Brent Lawrence is a tenth grade Earth Science teacher who teaches in Brooklyn. Here, he describes the process of creating a more accessible curriculum for his students through the use of Universal Design for Learning.
Specifically, he shows how the use of infographics and technology created more opportunities for engagement and expression when his students learned about the properties and processes of rocks and minerals.
The Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School (BCAM) is a public institution in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. BCAM serves a student body of approximately 400 students, whose backgrounds are predominately Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latinx. Of those 400 pupils, roughly 20 percent of students are classified as requiring Individual Education Programs (IEPs). Although many have been formally identified as having learning needs, there are those who have flown under the radar in regards to student support services.
BCAM’s unique mission for serving academics through the arts draws students from all five (5) boroughs, which requires many to travel on multiple buses and subways.
In Brent’s Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) Earth Science Regents class has 33 students. Of those students, 11 have an IEP and 4 are English Language Learners (ELLs). Out of 33 students, none of the students can read or compute math on/at grade level. Many of the students are challenged not only with mastery of their grade level standards but to focus and remain on task for the duration of one (1) class period.
Sheri is a very thoughtful, kind student. She is shy and quiet, which results in challenges when participating orally. Sheri works well in groups. She is motivated to do well, but will not complete a task unless she is confident work is done it correctl. She has fears of failure and mistaken understandings. Sheri’s fear leads to an inconsistent grasp of concepts. Strengths include recalling information and understanding sequential connections (with some scaffolding)
When on-task, Kia works well either independently or collaboratively. However, Kia is often disengaged from class, does very little in class and/or does not complete assignments due to lack of self-monitoring as well as frequently visiting school nurse. Whenever assignments call for artistry, Kia is highly motivated to participate when she can draw from her creative talents.
On good days, Latoya is an effective group participant and engages in class. Latoya tends to miss class on a weekly basis causing her to struggle with basic tasks. Although pleasant most days, Latoya appears to be emotional, which affects Latoya’s participation both academically and socially. She has extended mood swings and withdrawals from friends and staff. Latoya attends sessions with the school counselor on a weekly basis.
If this looks like a unit that will be valuable to you, we welcome to download the Curriculum that we'v laid out in a PDF file for you teaching needs.
Throughout this project, student engagement and excitement were exceptionally high. It was the first time students worked consistently, focusing for long stretches of time without typical distractions. It was refreshing to see students working collaboratively throughout the project, teaching one another how to use the various infographic tools and associated websites. It was inspiring to observe students taking the initiative to teach their classmates, rather than relying on teacher guidance or prompting. Once students were engaged in the process, they were able to cover more material than typically covered in a class period. Being more self-sufficient seemed to boost their confidence and deepen their investment in the unit.
As with all Regents courses, time was a challenge. Two weeks is not typically allotted for a project of this nature, especially since much of this content would not be covered on the exam. It was challenging for students to connect their research to the objective of the assignment, rather than the demands of standardized testing.
Participating in the student-centered design professional development helped me understand what actual student-centered lessons and assignments look like in practice. It pushed me to prioritize student engagement in learning over participation, and student-driven lessons over teacher-driven ones. It increased my understanding of how to incorporate content vocabulary into my classroom and how to give students choice in learning the vocabulary. And most importantly, this unit has highlighted the importance of providing opportunities for students to examine and apply science concepts on their own terms.