Category Archives: UDL

My ten favorite TED/TEDx talks

Holy schlamolies.  It happened.

TEDx logo.I have previously submitted proposals to speak at TEDx events in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Kalamazoo.  Every time, I have been told there was a large volume of great ideas, and my proposal happened not to be selected.

Fifth time was the charm.  My presentation proposal has been accepted for the TEDx Worthington event on Saturday, February 27, 2016.  The event will take place at the McConnell Arts Center at Worthington High School.  The theme for the event is “Resolve”.

As I prepare for this event, I thought I would put together a list of my ten favorite TED/TEDx talks, to remind me of what I like most about the format and give me some pointers on what I can do with my 12-15 minutes.

My ten eleven twelve favorite TED/TEDx talks (in alphabetical order by the speaker’s last name):


Ten Movie Clips Any Teacher Can Relate To

My twitter-colleague Matthew Lynch is a professor, editor of The Edvocate and a blogger for the Huffington Post, Education Week, and Diverse.

He has an exceptionally thought-provoking two-part article about some movies that expressly speak to the situation teachers in America find themselves in.

I have routinely used video clips from movies (and other sources) in the workshops I do with teachers.  Dr. Lynch’s post prodded me to get about the work of putting together my ten favorite movie clips any teacher can relate to.  Each of them gives an example (or maybe a non-example!) of how to structure the learning environment to reach all kids.  In somewhat random order, here they are!

Patch Adams, “The Walkthrough” – If someone, even an administrator, walked past your classroom door at just the right (or wrong?) moment, what would they think about what is going on?  Administrative walkthroughs are quite the rage in some evaluation systems, which I suppose is all well and good.  But whoever is doing the observing needs to know exactly what they are looking for and looking at without jumping to any unwarranted conclusions based on personal preferences or preconceived notions about what constitutes effectiveness.

Miracle, “I wanna see that kid in the net who wouldn’t take the test.” – You know the kid.  He’s good.  He knows he’s good.  You know he’s good.  But he doesn’t always do well.  Sometimes, he doesn’t do anything.  He’s bored.  He’s disengaged.  He might even be smarter than you.  You still have to find a way to reach him.  And you don’t have to crush his spirit to do it.

The Blind Side, “You should get to know your players, Bert.” – Take advantage of their strengths.  That means you have to take the time to get to know them and find out their strengths.  A very real-life example of “if they don’t learn the way I teach, I need to learn to teach the way they learn.”

Remember the Titans, “Attitude reflects leadership, Captain – What teacher wouldn’t love to have a “can-do” team attitude in their classroom?  However, high functioning teams do not just happen.  The process can be difficult, and it requires a level of honesty and trust in interactions that just does not seem to come naturally in traditional expectations for classroom management.

We Are Marshall, “Now, I am going to bet that you didn’t propose over the phone….
Engaging students (and their families!) takes much more than mass communication.  General newsletters, form letters, and announcements are fine, but they do nothing to cultivate a relationship.  Before you need some very special favor, cultivate the relationship that makes it likely for someone to want to do something nice for you.

Mr. Holland’s Opus, “Lou finds the beat –  If you know a teacher who is still confused about what Tier III instruction in a Multi-Tiered System of Support (or “Response to Intervention (RtI)” model is supposed to look like, show them this clip.  Individual, specialized assistance, with the task broken down into successive approximations, within the student’s Zone of Proximal Development, with the end goal of having the student perform the task proficiently alongside their peers.  Simple as banging on a drum.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Anyone? – Informal formative assessment and checking for understanding are all the rage these days.  And well they should be.  They are a great way for a teacher to make sure their instruction is doing what it is supposed to do.  Here’s the key, though… if you aren’t using the data from your formative assessment to actually change the way you teach, it’s absolutely pointless to perform the assessment and collect the data.

We Bought a Zoo, “Twenty seconds of insane courage – What if we gave kids a safe place to try?  What if we gave kids a place where they could see what happens when they come up with twenty seconds of insane courage, with no fear of rejection or ridicule if they get it a little bit wrong?  For far too many of our students, school has taught them that the shame of failure is to be feared far more than the joy of accomplishment is to be pursued.

A Christmas Story, “I want you to write a theme! – Why haven’t there been more statues commemorating students who wrote magnificent themes?  Is it possibly because they never made it further than the teacher’s inbox, then the gradebook, then the wastebasket?  What can you do to get the great work your students do in front of more people?  [Consider something like Project TWIMA (The World Is My Audience)!]

Kindergarten Cop, Fire Drill – Every new teacher dreads their first fire drill.  Every veteran teacher can’t help themselves but look to see how the newbie does.  But seriously, when do you see people walking in neat, straight rows like that when there’s a REAL fire?

Pay It Forward, Your assignment for the school year – change the world. – When did a year-long assignment challenging students to come up with an idea that would change the world for the better become such a pie-in-the-sky fantasy world idea?  If we spend all of our time in the curriculum laboratory coming up with not-real assignments about not-real topics to help kids achieve not-real standards demonstrated on not-real assessments, why should we surprised that kids ask why they should bother spending their time on it?  Do they want to change things?  Great!  Channel that drive, don’t squelch it and then wonder why the kids seem so apathetic these days.  What type of work would be considered “weird”, “crazy”, or “hard” in your classroom?  If it’s worth doing, if it could change the world, why not think of it as “possible” and see what happens?





Some of my favorite people in education work at OCALI (Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence).  Before I ever had a child of my own diagnosed with Autism, my work took me to OCALI on many occasions.  I have always had a great time working with the people there.

OCALICON 2015.Their flagship event every year is the national OCALICON in Columbus, Ohio.  This year, I will have the privilege of being at OCALICON for two presentations:

If you’re at OCALICON this year, say hi!

Tech Tools to Support the Five-Step Writing Process – INFOhio Webinar

INFOhioOn Thursday, November 12, from 3:30-4:30, I presented “Tech Tools to Support the Five-Step Writing Process” via webinar for the fine folks at INFOhio!

Check out a Voki intro of the session!

This webinar will highlight a few free tools you can use to support the Five-Step Writing Process (Pre-write, Write, Revise, Edit, and Publish) for students with diverse needs!

The webinar was recorded, so you can still view it.  And, if you answer five simple true-false questions after viewing the webinar, you can download a certificate and/or get a cool badge like this one!

ECET2 OAC at Salt Fork

Every so often, it is good to have a reminder of why I do what I do.

I had the distinct honor of being invited to participate in the second OAC ECET2 convening.  I love doing presentations for teachers, but I also love the informal opportunities to sit down with educators and talk to them about what is going well and what they struggle with.

Here are my five big takeaways from this year’s ECET2:

  1. The way we teach can be different.  The biggest barrier to change in the way we teach students is not external pressures from standards or tests or evaluation systems.  It’s us.  I always love getting to hear from my friend and colleague Sean Wheeler about what real students are doing for a real world.  His keynote to start the convening was the perfect way to get teachers thinking about what is possible, not about what we can’t control.
  2. The ECET2 style is extremely possible to replicate, and could be used so much more widely to encourage teachers to do awesome things for kids.  Look into it, and think about exploring it for your school if you’re tired of professional development opportunities that don’t meet real needs and never last.  Take a look at “Bringing ECET2 Home” for some resources and tips from the OAC ECET2 organizers!
  3. I want a drone!  At the end of the convening, all of the attendees went out to a hillside for a “group photo”.  The photographer took a couple of standard shots with his camera, but then out came the drone.  After a few flyovers, we were done with photos, and I went up to the operator to ask him about the device.  He was very enthusiastic to tell me about his drone and how well it works, showing me how it connects to his phone to control the drone and store video from the camera.  I want a drone.
  4. Marshmallows, spaghetti, string, and tape are amazingly effective teaching tools.  I ran a “Marshmallow Challenge” during one of the breakout sessions.  I always love doing this and seeing the impact it makes on teachers reflecting on their work.  I love it even more when I see one of my participants on Twitter the next week running the same challenge with a classroom of their students!
  5. There is a big focus on keeping teachers in the classroom as much as possible.  This conference was even scheduled on a Sunday and Monday to help reduce the amount of time the teachers would have to be out of the classroom in order to participate.  I understand the basis for this idea, but sometimes I fear that the philosophy is doing more harm than good.  There is a popular quote misattributed to Abraham Lincoln that says “if I had six hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first four sharpening my axe.”  I want my kids’ teachers to be at their best, with lots of great ideas to try and plenty of enthusiasm for the work.  If that means letting them out of the classroom more often, so be it.  My kids would rather have a great, enthusiastic teacher four days a week than a teacher who goes through the motions every day.

I never know what thing I plan to say will resonate most with my audience.  This one usually gets a lot of nods and smiles, and ECET2 was no exception.  I use it in a lot of my presentations.  It’s true, and it fits so much of the work that I do.  Continue big thanks to my friend Greg Wilson for introducing it to me years ago.

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you donYou never blame the lettuce.‘t blame the lettuce.  You look for reasons it is not doing well.  It may need more fertilizer, or more water, or less sun.  You look for reasons it is not doing well.  You never blame the lettuce.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Reaching all students is an enormous task.  We must never lose our perspective on just how enormous and important a task it is.  It can all seem very overwhelming at times.  But, a few lessons from things like marshmallows, an axe, and lettuce – as well as some time to discuss and reflect with colleagues – can go a long way towards providing the sustaining energy needed to be the awesome influence every kid is looking for.

Read the Storify archive of the #ecet2oh hashtag during OAC ECET2!

Living Next-Door to a Digitally Connected World

I live in what must, by any reasonable definition, be termed a “rural” part of Ohio, at the edge of what is considered the Ohio Appalachian Region.  I also live in the smallest (by enrollment) and largest (by square miles) public school district in the county.  Education today is as dependent upon reliable high-speed Internet as it is dependent upon water and electricity.

So, how many public wi-fi hotspots are there within the boundaries of this district?


Additionally, there are many residences within the district (mine included) with no land-based high-speed Internet option.  At home, we rely on smartphones as our connection to the Internet – via a direct cellular connection, or using the smartphone as a “hotspot” to connect a laptop.  Our only other option is satellite-based service, which currently runs in the neighborhood of $70 per month before taxes, fees, equipment, and installation.  This is simply unaffordable for many, especially in a district with two-thirds of elementary students and half of junior high and high school students qualifying for the free or reduced-priced lunch program.

So, how does the Internet Improve my daily life?

Or perhaps the better first question to ask is, does the Internet improve my daily life?

The answer to the second question is a resounding YES, despite the seeming lack of access – and here are some important reasons why.

  • Living where I do means a trip to a shopping mall or department store is a serious time investment – at least 45 minutes one way.  Being able to research and purchase goods online and have them delivered to our door is an incredible time-saver.
  • My wife and I both work full time.  Communicating real-time with our children’s teachers is not always an easy task.  The Internet helps us keep in touch asynchronously, sending messages when we are able, and keeping up with information via the school website and social media.
  • A trip to the bank is not always convenient.  Being able to manage finances from the device already in our hands is another great time-saver.

In our rural, sparsely-populated part of the world, one might think that the lack of options for connectivity would make the Internet less of a benefit for us.  On the contrary, we find it to be an indispensable tool in leveling the playing field for us with nearby communities with abundant resources.  For some, having high-speed Internet in their homes makes some activities of daily life more convenient.  For us, the smartphone helps make some activities of daily life possible.

Connect Ohio, a subsidiary of Connected Nation and non-profit in Ohio, is working to bring the benefits of universal broadband to Ohio, ultimately changing lives through technology. It is leading the effort to increase high-speed Internet access, adoption, and use to diversify the economy and ensure Ohio’s competitiveness in the connected global economy of the twenty-first century. For more information on how Connect Ohio is working to improve communities and lives across Ohio visit

To learn more about how the Internet improves daily lives follow @ConnectOH and #ConnectingOH on Twitter and Facebook.

Return to ECET2!

In October of 2014, I had the unique opportunity and distinct privilege of presenting my “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” workshop as a breakout session at the Ohio Appalachian Collaborative ECET2 Conference.  I reflected on the event in an earlier blog post.  The organizers also put together a great video describing the event.

I am honored to announce that the organizers of this year’s OAC ECET2 have contacted me about attending and presenting at this year’s event!

I will again be presenting my “Five Rules of Design Thinking to Reach All Students” breakout session.  I have not seen the final schedule yet, but I believe I will be presenting it once on Sunday and then again on Monday.  I love doing presentations like this, and I love being with educators and hearing them talk about their successes and their struggles.

Also this year, I have the privilege of hosting a Design Challenge, which will probably take place on Monday morning.  That reminds me, I need to add marshmallows to my grocery list….

Web Accessibility and Online/Blended Learning Environments

The emerging field of online/blended learning environments holds great promise for students with a wide variety of challenges.  However, the mere fact of a course being all or partly online does not automatically give many students more of a chance of being successful.

In short, the field needs much more attention to furrowing and fertilizing than has yet been afforded it.  Students who would have done exemplary work in a traditional classroom setting doing exemplary work in an online/blended setting is no evidence that the online/blended setting holds any special value at all.

Tonight, I have the opportunity to speak with an online class about Universal Design for Learning from the particular perspective of providing flexible, engaging learning environments and experiences in the online/blended learning model.

If I were the sort who could crank out a few thousand words a week, this could be my next book.

I have a google doc of the resources that I am using.  It will continually evolve.  You are welcome to look, use, and comment.

Writing Tools Workshop

During my Tech Tools to Support the Five-Step Writing Process workshop in Piketon, OH, last Friday (5/1/15), groups used Rory’s Story Cybes to write “Somebody… – Wanted… – But… – So…” stories today.  Here are the two brave souls who agreed to record their stories!

Story #1

Story #2

The Five-Step Writing Process CAN be done quickly!  And combining the picture manipulatives with the “Somebody… Wanted… But… So…” formula helps writers construct a fun story in just a few minutes!

Thanks to everyone who made this workshop so much fun!

Intro to AT for Paraprofessionals

Last night, I had the distinct pleasure of presenting to a small group of individuals who serve as paraprofessionals in my region.  They are part of a grant program between the University of Dayton and Southern State Community College.  As part of their participation in this federal grant program, the paraprofessionals receive paid tuition toward achieving an Associate of Applied Science Degree.

I was invited to speak to this group to give them a quick introduction to the field of Assistive Technology.  Because the participants are already working in schools, they brought a good range of field experience with various assistive technologies with them.

My slides are available at

Key points that were made:

  1. Presumed Competence.  Effective implementation of assistive technology begins with a belief that the student is capable of achieving typical academic goals.
  2. Universal Design.  Even the best technology cannot make up for deficits in poorly designed curriculum materials.
  3. Cost and Implementation.  Assistive Technology does not have to be expensive, but it must be used frequently and well-supported to be effective.

Also, they loved Plickers!