How Does Knowledge Advance Equity?
Every child is curious. Every child has a wild imagination. Every child would love to grow up to do great things. And that’s why we know that every child is capable of greatness. It’s the belief that drove our founder to create Great Minds®. And it’s the mission of every Great Minds employee to help teachers reach every student to unlock that greatness.
Nowhere is inequity more pronounced than in our education system, leaving many students without the opportunity to reach their potential.
It’s time to fix it. Not for the next generation, but for this one. Not just for some students, but for all students.
To do our part, we at Great Minds are hellbent on empowering young learners with one of the most equalizing forces out there: knowledge. We won’t stop until every single teacher and student has the high-quality knowledge-building materials they need to achieve greatness.
Knowledge is the key, and with it, every child can unlock greatness.
The work begins by recognizing that far too many curricula are designed around a presumption of how the average student learns. But there is no average student. Every student has unique learning needs, and when a curriculum doesn’t recognize this learner variability, it locks many students out of the opportunity to build knowledge.
How Do All Students Benefit from UDL?
By incorporating the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression into a curriculum, we take the first step in unlocking every student’s potential by giving every student the opportunity to build knowledge. The principles for UDL detail specific approaches to support students who might need learning accommodations. A curriculum that incorporates the UDL approach to teaching provides all students with an opportunity to succeed by proactively removing learning barriers.
Let’s look outside the classroom for an example of the benefits of UDL in your own world. Say you’re in a crowded restaurant or an airport with a television, and the background noise is too loud for you to hear the audio. With a clear view of the television, you can keep up with the program by reading the closed-captions. Closed-captioning wasn’t created for this purpose—it was designed to make television content accessible to viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. But the accommodation that closed-captioning offers them can help other viewers as well.
The three principles of UDL provide the same access to learning that closed-captioning provides to television viewing. The access is necessary for some learners; for others it’s another entry point that may work best for them in a specific context.
While the first word in UDL is universal, it’s important to note that the approach is anything but one size fits all. The goal is to create a flexible learning environment that meets varying learning needs. So how does an educator approach teaching with the UDL principles in mind?
The first step is to clarify the goal of the lesson and then to consider what barriers might prevent students from achieving it. Instead of planning a lesson and then adapting it as individual students need support, lessons are designed anticipating learner variability from the outset. That advance work shifts the learning environment from one focused on whole-class instruction to one that is flexible and adjusts to meet every student’s needs.
The three main principles of UDL are Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression. How can a curriculum support the integration of these principles into everyday learning?
What Are the Three Main Principles of UDL?
The Engagement principle for UDL is centered on looking for ways to motivate and engage learners by providing them with choices, giving them assignments relevant to their lives, making skill building feel like a game, and creating opportunities for learners to get up and move around.
A Great Minds classroom looks and sounds different than other classrooms. Our curricula are designed to engage students by connecting content to the real world. In Eureka Math2 that means giving students both voice and choice in how they approach solving a problem that they may face in the real world—like evenly splitting dessert treats among friends. By introducing models to students as early as Kindergarten and then consistently using those models across modules and grade levels, the curriculum provides students with a toolset and then gives them the opportunity to decide which tool works best in any given situation.
PhD Science uses authentic phenomena to teach core science concepts so students can make sense of the world around them. Through the authentic phenomenon, students will make sense of core science concepts. For example, a student in Grade 3 will build a foundational understanding of both weather and climate by exploring the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. By focusing on an authentic occurrence, we can engage students not only in the hands-on investigations they will conduct with their lab groups as they learn the science of weather and climate, but they also have a chance to engage in the topic as a part of history by exploring imagery of the city before and after the event. And in every PhD Science module, students will connect this anchor phenomenon to phenomena they experience in their own lives. For instance, a student who hasn’t experienced a hurricane firsthand may nevertheless connect the topic to a time when heavy rains in their town flooded neighborhoods, and they can then view that phenomenon through the lens of the new knowledge they’ve acquired about weather.
A traditional English language arts (ELA) lesson brings to mind the image of a student reading quietly at their desk and then reflecting on the reading and writing about it in a journal passage. But Wit & Wisdom shows us that ELA allows just as much opportunity for interaction and movement as any other subject. Instructional routines such as Think–Pair–Share provide students with the opportunity to partner in small groups to share their thinking on a passage or even a work of art. And through routines such as Grammar Safari and Literary Dominoes, Wit & Wisdom students learn that moving around the classroom to share their thinking and participate in activities is a natural part of the learning process.
The Representation principle for UDL is designed to guide educators to offer information in multiple formats, including video and audio, and through hands-on learning.
Great Minds curricula are intentionally crafted to give all students an access point to the material, representing the content in a variety of formats beyond just the written word. Grade 2 students may listen to audio from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Grade 3 students will discuss what they notice and wonder as they encounter the ocean through poetry and art such as Sara Teasdale’s “The Sea Wind,” Katsushika Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Mary Cassatt’s The Boating Party, and Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream.
All Great Minds curricula integrate art because fine art allows students to see the material in a new context and provides an additional access point into the material.
Eureka Math2, PhD Science, and Wit & Wisdom students are exposed to dozens of pieces of fine art by classical and contemporary artists.
Eureka Math2 students watch and discuss context videos from Kindergarten through Algebra 1. These videos include a real-life situation where the main character uses their knowledge of math. None of the videos have spoken words, but some do feature words on the screen to provide math context and make the content accessible to multilingual learners. The videos focus on the real-life application of math with the goal of encouraging student discourse on everything from how to split a check to calculating interest. This discourse helps young learners master key math concepts.
Context videos help students see math in the real world, and are accessible to all students, including multilingual learners.
Similarly, to reduce barriers to access math content, written materials were designed in Grades K–2 with readability as a primary focus.
In recent years, science education has shifted to focus on hands-on learning, which is integral to our PhD Science curriculum. But hands-on learning also has a role to play in Eureka Math2. Manipulatives help students interact with math in a concrete way, and a critical aspect of the instructional design includes using a concrete–pictorial–abstract (or symbolic) progression to support deep learning.
PhD Science was crafted to move students from reading about science to doing science. Students actively engage in a learning cycle of asking questions and sharing initial ideas about phenomena they study, investigating those questions, developing evidence-based explanations, and transferring their new knowledge to explain new phenomena. Students learn through hands-on engagement with the phenomena they investigate. Instead of having students simply memorize the definitions of science terms, we use a Concept Before Terminology approach to help students experience the phenomenon so they can build enduring knowledge by experiencing the phenomenon before they apply a scientific term to it. Every module culminates in a Science or Engineering Challenge where students work with a lab group over several days, applying their learning to troubleshoot a real-life problem such as how to use household items to build a generator and produce electricity after a storm.
Action and Expression
The Action and Expression UDL principle supports giving learners more than one way to interact with the material and to show what they know.
Every lesson in a Great Minds curriculum includes assessments to help teachers identify and address misconceptions, scaffold the learning, and differentiate to provide students with opportunities to further explore a topic. Both Wit & Wisdom and PhD Science use Checks for Understanding for formative assessment at the end of every lesson. These assessments are typically check-ins where the teacher will ask students to explain their thinking and the decisions they made in the lesson. By taking this approach, teachers provide regular feedback on students’ developing knowledge and skills. This insight on students’ progress contributes to their growing success with the module content.
Traditional science curricula may simply arrange for students to read about scientists and their discoveries. And even if lesson do include hands-on investigations, often the only way students communicate their learning is through lab reports. Instructional routines built into PhD Science offer students multiple means to demonstrate their knowledge. Whether it’s through Think–Pair–Share discussions or discoveries with a peer or the classroom activity of drawing an anchor model that they revisit and revise to reflect new knowledge, students have opportunities to share what they know throughout every module.
Eureka Math2 classrooms are not meant to be quiet math labs. In the lower grades, students may participate in fluency activities that incorporate playing cards or dice or math manipulatives and involve students working in groups to put in practice the knowledge they are building. And just as there is consistency to the math models they use across the curricula, Eureka Math2 students are consistently encouraged to use the Read–Draw–Write approach when tackling word problems at any grade level. Through this instructional approach, students read a word problem, and then they read it again—and again, if needed. From there they draw a model that helps them represent the information given. They use their conceptual understanding skills to decide which model best represents the information from the word problem. Finally, they reread the problem and use the information they have modeled to solve it.
Why is UDL a Critical Component of High-Quality Curriculum?
A curriculum shouldn’t claim it is high quality if it doesn’t meet the needs of all learners. A classroom using curricula based on UDL principles will look and sound very different from a traditional classroom. In classrooms using Great Minds curricula, the teacher facilitates the learning, but students own it. Giving up that control of the flow of a lesson as the lecturer in front of the class can be scary, but the payoff is that students learn how to take control in a supportive setting. And rigorous curricula provide students with opportunities for productive struggle that forge a resilient mindset that prepares them for the challenges they’ll face outside the classroom.
At Great Minds, we believe that knowledge-building curricula unlock the greatness in every student. We honor students’ curiosity with opportunities for them to make sense of the world around them and to build knowledge through rich content that is designed to meet every learner’s needs.
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Great Minds PBC is a public benefit corporation and a subsidiary of Great Minds, a nonprofit organization. A group of education leaders founded Great Minds® in 2007 to advocate for a more content-rich, comprehensive education for all children. In pursuit of that mission, Great Minds brings together teachers and scholars to create exemplary instructional materials that provide joyful rigor to learning, spark and reward curiosity, and impart knowledge with equal parts delight.