using students as a technology “life raft”).  A few audience members identified that one of the most effective ways they have found to promote teacher buy-in,  is to highlight the benefits a particular technology  by sharing an example of how a teacher is using the technology to improve student learning.  Having teachers provide professional development for other teachers makes for better opportunities for collaboration and follow up support. Rewarding and praising teacher work can be as effective as rewarding and praising student work.  My favorite idea was having a Technology Teacher of the Month (picture in the office and a front parking spot in the parking lot) that presents an example of their work at a faculty meeting.

In the end, I think the most important idea that I took away from this session was  the concept of teachers leading by example. Allowing teachers to illustrate, to those already incorporating technology and to reluctant adopters, how technology can benefit students and teacher professional learning.   This requires creative use of time and resources in order to provide the necessary support and collaboration time.  But teachers are often the best resource  to encourage other as educators to  improve our craft and help students attain the skills and new literacies that are required for their future.