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Differentiating for Diversity: Using Universal Design for Learning in Computer Science Education

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As computer science moves from an outreach activity to a normal classroom activity in the multi-subject, mainstream elementary school classroom, curricula need to be examined to ensure they are meeting the needs of diverse students. In this paper, we present how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was used to develop and refine a programming environment and curriculum for upper-elementary school classrooms (students aged 9-12). We then present our accommodations and modifications to emphasize the ways our development environment and/or curriculum enabled such uses. Ensuring introductory computer science experiences are equitable and accessible for a wide range of student learners may broaden the diversity of individuals who perceive themselves as capable of pursuing computer science in the future.
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Differentiating for Diversity: Using Universal Design for
Learning in Computer Science Education
Alexandria K. Hansen1, Eric R. Hansen2, Hilary A. Dwyer1, Danielle B. Harlow1, Diana Franklin3
1Department of Education 2Hope Elementary School 3Center for Elementary Math
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education 3970 La Colina Road and Science Education
UC Santa Barbara Santa Barbara, CA 93110 University of Chicago
Santa Barbara, CA 93106- 9490 eric.robert.hansen@gmail.com 1100 E. 58th Street
{akillian, hdwyer, dharlow} Chicago, IL 60637
@education.ucsb.edu dmfranklin@uchicago.edu
ABSTRACT
As computer science moves from an outreach activity to a normal
classroom activity in the multi-subject, mainstream elementary
school classroom, curricula need to be examined to ensure they
are meeting the needs of diverse students. In this paper, we
present how Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was used to
develop and refine a programming environment and curriculum
for upper-elementary school classrooms (students aged 9-12). We
then present our accommodations and modifications to emphasize
the ways our development environment and/or curriculum enabled
such uses. Ensuring introductory computer science experiences
are equitable and accessible for a wide range of student learners
may broaden the diversity of individuals who perceive themselves
as capable of pursuing computer science in the future.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
K.3.2 [Computing Milieu]: Computer and Information Science
Educationcomputer science education, curriculum.
General Terms
Design, Human Factors, Languages, Theory.
Keywords Computer science education; graphical
programming; differentiation; culturally responsive pedagogy;
elementary school
1. INTRODUCTION
There has been a recent push to include more computer science
(CS) and programming in schools. Over 4.5 million 4th-6th grade
students participated in the 2014 Hour of Code, hosted by
Code.org [1]. Other programming platforms have recently been
developed, increasing the available opportunities that young
students have to program (e.g., Scratch, Alice, Blockly, Tinker,
etc.). Although this early exposure creates awareness and interest
in CS, more attention needs to focus on attending to student
learning differences and ensuring that instruction is accessible to a
wide range of student learners.
It is widely acknowledged that individuals in the field of computer
science are not equally representative of the diverse, larger
population. In the United States, for example, women comprise
only 18% of CS undergraduates. Additionally, only 7% of CS
undergraduates are Hispanic (compared to 17% of the
population), and less than 5% are Black or African American
(compared to 13% of the population) [2]. Similar trends are
observed in U.S. high school enrollment for the Advanced
Placement CS Exam [3].
There have been some focused efforts to attract underrepresented
minority students through content in CS, such as the Multimedia
approach [5] and by discouraging faculty from using sports-heavy
examples. However, most of these approaches occur at the
undergraduate level, despite research indicating that students’
academic interests before high school are largely predictive of
their future career choices [4]. To diversify the workforce and
diversify the population of individuals familiar with computer
science, efforts are needed to focus on earlier exposure to CS for a
wider range of individuals.
CS has typically been offered in schools as an elective and there
appears to be limited attention focused on adjusting the
curriculum to fit the needs of diverse students of varying skill
levels. However, as CS is more frequently integrated into the
school day, schools and teachers need resources for meeting the
needs of all students, providing equitable opportunities to
participate and experience success in CS at an earlier age.
We are an interdisciplinary team of educational researchers and
computer scientists who developed and tested a CS curriculum
and programming environment for upper elementary school
students (aged 9-12). From the onset, we selected programming
task examples and content to be gender-neutral and appropriate
for the ethnic and linguistic populations we worked with, which
included a large number of native Spanish speaking children. As
we tested and iteratively revised our curriculum, we recognized
the need to further adjust our curriculum to meet our students at
their current cognitive, language, and mathematical levels. We
leveraged the research and recommendations on differentiated
instruction and universal design for learning. Here we describe
how this helped us move toward a curriculum and interface design
that supported the needs of diverse students studying computer
science.
2. RELATED WORKS
2.1 Differentiated Instruction
Differentiation is “a process to approach teaching and learning for
students of differing abilities in the same class. The intent of
differentiating instruction is to maximize each student’s growth
and individual success by meeting each student where he or she is,
and assisting the learning process” [6]. Tomlinson [7] describes
differentiation as “the efforts of teachers to respond to variance
among learners in the classroom.” Differentiation is necessary for
students of varied abilities in a classroom. Varied abilities may
result from many factors such as students with diagnosed learning
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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2839509.2844570
376
disability (e.g. dyslexia), students with conditions such as autism
or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), students
learning English as a second language, students who are
considered gifted, or students who lack sufficient support at home.
Differentiation in computer science must also attend to differences
in access to technology at home.
The concept of differentiated instruction comes from research
traditions in special education and the learning sciences [8].
Recently, there has been a greater push to include more students
needing special education services in the general education
classroom; this is called inclusion [9]. This also ensures students
are in the least restrictive environment (LRE), a legal mandate
from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [10]. Now,
more general education teachers are required to differentiate their
instruction in order to meet the needs of a diverse student
population.
While research traditions in special education and the learning
sciences often focus on cognitive aspects of learning, other
research has considered issues of culture and diversity and their
effects on learning. Heath’s seminal work [11] investigated
different home communication patterns among families of varying
cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses. She found that
schools most often replicate communication patterns found in
middle class, European American/White households, while
ignoring potentially beneficial aspects of communication in other
types of families. Additionally, students from different cultural
backgrounds were often unprepared for the types of questions and
interactions found in the traditional, U.S. classroom. This work
led to investigations around how schools can better serve students
of varying cultural backgrounds, with Ladson-Billings
popularizing the theory of culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP)
as a promising solution [12].
CRP is now a common technique used to meet the needs of
students from traditionally underrepresented minorities, and is
emphasized in many teacher education programs nationwide. CRP
is described as, an approach to teaching that incorporates
attributes, characteristics, or knowledge from students’ cultural
background into the instructional strategies and course content in
an effort to improve educational outcomes[13]. At the core of
CRP is the belief that all students are capable of excelling
academically, regardless of their culture, language, socioeconomic
status, or family background. It is a mindset that considers the
culture of students as transformative and empowering in the
classroom, not as a deficit to be overcome through schooling.
CRP is also related to Moll’s Funds of Knowledge theory [14], the
idea that “historically accumulated and culturally developed
bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or
individual functioning and well-being” are useful. For example,
residents of an agricultural community might have funds of
knowledge that include information about ranching, farming,
crops or soil irrigation. This information learned informally at
home is beneficial to draw upon in the classroom setting. In the
field of education, it is widely accepted that students learn best
when the content connects to, and builds from, their previous
experience [15]. It then follows that culturally responsive
pedagogy should make use of students’ funds of knowledge. To
do so, teachers and curriculum developers need to be cognizant of
their students’ rich culturally based funds of knowledge.
More recently, Santamaria [8] proposed a new framework for
meeting the varied needs of students who have been historically
unsuccessful in the general education classroom setting
Culturally Responsive Differentiated Instruction (CRDI). CRDI
combines differentiated instruction and culturally responsive
pedagogy. The hybrid model speaks to best teaching practices,
which “consider all learners in a classroom setting and pay close
attention to differences inherent to academic, cultural, linguistic,
and socioeconomic diversity” [8]. Ultimately, teachers must get to
know their students on a personal level, continually making
adjustments to the classroom, curriculum, and instruction to
ensure that all students are capable of achieving academically.
2.2 Universal Design for Learning
At the core of differentiated instruction is the concept of universal
design for learning (UDL). UDL is a framework that teachers can
use to create an inclusive classroom. It highlights the need to
design features of instruction that are essential for some students,
beneficial to others, and not detrimental to any. UDL
emphasizes the importance of flexible instruction (presented in a
variety of formats) to meet the needs of diverse learners, reducing
possible barriers to learning, and maintaining high achievement
expectations for all students [16]. An example of UDL for non-
native English speakers is to provide increased visuals for new
vocabulary words. Providing additional visuals is necessary for
students learning English, is beneficial for other students (such as
students with audio-processing disorders, or visual learners), and
is not detrimental to any student. All teachers should design
instruction to fit within the UDL framework.
2.2.1 Accommodations and Modifications
Even with UDL, some students are outside of the range of
variation supported by the curriculum. There are two categories of
changes that teachers can make to differentiate instructions for
individual students: 1) Accommodations and 2) Modifications.
Accommodations allow students to “complete the same
assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the
timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or
presentation” [17]. Accommodations do not significantly alter the
content that a student learns, or what an assessment measures;
rather they allow the student to access the content or assessment
in another way. Examples of accommodations include a student
who is blind taking an assessment in Braille, or a student who has
ADHD working in a quiet space to limit distractions. In both
cases, the content or assessment is unchanged, but
accommodations are provided, allowing the student to access the
general education curriculum.
In contrast, modifications involve an “adjustment to an
assignment or a test that changes the standard or what the test or
assignment is supposed to measure” [17]. By changing the
standard that a student is expected to meet, modifications allow
struggling students to experience success in the classroom.
Modifications are often used for students with more severe
learning disabilities, but they can be helpful for many types of
students. Examples of modifications include shortening an
assignment, or requiring the student to complete one section of a
larger assignment, focusing on mastery of key concepts. Other
examples of modifications include using recognition tests (fill-in-
the blank, matching, true-false) as opposed to longer, written
responses, and letting a student re-submit an assignment or
assessment to receive a higher score. Modifications are also used
to provide additional challenge on assignments for gifted students.
During the iterative curriculum development process, we
identified student struggles in the classroom and how these related
to the design of our curriculum and programming environment.
These led to changes in the curriculum and classroom instruction.
In this paper, we report on changes directly related to
377
differentiation and culturally responsive pedagogy to illustrate
how these concepts play an important role in computer science
education.
3. METHODS
3.1 The Study
As part of a larger NSF-funded project, we had two primary goals:
1) to design a curriculum to teach basic programming and
computational thinking to 4th-6th grade students (aged 9-12), and
2) to develop and test a learning progression for computational
thinking at the upper elementary school level. Here, we report on
findings related to concepts necessary to program a digital story in
our block-based programming environment, a modified version of
Scratch [18]. For more information on our changes to Scratch, see
[19]. Targeted concepts in the curriculum included sequential
execution, event-based programming, initialization, message
passing, costume changes, and scene changes.
3.2 Research Design
We used design-based research methodology [20] to iteratively
inform the development of our curriculum, programming
environment, and research [21]. This systematic and flexible
approach involves researchers and practitioners collaborating in
real-world settings with the aim of improving educational
practices. Changes to the curriculum and programming
environment were made over time in response to what was
learned about student learning.
In the 2013-2014 school year, we tested our curriculum and
programming environment in fifteen classrooms from five
different California schools, with approximately 400 participating
students (aged 9-12). Schools included local schools (within 50
miles of the university) and distant schools. Participating schools
ranged from 2%-82% designated English language learners, and
4%-100% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch (a
proxy for socioeconomic status). Schools generally had equal
numbers of female and male students. Some schools had a
designated computer teacher lead lessons during computer lab
time. Other schools had general education classroom teachers lead
lessons, some during computer lab time, and others during normal
class time. We tested our curriculum again during the 2014-2015
school year with 1,500 students. We had a similar number of local
schools participating, but increased the amount of distant schools.
In local schools, graduate student researchers (GSRs) attended
each classroom meeting and recorded detailed field notes about
student learning. Depending upon the comfort level of the teacher,
GSRs sometimes assisted in teaching lessons or reviewing
content. In addition, GSRs collected video recordings of each
class meeting, audio recordings of students asking questions, and
interviews with teachers and students. We also collected final
student projects, and automated snapshots of projects to show the
development process over time. After each class period, GSRs
wrote analytical memos [22] that were shared with the research
group. In distant schools, we only collected student work.
3.3 Data Analysis
Our research team met weekly to discuss observations and
reflections from the previous week. These discussions often
revolved around analytical memos. Frequently, analytical memos
captured incidents that deviated from what was expected to occur
in the classroom, and served as a consideration for possible
change, in alignment with design-based research methodology.
In cases where students struggled or did not meet the pre-
identified learning goals, we realized that we, as developers, or
the classroom teacher, had unintentionally hindered student
learning, or failed to provide an additional support that would
have made the content more accessible. Over time, these cases
became “rich points” [23] that prompted serious consideration of
how we were (or were not) differentiating instruction. In this
paper, we report on rich points that prompted a significant change
to the classroom-learning environment. In the following section,
we share how we identified each rich point and what changes
were made to ensure our curriculum and programming
environment fit within the UDL framework. We separate changes
into three categories: 1) UDL changes made to the programming
environment or curriculum, 2) Accommodations, and 3)
Modifications made by the classroom teacher or GSRs.
4. FINDINGS
4.1 Universal Design for Learning Changes
In this section, we report on changes made to the curriculum
and/or programming environment. This differentiation fits within
the UDL frameworkchanges that were necessary for some
students, beneficial for others, and not detrimental to any.
4.1.1 Designing for English Proficiency
Upon entering schools, we quickly learned that we needed to
differentiate further for students with limited English proficiency.
Ultimately, we determined that we would make changes to
address English proficiency for all students as these changes
would benefit some and not be detrimental to any students’
learning of computer science. The following excerpt depicts a
realization that our student population greatly struggled with
reading English.
12/1/2013: Analytical Memo from GSR
Many students would call me [the researcher] over and ask what to
do, as opposed to reading the instructions themselves. I would then
direct them to reading the instructions aloud, which often resulted in
sighs…My overall impression is that reading is hard for these
students, and, as a result, they tend to avoid it if at all possible.
More classroom observations and conversations with teachers
confirmed that some students struggled more than others to read
and understand English.
2/19/2014: Analytical Memo from GSR
[The teacher] said that there were some special education students in
the class, and I could tell that a couple of students weren't that
comfortable with English - I saw at least one student write part of his
in Spanish.
Specific instances with students also revealed that the language
we selected for instructions and programming commands were not
always accessible.
11/17/2014 & 12/1/14: Analytical Memos from GSRs
The largest confusion that I noticed was around the motion blocks.
Many students did not connect the word "glide" to move/walk.
It took most students multiple attempts at reading the blocks to
pinpoint the differences. One student kept reading, "grilled" instead
of "glide."
Students continued to ignore our written instructions, hints, and
feedback, as well as the accompanying worksheets. This caused
us to reconsider what text we wanted students to read, and why.
The resulting conversations led to several UDL changes that made
our curriculum and programming environment more accessible.
378
First, we eliminated student worksheets, at the request of teachers
who felt students largely ignored them. We then embedded more
text in the interface, and greatly reduced the difficulty of reading
required. Instructions were simplified, and key words were
underlined or bolded. This works was done by GSRs with
teaching experience, and reviewed by a special education teacher.
Next, we decided to add an audio read back function, allowing
students to have instructions read aloud via headphones. We are
currently in the process of implementing this change, but feel it
will greatly reduce the amount of required reading, allowing
students to focus on mastery of CS concepts.
4.1.2 Designing for Math Proficiency
Similar to English, students had varying mathematical skill levels.
Additionally, some of the math content embedded in our initial
curriculum was above a fourth-grade level (students aged 8-9),
particularly the following concepts: 1) x/y coordinate plane
system, 2) negative numbers, and 3) decimals and percentages.
For a full report on our investigation of these mathematical
concepts within our curriculum, see [19]. Here, we focus on the
concept of the x/y coordinate plane system, and the UDL changes
made to ensure this content was accessible to more students.
We noticed that students were unfamiliar with the x/y coordinate
plane system when we asked them to use the “Go to X: Y: ”
block. To use this block successfully, students had to recognize
there was an x/y coordinate plane system embedded in the
program’s stage, and understand how to plot x/y coordinates.
Teachers attempted to accommodate while teaching this lesson-
one used the metaphor of an address to represent a coordinate,
another projected an image of a coordinate plane system but the
students had not learned this content before. To address this need,
a change to the programming environment was required.
We did not want to remove the coordinate plane system because
identifying a location is essential for some CS concepts.
Removing the x/y coordinate plane system would require
removing these key concepts from the curriculum, and may be
detrimental to the students learning of CS in the future. As a
result, we modified the programming environment without
removing the coordinate plane system entirely, allowing more
students to access the content.
First, we removed negative numbers from within the coordinate
system. To do this, we placed the origin (0, 0) at the bottom left
corner as opposed to in the center. Next, we added a “grid button”
that students could use to display grid lines for counting purposes
on the coordinate plane system (see Figure 1). This change
provided additional help for students who needed it, but also
allowed us to keep the coordinate plane system within our
programming environment.
4.1.3 Designing for Culture
Before designing our curriculum, we conducted interviews with
local students to understand how they related computer science
concepts to their everyday lives. During these interviews, we were
cognizant of students’ cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and how
they interacted with our activities.
For example, when discussing the concept of sequencing in CS,
making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (and the order of steps
therein) is the traditional example used. However, when
conducting initial student interviews, we realized that our local
students did not eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches often. This
prompted us to ask what types of food they do eat for lunch. A
common response that also had a simple set of steps was a
quesadilla. This insight caused us to change our initial lesson idea
from using a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to a quesadilla. In
these interviews we also learned that piñatas were an important
part of celebrations, which caused us to include an initialization
activity that required students to put the candy into the piñata to
correctly initialize the program.
Despite attempting to align our curriculum to our students’ culture
ahead of time, we still identified instances where we failed to do
so. One example is captured in the observation below.
1/9/2015: Analytical Memo from GSR
Students were confused by the words "tortoise" and "hare". [The
teacher] and I told students they could substitute the words turtle and
rabbit, if they felt more comfortable. I don't think that many students
were familiar with the story "The Tortoise and the Hare."
In a lesson that included the classic story of the tortoise and the
hare, we realized we had unintentionally created a barrier to
learning by relying on what we assumed was a familiar story. In
fact, many students in our classes were not familiar with this
story. In other words, we assumed a different fund of knowledge
than what the students actually had. This caused them to focus on
the words “tortoise” and “hare” as opposed to learning the CS
skills in our lesson. As a simple fix, we removed the words
“tortoise” and “hare,” from our example, and provided an
overview of the story beforehand. This fix was necessary for
some, beneficial to all, and not detrimental to any student.
Another more extreme example emerged when students were
working to complete their final project- programming a digital
story. Students were allowed to select any topic for their story, but
many decided to program stories about friends, family, and
themselves. One girl recognized that few of the character sprites
possessed physical attributes like her, and reported to her teacher,
“Nobody looks like me.” This was also captured in the following
observation.
3/3/2015: Analytical Memo from GSR
I was working with one girl who is usually hesitant to engage in
programming. On her storyboard, she had drawn herself having a
conversation with [a friend]. But, she couldn't find any sprites that
looked like her or [her friend] (i.e. darker skin, darker eyes).
While we had included sprites of varying ethnicities in the
programming tasks, we had failed to include these same sprites in
the blank templates students used to create their digital stories.
What was an unintentional oversight on our part resulted in one
student receiving the message that she could not program a story
about herself or friends. We added sprites of varying ethnic
backgrounds to the available library for blank projects, ensuring
that any student who participated in our curriculum could find a
sprite that looked like him or herself.
Figure 1. Programming stage with coordinate plane and grid lines.
379
4.1.4 Designing for Pace
Another differentiation opportunity emerged in one classroom
where we noticed that students completed their work at varied
speeds. What took one student five minutes to complete
sometimes took another student an hour. This observation (and
suggestion for change) was captured in the following excerpt:
12/20/13: Analytical Memo from GSR
I saw students who quickly finished the activity and then sat for
extended periods of time without another task. [We] advised these
students to change colors and sizes of sprites, but I think this time
could be more valuably spent. I would consider adding a challenge
assignment for students who have mastered [the lesson] early.
This led our research team to add another feature to our
programming environmentthe Sandbox. This new feature opens
a blank project for students, and provides all available blocks.
Previously, blocks were slowly introduced in lessons as students
learned new skills. The Sandbox provided an area for students
who finished their work early to play, practice, and experiment.
4.1.5 Taking a Multimodal Approach
Another opportunity to align our practices with the UDL
framework was made at the request of a teacher who noticed that
her students were struggling to upload their projects to our server
at the end of each lesson.
1/31/2014: Email Communication from General Education Teacher
One low-tech thing I thought might help would be to make a poster
outlining, in detail, each step of the submission process. This would
also aid those students who are not able to remember how to do it
from one week to the next.
We promptly made the poster, which hung in the computer lab for
the rest of the school year. At first, students frequently relied on
the poster for instructions. Through time, fewer students needed it
for reference because they received more practice in uploading
their work. Often, these posters are referred to as anchor charts in
a classroom because they help anchor the learning process for
students in the form of a visual representation.
4.2 Accommodations
In this section, we discuss accommodations that were made in the
classroom by teachers or GSRs. Accommodations do not change
the learning goals of a lesson, but provide students another way to
access the content.
4.2.1 Re-teaching and Small Group Instruction
Throughout our time in classrooms, the most common strategy
used when large amounts of students were confused was re-
teaching. An example of re-teaching is shown below.
2/11/2014: Analytical Memo from GSR
I told the kids I forgot what we did last week and asked if they could
help me remember. This was really fun because they did remember a
loteven big words like initialization. As they said each "big word"
I would ask what that meant so we spent time reviewing
vocabularyupload, download, initialization, sprite, scripts, blocks.
The kids still don't have a strong grasp of the different words so
talking about it together seemed to help.
Re-teaching is an effective tool when the majority of students in a
class need help reviewing. However, there are often times in a
classroom when only a small group of students would benefit
from re-teaching a lesson. This accommodation is called small-
group instruction. An example of small group instruction is
captured below during a lesson when students were learning about
broadcasting and receiving messages.
2/24/2014: Analytical Memo from GSR
While some of the class was [working in the Sandbox], I worked
with students who were moving slower…they were understanding
the idea of broadcast/receive too, though needed some extra one-on-
one-- someone to read through what they were writing, help mirror
the logic of what they produced back to them.
Small group instruction is an accommodation that allows a teacher
to work with a smaller amount of students, providing targeted
support and direct feedback during the learning process. With this
support, students are able to accomplish much more than they
would alone.
4.2.2 Modeling
Modeling is another instructional strategy (and accommodation)
that aided in reinforcing learning objectives. When modeling, an
instructor demonstrates the procedure for students to follow.
1/28/2014: Analytical Memo from GSR
There was still a lot of confusion over how to use the direction and
glide blocks…It was almost like they couldn't recall/remember that
GLIDE meant move and the [other blocks] all mean direction. I tried
to mimic [the activity] to help. They had to "program" me to walk to
the nearest bookshelf. Unless they said glide I didn't actually move
forward, only turned in circle. This seemed to help a little bit.
In this event, students were confused over motion blocks. The
GSR modeled how the blocks functioned by acting out the actions
of the blocks. The students provided the “commands” necessary to
move her around the room, similar to how a sprite would move
around the stage. Modeling helped students to kinesthetically
connect their everyday experience to that of abstract programming
commands.
4.3 Modifications
Sometimes, even with accommodations, students still struggle to
meet a lesson’s objective. In these instances, modifications are
necessary. Modifications change the standard that individual
students are expected to meet to better fit their individual levels.
In this section, we report on modifications made by teachers and
GSRs in the classroom. We discuss modifications made for: 1) the
whole class, 2) struggling students, and 3) advanced students.
4.3.1 Modifications for the Whole Class
An example of a modification for the whole class is captured in
the reflection below during a lesson about changing scenes using
broadcast and receive.
3/20/2014: Analytical Memo from GSR
When the majority of the class was still struggling with scene
changes, the teacher and I discussed what to do. We decided that
instead of requiring the students to program all three, scene changes,
we would have them program only one. If a student was able to do
that, then s/he could move onto the other scenes.
This specific lesson proved more difficult for students than we
anticipated, and required a change during class. Instead of
requiring students to program three scene changes, we modified
the lesson to only require students to program one scene change.
This modification allowed struggling students to experience
success (without being overwhelmed with the lesson’s
requirement), but provided the flexibility for more advanced
students to complete all three, scene changes if they were ready to
move on.
4.3.2 Modifications for Struggling Students
An unforeseen benefit of the Sandbox (open programming
environment) was captured in an interview with a special
education teacher.
380
4/30/2015: Special Education Teacher Interview
The Sandbox was great because I could direct my struggling students
there. If a student had a difficult time completing the lesson, they
could take a break in the Sandbox and play. Or, if a student was
unable to complete the lesson at all, I was still able to create smaller,
personalized assignments in the Sandbox. Instead of making the car
go up, down, right, and left with arrow keys, maybe we only try to
get the car to move right.
What we assumed would be a feature used primarily by students
who finished early turned into a differentiation opportunity for
struggling students as well. The Sandbox provided a space for
overwhelmed students to take a break from an activity, but still
gain experience programming. It also provided a space for
teachers to create their own modified assignments in real time,
based on their individual students’ needs.
4.3.3 Modifications for Advanced Students
Modifications are not only used for students who are struggling,
they can also support advanced students who are ready to go
beyond the lesson’s objectives. In one classroom, a teacher
designated a small group of students with more technology
experience as “computer helpers.” The identified students were
comfortable uploading and downloading work, excelled in the
programming tasks, finished their work early, and were willing to
help their peers. As “computer helpers,” these students were
expected to assist their confused peers during class. They were
given the freedom to walk around the classroom after finishing
their own work, answering classmates’ questions. This freed up
the teacher to assist students who needed more directive support,
and provided the advanced students an opportunity to act as
experts, sharing their knowledge with peers.
5. DISCUSSION
In this paper, we leveraged the Universal Design for Learning
framework to illustrate differentiation opportunities that were
necessary for our diverse students studying computer science in
elementary school. We discussed accommodations and
modifications as tools for differentiating curriculum and
classroom instruction to better meet the needs of diverse students.
Differentiation was necessary to provide a more equitable and
accessible introductory computer science learning experience for
our target population. As U.S. schools continue to diversify in
culture, language, ethnicity, skills and interests, curriculum
developers and teachers need to be cognizant of this diversity, and
ways in which to leverage this diversity for the advancement of
student learning.
6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This work is supported by the National Science Foundation CE21
Award CNS-1240985. We’d also like to thank all of the teachers,
students, and schools involved in this project.
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