Universal Design in Science Education

The NSF has funded our plans to develop technology-rich science curriculum modules for grades 3-6, which acknowledges that students learn different ways. The work at CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology, has defined a flexible approach to teaching called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This has had considerable success in teaching the language arts. This new proposal extends these ideas to science.

The goal of this project is to use UDL principles to create practical science materials for students and teachers in inclusive classrooms. The project will create inquiry modules around the theme of energy. They will address questions such as “Why are there clouds?” and “What do plants eat?” Probes will support lab investigations and computational models will allow students to explore virtual environments.

One of the most exciting aspects of the projects is the development of graphing and modeling software that expresses data and relationships in text and spoken form. The software will be able to recognize patterns that experts see in the graphs and model visualizations. Twenty-five classrooms in Acton, MA, Anchorage, AK, Maryville, MO, and Fresno, CA, will field-test the materials. A careful research design will test learning gains of this approach and compare them to traditional approaches. We hope the research, modules, and supporting technology will inspire additional development of computer-based science UDL materials.