UDLIn this project, we use principles from Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a flexible approach to teaching defined by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). This approach has had considerable success in teaching the language arts. In this project, we extend these ideas to science, developing technology-rich science curriculum modules for grades 3-6 involving probes, sensors and computational models and centered on learning of energy concepts.

Our goal in this project is to use UDL principles to create practical science materials for students and teachers in inclusive classrooms. We are creating inquiry modules around the theme of energy to address questions such as “Why are there clouds?“ and “What do plants eat?“ Probes and sensors in the curriculum support lab investigations, and computational models allow students to explore virtual environments.

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is the development of graphing software that expresses data and relationships in text and spoken form. The software can recognize patterns that experts see in the graphs and scaffold student investigations into the graphs.

Twenty-five classrooms in Acton, MA, Anchorage, AK, Maryville, MO, and Fresno, CA, have field-tested the materials. A careful research design tested learning gains of this approach and compared them to traditional approaches. We hope the research, modules, and supporting technology will inspire additional development of computer-based UDL science materials.

Principal Investigator

Carolyn Staudt

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What do plants eat? This unit explores plants and how they make food.

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National Science Foundation (NSF) Logo

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. ESI-0628242. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) project completed its fourth and final year at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. During that school year, eleven teachers in two large school districts, serving a large number of students from low-income families, each used two units with their classes. Teachers reported spending an average of three weeks on each unit. Electronic data were collected from nearly 500 students who used the activities. Students’ uses of features such as text-to-speech, glossary, and lab book usage were logged automatically.

The UDL features were widely used. Seventy-three percent of students looked up at least one word in the glossary, with many students looking up 20 or more words per unit. Across all units, 98% of students used text-to-speech at least once. The mean number of uses was 41 times per unit, indicating that students are not just trying out the feature once or twice, but using it extensively. Also, 98% of students accessed the lab book at least once, with a mean of 15 accesses for each unit.

Teachers and students believe that using the UDL features was a useful and positive experience overall. Teachers felt the glossary, models, drawing tools, and the lab book were the most useful features. Students agreed that the glossary, text-to-speech, and coaches were helpful to them. In all these cases it was students reading below grade level who found the features most helpful.

This project demonstrated the value of digital curriculum materials that incorporate a variety of UDL features. These instructional materials were more accessible to low achieving, ESL, and special education students than most materials because the UDL features provide alternative ways for students to access the curriculum. The project succeeded in its goals: to create sufficient materials to test the effectiveness of this approach to implementing UDL, and to provide an exemplar that can inspire additional content and further development.

This project developed four modules to investigate energy concepts with UDL support:

  • Plants
  • Friction
  • Clouds
  • Electricity

Each of these modules are available at a Beginning and Intermediate level. See previews or download and launch these modules in our project portal.

Activity Spotlight



What do plants eat? This unit explores plants and how they make food.

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