On Thursday, March 1, 2018, three professors from the University of Teacher Education Fukuoka in Japan visited the northeast to observe excellence in the implementation of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). In addition to visiting CAST, the founding organization of UDL in Wakefield, MA, Charlestown High School, and Concord-Carlisle High School, Drs. Nishiyama, Noutomi, and Barnes visited Florence-Roche Elementary School, Swallow Union Elementary School, and the Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School to see UDL implementation in the elementary and middle grades.
At Florence-Roche, Laura Taylor designed and delivered a math workshop model where students had options and choices in how to practice creating number bonds up to the number 5. They had options to work on iPads, interact with manipulatives, collaborate as a team, or work in small groups on the rug. When reflecting on our youngest students and their ability to personalize their learning, Dr. Barnes noted, “We had a great tour of your schools/classrooms and learned a lot how UDL is implemented, starting as young as in the Kindergarten classes!” They also observed the gamification of math in Jill Pierantozzi’s class (grade 3). Students were challenged to design a game in which multiplication was integral to the process. Students then had an opportunity to review math concepts online, in small groups, or by playing a game designed by their classmates.The professors enjoyed interacting with students as they played Groton-opoly and multiplication hopscotch.
At Swallow Union, Nancy Murphy (grade 3) and Sue Wynn (grade 4) modeled the power of the workshop model in using Eureka Math, the district’s K-8 math program that has resulted in tremendous growth in our math scores on the MCAS. After a short mini-lesson in the workshop model, students self-reflected and chose challenging, engaging activities to apply math practices while working individually, in small groups with teacher support, or in collaborative groups. Both classrooms utilized innovative technologies to allow students to interact with math concepts using games, videos, and interactive tutorials.
At the middle school, Caitlin Morris (grade 6 science), empowered students to self-assess their work on geographical timelines, assess their quality of collaboration, and provide peer feedback using multiple options and choices. Jenny Leung (grade 8) provided students with opportunities for students to explore essential questions about the Holocaust and the barriers that Jewish refugees faced when they fled Nazi Germany. Students chose from various articles and online resources as they annotated text using methods of their choice, shared themes with each other, and discussed the content under study while making connections to current events.
At the end of the day, the professors met with Karen Gartland (K-8 math supervisor), Kelly True (K-8 ELA supervisor), and Dr. Katie Novak, assistant superintendent of schools, to discuss how to scale UDL throughout an organization. Of the trip, Dr. Nishiyama wrote, “It was such a fruitful trip for us and especially I was impressed to see that teachers at all different levels and subjects seemed to plan and prepare their lessons through UDL concepts.” Here in Groton-Dunstable, our students are lucky to have access to choice and voice in our classrooms, and now educators across the world are taking notice.