Science, UDL, and Lesson Design (Maker Experiment 2)

This post is a revision of the original experiment I posted two weeks ago. The main purpose of this is to add more elements of Universal Design for Learning and to elaborate more on the process used to help students build their own understanding of speed based on experimentation.


This activity will have a larger scope than the immediate physics relationship. Students will work with their biology (and health?) teachers to study human physiological reactions to activity. Things like heart rate, muscle fatigue, breathing patterns, etc can all be studied. Students will be asked to take factors like exercise patterns, sleep habits, and nutrition and evaluate their effect on physical tasks. The bicycle can then be used after a period of experimentation to take new data and draw conclusions.

To address the process of encoding and decoding graphs, I’ll be adding an activity from David Wees, a math teacher who often does experiments with web tools being used to teach through inquiry and games. Not long before I wrote the original experiment, David shared an interactive graphing game that I referenced, but didn’t pay much attention to. The player is asked to move a stickman in such a way that a real-time graph matches a pre-determined line. The graph is labeled and clearly shows the effect of any action in the game. Students can use this to form explanations of the components of graphs and how they relate to one another.

This leads into the bicycle hooked to the Raspberry Pi. The parameters are similar (distance over time) but we’re adding the physical act of pedaling as well as the physics component (speed) as outlined.


I have to admit, this re-write is challenging. The components of UDL all seem to focus on choice, multiple means of acquisition and sharing, and multiple opportunities for learning. Rewriting an activity to include more components of UDL by adding parameters seems to be counterproductive.

That being said, my original plan did not do a whole lot to support the task of reading and creating graphs, and I think the addition of David’s stickman game will address that problem. I also think this was more an exercise in writing clearly than it was about incorporating principles of UDL. My original intent was to have simple prompts with multiple points for experimentation, assessment and revision, and I think that has been maintained (for the most part) in this update. Perhaps the wider picture is something I envision frequently, but communicate rarely.

My teaching has always focused on openness…BYOD, open Internet assessments, open-ended assignments…I think all of these things are supported by the UDL framework and are not things I articulate in new lessons. Science is a story…exploration and experimentation help us navigate that narrative. This entire activity is designed to have students do something they’re familiar with and apply it to a new idea.

Standards and goals for activities are good guides for learning, but too much of a focus on how to get students down that path robs them of authentic opportunities to experiment and defend their ideas. Rather than approaching UDL as a checklist for lesson design, we need to look beyond the components and find ways to promote the ideas they represent. Do we need a specific line in a plan that says, “Students will create an online resource for [fill in the blank]?” Or, should we allow them to come to us with the ideas for sharing and support them in that goal?

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’

Isaac Asimov’s words hit home (thanks David Grossman for sharing!) I would argue that we replace “science” with “learning.” It doesn’t happen by having a section in a lesson plan for “provoking sustaining effort or persistence,” and achieving that mindset takes a serious mental shift for the teacher (and student) to achieve.

All this to say: we need to focus on providing the means to support multiple opportunities for students to learn in their own way. I don’t want to worry about what each student “prefers.” I’d rather be open enough so that each can go his or her own way and be successful.


Graph Game. [Digital]. Retrieved from

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