Sunday, March 11, 2012

Unique Learning System

I promised I'd provide my answers for the Unique Learning System linky party, so here they are:

 -Do you use ULS or N2Y or both? My district pays for Unique Learning System (ULS) for all center-based classrooms, so I use that. They don't pay for News-2-You (N2Y). I think I'd probably like to use N2Y with my students, but I haven't yet. There is a teacher in my building who uses N2Y with her students, but she has to pay for it out of her pocket, and I'm just not in a position to do that right now. If I'm going to spend on a "big ticket" item for my classroom anytime in the near future, it's going to be an iPad! (oh my goodness...want, want, want!)

-What type of classroom do you have? I have a self-contained (center-based) classroom of students who are SXI (severely multiply impaired, for those who do not have the same acronyms as Michigan does - they are all both cognitively and physically or otherwise impaired). They are MOCI (moderately cognitively impaired) and SCI (severely cognitively impaired) level cognitively.

-What level of ULS do you use (elementary, intermediate, middle school, high school, transition)? I use the intermediate level. My students are mostly middle school aged now, but when I started using the curriculum (with the same group of students) they were intermediate age. I think I could change my subscription level, but the intermediate level still works and is appropriate for my students so I haven't bothered to check into that.

-How often/how extensively do you use the curriculum? I am required by my principal to do at least one activity or lesson from ULS per day. As my students need a lot of repetition, we repeat a lot of the activities throughout the month (which is assumed by ULS) and do more than one per day, usually, with some always being repeats or extensions. As far as the month goes, I always do all the stories and articles and their corresponding comprehension questions. We always do the Bingo game, the cooking lesson and the art/craft activity. Most months, we do the science experiment and the "survey and chart" activity. Other activities - the leveled math and literacy activities, etc. - get put into individual students' work boxes or used during centers, depending on what kids need to be working on which skills. I don't use everything, certainly, but definitely enough to make it worthwhile.

-How long have you been using the curriculum? I've been using it for 3+ years now (on my fourth year...I think! maybe I'm only in my third year...yikes. I'm becoming forgetful in my old age). The first year, two other teachers in my building and I piloted the curriculum, and then the next year, the district adopted it for all center-based special ed.

-What do you like most about the curriculum? I really love that it gives me a framework for instruction that goes beyond the standard seasons/holidays. Before using ULS, I had no curriculum to follow (other than the AUEN, but that's merely skills and skill sets, and certainly drives IEP goals but not how to teach them or anything resembling themes or units). So, I followed the seasons and the holidays...and felt really stuck in a rut. Especially since I have my kids for several years at a time! I would stress myself out over finding fun and new activities for, say, winter...that my kids hadn't done the year before. So, I love the variety!

I also really like that it's aligned with the EGLCEs (goodness, I'm getting that acronym wrong, aren't I? no? yes? I always just say it ee-glickies...) and works on content and form that's similar to our state assessment, the MI-Access. My kids have improved on their MI-Access scores since starting ULS, and I believe that has a lot to do with their exposure to similar activities and ways to present items as are on the test. And no, I'm not all about "teaching to The Test," (don't get me started...just DON'T GET ME STARTED...on how I feel about NCLB...) but when your school has been a failing school for a few years in a row, and you have to squeeze in more and more professional development hours or start to lose funding and/or your job...The Test becomes pretty important. So there's that, too!

-What do you like least? Honestly? I think most of the stories (lessons 1 and 3) are stupid. Very, very dry. I know, I don't expect great literature from curriculum-based stories, but I could quite honestly usually write something better. But...on the other hand, see what I said above about The Test. They're not all bad, for the purpose they serve. And I can (and do!) certainly supplement.

I'm also not a fan of the fact you're only given access to two months at a time (the current month and the next). It would help in planning if you could have the entire year - or even half of it - at a time. I mean, I'm not obsessively planning my year four months in advance. But sometimes it gets irritating. Like for example, when they have the unit on voting in, say, September...I'd love to be able to save that for November so it's a bit more topical. But if I save voting for November...what do I do in September...yeah. I don't really get their timing rationale sometimes. But that's a rather minor issue, most of the time.

So, if you use ULS or N2Y now, or have in the past, or might in the up here!


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  2. Hey Kara, I'm interested in getting my school on board with the Unique Learning System. Thanks for all the info in your blog, it was very helpful. One question though, do the themes change from year to year or should we be expecting to include the subscription in our budget every year?

    1. Hi Nellie!
      The ULS curriculum is on a three-year rotation. So, there are three years in a row of different units/themes, and then they repeat the cycle again. I am on my third year using the curriculum so I've been through the whole cycle. Next year I will repeat the first year, if that makes sense - so I don't know yet if they change the materials tons or not. But it's definitely meant to be a yearly subscription type system, in the budget each year.
      Hope that helps! If you have any other questions, let me know! Their summer unit is free for anyone to download right now, so it would be great for you to go snag it so you can see what the materials actually look like as you're trying to decide.

  3. We are starting year two of the cycle! I loved year one and finally got some of the organization and a system down by mid-school year. Most of my students though "self-contained" aren't "self-contained" so we balance what they are doing in their Gen Ed class with what we are doing with what they also need to do. Whew! Makes for some crazy days at times! I'd like to share some of my organization of the ULS stuff as I get my blog up and going (started today!) and I will link in when I do my first ULS post next week! Do you use News-2-You also? I'm not sure which I like more!

  4. I would LOVE to hear how some of you organize the materials! I am printing my first unit (the free summer unit because I don't know yet if my district is going to pay for it or if I'm going to pay for it out of pocket, either way, I am super excited to use it!).

    How do you organize the materials to give to the students? I was thinking about putting the materials in a 3-ring notebook and use 5-tab dividers (one for each day with the corresponding materials we will use for that particular day). What I don't know is how I'm going to keep the completed parts of the unit (and the entire unit once we are all done) organized.

    Thanks for any help!!!

    1. Hi Peggy - so sorry for this late response. I think I missed the email notification of your comment!

      I need to be better about organizing my ULS materials. I keep things I use with the whole class (so, usually laminated) in bins organized by theme/unit...reproducibles or things I use for only a couple students at a time (like in work boxes or centers) I let the students take home after they're completed...they love taking their work home.

      I observed in a classroom once that did keep all the unit materials in 3-ring binders for each student. It seemed to work well for them! I forgot to ask if the students took completed unit materials home at the end of the month or if the teacher kept them.

      Hope this helps a I said, this is an area I need to work on myself!


  5. OMG, I agree TOTALLY with what you like the least about ULS! I would love to be able to plan in advance, but they don't release their units in a timely manner. Also, the units always seem to be a month off. For example, last year they had students studying Squanto in October. I felt it fit much better in November. And this year, we are studying Government and the Story of Obama in September when that would fit much better during November. I don't get their logic sometimes. I also agree about the stories being rather boring and dry. I'm also not a fan of the pre and post tests for level 1 students. They data is not meaningful for my students and most of the content is too advanced. Just my 2 cents. :)

    1. Hi Liz - I agree, the units do seem to be a month off sometimes! You must be doing the intermediate level, too? We did the Story of Obama in September and it should have definitely been in November - or at least October with the leadup to the elections! Crazy.

      I don't do the tests with my students...for exactly the reasons you state. Also, my kids need a lot of time to do the tests and if I did the pre and post tests with all of them, I would not have time to teach much throughout the month!

      Thanks for chiming in :)


  6. Hi, I just started using Unique and love it! I have one somewhat silly question. Because of the beginning of the year craziness, I did not get to finish Spetember's. Would you suggest I finish it out of jump into October's next week. I am wondering if I will fall really far behind when progress monitoring and benchmarking online. I am trying to get the most out of the unit, but so far I'm having trouble keeping up. Any advice you have would be great! Thanks

    1. Hi Becky - it's not a silly question at all! I'm glad you're loving Unique!

      I wouldn't worry about not finishing September's unit. I personally do not use all the materials each month, not even close - I definitely pick and choose. What I use is different for each student, even, depending on their ability level. Unique assumes you will repeat some activities throughout the month, anyway.

      I personally do not use the pre and post tests with my students to measure progress in ULS. My students are severely cognitively impaired and take a long time to test - if I tested them at the beginning and end of each unit I would only have 2 weeks to actually teach the unit (no joke). I progress report enough on IEP goals and other assessments already (and can see progress from activities we are doing in Unique that way, too). My philosophy with Unique is to use what works for you and not worry about getting it all done if you can't.

      I'd say jump right into October's unit. The units do not build on each other in a traditional sense so your kids will not be behind if they didn't finish September :)

      Hope this helps!



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