Common Core state standards clearly outline the knowledge and skills students need to be Career and College Ready as readers, writers, researchers, presenters, and thinkers. The challenge for teachers and administrators is how to support all students to meet the level of rigor and depth of knowledge outlined in the Common Core standards. This can only be facilitated through significant shifts in instructional practices and an environment that truly offers differentiation and support for all learners. The Universal Design For Learning (UDL) theory provides an excellent framework for creating quality Common Core aligned instruction and a means for meeting these expectations.

What is UDL?

The universal design for learning theory is a framework for guiding instructional practices that:

  • Provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and

  • Reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient (CAST, 2011, p.6).

The framework incorporates three principles of instructional design:

  • Provide multiple means of representation (the “what”of learning: recognition networks in the brain that are responsible for gathering facts and categorizing information);

  • Provide multiple means of action and expression (the “how”of learning: strategic networks of the brain that are responsible for planning and performing tasks); and,

  • Provide multiple means of engagement (the “why” of learning: affective networks in the brain that are responsible for engagement and motivation in learning) (CAST, 2011, p.6).

Both the framework and principles of instructional design are grounded in flexibility. “A flexible instructional design needs to include the use of multiple methods, materials, and assessments, when teaching and flexibility in how they will sustain student interest, effort, and persistence” (Flanagan, Liebling, and Meltzer, 2013). Educators need to look to technology applications and web 2.0 tools to create learning environments that offer this level of flexibility, challenge, and ownership of learning.

The resources below provide a sampling of technology tools and web 2.0 applications that address Common Core ELA standards and UDL. Please review the tools to determine if they’re a good fit for your instructional focus and grade level. Be mindful about reviewing the sites/tools access policy for under 13 years of age. This can be located on most websites in the FAQ section.

Developing Effective Communication:


  • GlogsterEdu – Poster creation tool that allows you to combine text, images, graphics, video, and audio into an interactive poster called a glog.
  • ThingLink   - Student can create or explore interactive images with embedded web content.

Mind Mapping Tools

  • Co-Sketch – This tool allows multiple users to visualize and share ideas as images. Images can be embedded blogs or websites.
  • MindMeister – Collborative mind mapping that allows embedded images, links, video, and audio
  • Text2 Mind – Easy to use mindmapping tool – student friendly

Communication and Collaboration

  • Kidblog – K-12 blogging platform
  • Twitter
  • Google Drive, Docs and Kaizena App – great tools to develop online writing portfolios, give &  receive feedback, track growth & leave voice comments.
  • Collaborize Classroom – structured online discussion platform with question types that make it easy to teach argument writing, which is prioritized in the standards.

See the links below for further information on the UDL site. It’s an amazing resource for a more in depth understanding of UDL and related web 2.0 tools.

UDL Resources – amazing resource for a more in depth understanding of UDL and related web 2.0 tools.

UDL Guideline – one page PDF color coded Summary

UDL Lesson Builder

UDL 2.0

Common Core and Technology Resources

Common Core

Standards Crosswalk With Educational Technology

Instructional Examples of Common Core Standards Related to Technology and Digital Media

Every Common Core Standard Related to Technology and Digital Media

Assembled by Ben Rimes, K-12 Instructional Technology Coordinator, Mattawan Consolidated School. Last updated: Feb 27th, 2014


CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines, version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.

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“Define your own box, and step outside of it”. I came across this tweet 2-3 days ago. I can’t claim it as my own but this thought keeps running through my mind. It resonated so strongly with me because it’s hopeful, inspirational, and learner-driven. It’s hopeful because it focuses on growth. It’s inspirational because it speaks to change and innovation. It’s learner-driven because it requires one to examine their personal and professional purpose and goals, reflect and discover, and start down the path of continual growth and learning.

What really excites me about this idea is that it’s about all learners in an educational organization, including students, staff, parents, community, school board members and central office leadership. Can you imagine what a powerful culture we would create if this was the driving factor in our educational communities? It really speaks to the essence of what life-long learning is really about: engagement and ownership of learning, an excitement and acceptance that change and growth should be embraced, and commitment to helping others realize their potential and passions.

Step Out Box

 Feel free to share your thoughts on this.  Happy New Year!

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Do you ever get an uncomfortable feeling when we say we’re building the capacity of all educators in the organization but deep down we know that’s not true? We make well intended attempts to do this but they often fall short of the goal. Then we inevitably use the time and money excuse to explain the issues. What’s even worse is that we expect stakeholders to make significant change, yet fail to provide the necessary conditions (I’m not talking about spoon-feeding and hand holding here. I believe a highly effective educator is one who “owns” and continually seeks opportunities for growth and development) for capacity building, learning, and reflection. Until we understand and address issues surrounding capacity building of all stakeholders, educational transformation efforts will continue to produce less than stellar results.

It’s fashionable to use the “term” capacity building when discussing and moving forward with organizational change. We know that capacity building and shared visioning are essential to ”true”, second order change that’s sustainable over time. So… we create systems and structures for building capacity and move forward. We periodically report on the progress, assuring stakeholders that change is occurring and then…2-3 years later we’re reflecting on data that shows little or no change, pockets of change, or inconsistent change. We then spend a huge amount of time and resources revisioning, putting new initiatives in place, and starting the frustrating cycle all over again.

So the question then becomes “why”. Why do we continue to approach capacity building in this manner? Why does this model continue to fail? Why don’t we engage all stakeholders in the development of capacity building action plans? Why do we continue to focus on the parts rather than the whole of the organization? Why do we make excuses instead of addressing underlying issues with systems, structures, and school culture?

To really get a handle on these issues, we need to back up and understand the critical components of organization-wide capacity-building:

  • Strategic planning – clear vision and focused priorities
  • Program evaluation – evaluate the quality and impact of programs
  • Develop infrastructure – systems and structures to support learning and change
  • Differentiated training and professional learning opportunities – both short and long term
  • Commitment to significant time and resources – true systemic change and impact takes 3-5 year

Educational leaders also need to reflect on the following issues:

  • Shared leadership and growth opportunities are limited or limited to a small pocket of individuals – we all know the individuals that will do well and take off running with any initiative and that’s who we tap time after time.
  • We continue to build the capacity of the same individuals and then wonder why systemic change hasn’t occurred.
  • Capacity building efforts are focused on “sit and get” training opportunities with little follow-up, coaching, reflection and program evaluation.
  • Capacity building efforts are not differentiated and fail to leverage the power of technology.
  • Clear understanding of the vision and change efforts are not communicated and developed with all stakeholders – every individual in the organization should know and be able to articulate an organizations vision and priorities.
  • Educators, at all levels, have failed to “own the profession” – this is a whole blog post on it’s own!
  • All stakeholders do not view personal and professional learning, reflection, and innovation as the most important dispositions.

While composing the above list, I had an urge to rank order these reasons but found it difficult to name one as more important than another. They’re all essential but there are two in particular that warrant more discussion: shared leadership and growth opportunities for all educators and the prevalence of capacity-building for a limited group of individuals. Until educational organizations ensure that capacity-building for all is essential, even if the “way” in is difficult, true change is not possible.

What’s so worrisome about this situation is that we tend to ignore the teachers who are negative or refuse to change and focus on the individuals who are ready to move forward. This should make all of us cringe because what we’re essentially doing is creating environments that provide highly effective teachers for some children but not all. Just as a teacher needs to do everything possible to help her students flourish, educational leaders need to do everything possible to support the professional growth of all staff members. This is the true moral imperative!

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So what is it that has the potential for such great impact on educators and the educational system? What has the power to inspire, push ones thinking, and make a difference?  What opens up global connections and an opportunity to be a part of the collective voice in education?  The answer is simple, yet highly complex and deep – a virtual PLN or personal learning network.

Every day, I reflect on how lucky I am to be a connected educator and to have stumbled onto this vast network of educators, research, and resources.  My journey started approximately five years ago with a desire to become technologically literate. I immediately turned to the web to start my research.  Of course, there were many informative articles and companies advertising or explaining their products. But the real learning occurred from blogs written by other educators or educational technology specialists.  One blog in particular was the tipping point for the start of my virtual PLN.

Early on in the journey, I routinely visited 2-3 blogs specifically focused on technology integration. I learned and gathered information about many different technology tools and how other educators were using these in classrooms across the US. This gave me a much needed base of information to begin integrating these into the student learning environment. But as I continued to interact and follow more teacher blogs I realized that this environment offered a whole lot more than just “information.”

What I found was a complex educator network or online professional learning community based on the spirit of learning, collaboration, reflection, and a desire to not only better themselves personally but education as a whole. This was not a flat system of information exchange but a deep, complex and dynamic system of professional development and support for educators called a personal learning network (PLN).  Even more surprising was that much of this was occurring via Twitter.

A very basic definition of a PLN is the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information and who contribute to your knowledge and understanding of topics in your field and beyond. This is certainly not a new concept-we all have learning networks. Yet virtual PLNs offer much more because of the opportunity to interact globally and in many cases, real-time. Virtual PLNs are an excellent example of leveraging the power of technology to enrich, extend and globalize learning – with immediate impact on teachers but permanent impact on our students and education.

As you become more involved in the system, you realize the power lies in the relationships and connections, the spirit of give and take, the unyielding support, a desire to contribute to the world-wide voice in education, and daily passion and inspiration.  I can unequivocally say that developing a Twitter PLN has been the most impactful PD I’ve had in 26 years of education and contributed to major areas of growth in my personal, professional and classroom life.

Through a virtual PLN I have the opportunity to network and connect with educators world-wide.  This is a powerful element of a virtual PLN. Historically, education has been and to some extent continues to be a very closed-thinking system and profession.  As we interact in our schools or districts, our thinking, problem-solving, decisions, and change can be very limited.  There’s little opportunity to hear, process, or learn from the perspective of others.  In the virtual world those barriers do not exist. I interact with educators – classroom teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, and education thought-leaders – world-wide on a regular basis.  Thankfully, my understandings, beliefs, and thinking gets challenged, altered, and broadened on a daily basis.

Virtual PLNs offer personalized learning for teachers.  It’s not about pre-planned professional development designed to teach the masses and disseminate information quickly and efficiently.  It’s about ones needs, interests, and passions.  It’s about long-term growth, reflection, and change.  Most importantly- it’s about purpose and inspiration.  The true spirit of an educator is one that both teaches and learns.  A teacher can’t possibly express the joy and opportunities of learning if they are not active learners.  Teachers need to ask the same things of themselves that they ask of their students every day – learn, set goals, accept feedback – positive or negative, take risks, reflect and grow.  A virtual PLN provides all of this and – it’s FREE!

What really made the difference for me personally were the opportunities I had to be inspired, lead, and take risks.  I now maintain a professional blog that gives me an opportunity to share what I’m passionate about and reach educators world-wide (  I attribute this and many other accomplishments to my network.  As a matter of fact, two recent accomplishments have direct correlations to my PLN.  I will be taking on the role of Teacher Technology Integration Consultant. Right now, it’s a part time position but I’m confident that it will blossom into much more and become a critical element of the curriculum department. The position allows me to make impact as a teacher leader and address what I’m passionate about: teacher education, leveraging the power of technology to transform the learning environment, and personalized learning for our students.

The second accomplishment may never have happened without the power of the Twitterverse.  As a matter of fact, a tweet I made was the beginning of the movement to have the first EdcampOU (Oakland University) on October 27, 2012.  Edcamps (or “unconferences”) are a unique participant-driven PD movement sweeping the nation. This model is built on the same thing that fuels a PLN: collaboration, connections, inspiration, and growth. Because of the vast network and system of connectedness, my tweet reached a member of the Oakland University staff and a Lake Orion administrator.  This quickly blossomed into a ripple of excitement and action and led to collaboration between educators in the field, the Oakland University Educational Leadership Department, and the Galileo Leadership Academy.  Within in three weeks of the original tweet, the team assembled and the event was planned. We are thrilled to be moving forward.  We are now looking forward to the 2nd EdcampOU on 10/26/13.  We’ve tripled the attendee list with members of the state Board of Ed attending and participating in a Q and A Forum.

For years, teacher voice and leadership has been absent from critical decisions and change efforts.  Teachers did not necessarily have a professional guild to support them in their growth and development.  Educator PLNs provide both of these opportunities. Many thought-leaders in education, educational organizations, policy-makers, and the US Department of Education are turning to Twitter and virtual interactions as they endeavor to give educator’s voice and transform education. Routinely engaging in dialogue, discussion, and learning via Twitter or other elements of a virtual PLN is giving educators voice and a boost in our professionalism.  This movement has the power to transform education in your corner of the world as well as across the nation.

 Sounds complex, right?  Not really.  All you need to do is take the leap, start making connections, and “growing” your PLN.  It does take commitment and nurturing.  What you get out of it is what you’re willing to put in.  The power of a PLN does not lie in simple consumption of information. True change and transformation will occur when you contribute, reflect and grow, and ultimately lead.

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Are we bold (and brave) enough to educate children of today and the future? Are we REALLY willing to do whatever it takes? Can we push our thinking, let go, and recognize that significant systems and pedagogical shifts are necessary? Can we craft future learning environments that leverage all that technology offers? Why must teachers shift from “content delivery” to “facilitators and coaches”? Why is it critical to develop learning environments built on mass customized learning? Are you a connected, global learner?  How might we shift the educational system so all educators become global, connected learners? How can we create a learning environment where all learners (staff, parents, students, admin)  understand power and engage in continual learning, inquiry, problem-solving, and creation of content? How can an educator who fails to engage in these new learning environments possibly understand how to design and leverage this for their own students?

Do reform efforts and conversations focus on student engagement and ownership of learning? Why must our conversations and change focus on equity as much as excellence? How might we change learning environments so it’s about learning; not education?  Are we willing to take the time to focus on transformation and starting with the why and vision of school? How can we balance and leverage the benefits of “bricks and mortar” with virtual or community learning environments? Why does content delivery continue to be the heavy focus of education when it’s at our students’ fingertips?  Why do we consistently fail to allow student voice and choice in education and conversations about transformation and engagement? Why do teachers assume that engagement (or lack of) soley rests on our students and not the learning environment we create? Why do we continue to ask Googleable questions?

How can we shift the learning environment where students are engaging in deep inquiry and problem solving as the focus; not on simply passing the “test”.  How can we create learning environments where the learner views education as something they create for themselves; rather than something that is delivered to them? Why do educators continue to “ban” access out of “fear and control” instead of teaching our students to critically evaluate the content and become self-directed, organized learners? Why do schools and education refuse to acknowledge and accept that radical systemic, institutional change is necessary?  Why do schools continue to believe that the structure of our current system is preparing students for the “real world”?

These are all questions I ponder as I consider and plan for educational transformation. Hopefully, you’ll see these as powerful starters for conversations and reflections about future learning environments. We routinely start with the what in education – what standards, what tech tool, what text book, what resource, what program – and have very few conversations about the why of education, achievement gaps, shifting roles of teachers, the purpose of school, and most importantly – why we must change.

Although these shift won’t be easy; they are necessary or to coin a popular phrase, “moral imperatives”. Instead of operating from a place of fear, let’s embrace the change. Personally, these conversations and potential for radical shifts in education inspire and excite me. We have an opportunity to do something great, let’s embrace it!

Feel free to add questions and share your thoughts and feedback about this post!


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