UD Solutions: Making the Complex Simple
by Richmond O. Gyamfi, Teaching Fellow, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Goodwin University
I began the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) cohort 5 at Goodwin University not knowing exactly what to expect, but the experience was great. My focus course was Math 125, Mathematical Applications for Health Sciences. Many students in this course struggle with math and with applying math concepts to solving problems. I usually have to re-teach and re-explain the meaning of a question and what is expected of them.
I have come to realize that many cannot relate the problems to their daily lives, so comprehension becomes more difficult. Some also face challenges understanding the unfamiliar words and symbols in math problems. I decided to look thoroughly at my teaching, to think about ways to help my students become great learners, and to reduce or eliminate the hurdles they face in my class.
The first part of UDL guidelines is engagement, primarily “the why of learning.” Having gone through UDL training at Goodwin, I clearly see the need to revise the materials and math examples I use in the classroom. I must use those that will relate to students’ careers and personal lives and then follow up with the goal of helping students relate personally to the material.
UDL has introduced me to effective ways that will encourage collaboration and inspire varying levels of challenge. I have decided to encourage students to share ideas and interact in groups by giving them tasks to complete. These tasks come with clear goals that initiate participation and help guide the students towards mastery. I have also decided to increase feedback at various levels of tasks given. As students work on problems or tasks individually and in groups, I must interact with them at various points to see where they get stuck and to help them by introducing step-by-step skills on how to solve these problems. For students to understand what mathematical concept is being taught, mastery-oriented feedback that will help them reflect on what they have done will really improve their understanding.
Another thing that I reflected on in my UDL training is the importance of clarifying vocabulary and symbols. Math comes with its own vocabulary and its own “dictionary.” Students often get confused because they the context of the words that are used in math problems. I decided to create a vocabulary and symbol worksheet for students and pre-teach the meaning of words and symbols in ways that will connect to their learning experiences.
The last part of the UDL guidelines is providing multiple means of action and expression. One of the checkpoints under this principle is building fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance. The revisions to my teaching style are to teach different approaches, skills, and strategies to solving math problems. This gives students variety to choose from and to be able to use whatever models they are comfortable with.
UDL has taught me to change my perception about teaching and my traditional view of learners and the classroom in general. It is my hope to utilize what I have learnt to transform my teaching and my students.
Richmond Ofosu Gyamfi is an assistant professor of Mathematics at Goodwin University. He received a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana, and a master’s degree in Mathematics from Central Connecticut State University. Over the years, he has taught mathematics at the middle and high school levels. Richmond has also taught mathematics and statistics at Housatonic and Three Rivers Community Colleges before joining the Goodwin faculty as a mathematics and statistics instructor.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.