The Signing Math Dictionary: A Promising Practice for Teaching and Learning Math Vocabulary

Date Updated

The Signing Math Dictionary (SMD) uses the SigningAvatar accessibility software to provide an illustrated, interactive, three dimensional (3D) sign language dictionary of standards-based mathematics terms for students in grades four through eight who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation's Research in Disabilities Education (RDE) program, TERC partnered with Vcom3D, the developer of the SigningAvatar accessibility software, to create the SMD. In an effort to make sure their product could be used by students with a variety of learning styles and preferences, the creators of the SMD chose to include principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into their product. They embedded flexibility of representation, multiple means of expression, and multiple means of engagement into the SMD as a way to engage students in exploring the vocabulary they need to be able to understand and use in their classes.

For example, students were observed using the SMD to search for terms that had been assigned as well as terms they were interested in finding out about. To find a term, some students chose to type it into the search box. Others preferred to find the term by scanning a list of terms that began with the first letter of the word they were looking for. After locating their term, they alternately selected the term or its definition and watched it being signed at a pace that they adjusted to fit their learning style or read the definition and viewed an illustration that conveyed its meaning. They went back and forth between reading the text and viewing the signing and looking at the illustration in any order that suited them as often as they wanted before writing the term and its definition in their study guides. Students reported that they particularly enjoyed selecting their own Avatar character, zooming in to take a close look at the signing, and having the flexibility to work by themselves or together with their teacher or classmates.

The decision to include principles of UDL into the SMD is a promising practice in creating an accessible online resource that allows students to use the learning style that works best for them as they learn math terminology.

Note: The web-based version of SMD requires a Windows, Vista, or XP Operating System, Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher, and the SigningAvatar plug-in. Macinshosh users must have VM Ware [7] or Parallels [8] installed to see the Avatar sign. The web-based version of the SMD is available for free at The plug-in is also free and available at

This article was developed through the RDE Collaborative Dissemination Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0929006) and The Signing Math Dictionary for Kids Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0833969).