Universal Design for Learning in the Science Classroom
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an instructional framework to guide the development of curricula that enable all learners to be successful. Drawing on research in neuroscience and the learning sciences, UDL provides a set of principles and guidelines that enable consideration of how learners vary and support instructional design to address that variability. Just as universally designed buildings provide options that accommodate a wide array of visitors, curricula designed using the UDL framework offer options that enable learners with varying needs and preferences to access and engage with learning materials. Three core UDL principles focus on (1) providing multiple means of presentation, (2) providing multiple means of action and expression, and (3) providing multiple means of engagement.
Work to apply UDL to science instruction has led to multiple curricula and technology-based tools. An online curriculum platform (the UDL Curriculum Toolkit) has been used as a means for designing and delivering science curricula with various partners in elementary school science and high school biology, physics, and biocomplexity. A current project uses this platform to design and deliver a professional development course for middle school science teachers about reducing stereotype threat in their classrooms. More information is available at http://udl-toolkit.cast.org. Other UDL-based tools include a digital science notebook for upper elementary school students and a supported environment for writing lab reports. More information about free tools can be found at http://www.cast.org/our-work/learning-tools.html.
Curricula based on the UDL principles have been tested in various contexts with encouraging results. In a trial comparing the UDL-based digital science notebook to paper-based science notebooks, for example, students using the UDL-based notebook demonstrated significantly higher science achievement than their peers. This result was consistent for students with and without learning disabilities. Encouraging research findings and the promise of broadening opportunities for success led to UDL being included as recommended practice in the recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the National Educational Technology Plan, and the Ed Tech Developer’s Guide from the U.S. Department of Education.
UDL is intended to be a flexible framework that can be applied to the development of instructional practices, materials, and assessments. In addition to using UDL-based tools, many educators implement UDL in their classrooms with existing materials.
For More Information