eMINTS

State grant program prepares faculty for digital transformation
Posted on 12/10/2012

An innovative state grant program that was successfully piloted here over a decade ago helped lay the fundamental groundwork for the proposed one-to-one digital transformation at Poplar Bluff Schools, according to administrators.

A couple weeks ago, the latest set of Poplar Bluff faculty to receive their eMINTS certification—Angie Rideout of the Graduation Center, elementary teacher Joy Burke of Oak Grove, and O’Neal’s Krystal Dover and Heather Wells—joined an estimated 60 colleagues who have already completed the program or are in the process of doing so.

An acronym for enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies, eMINTS has converted many classrooms in the district – grades 4-12 – into technology-rich collaborative environments through which students direct their own exploration.

“It is such a quality professional development program, and one that will continue to be supported and emphasized as we move forward in this digital transformation,” stated Patty Robertson, assistant superintendent of curriculum/instruction.

A partnership between the University of Missouri and the Missouri Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and Higher Education, eMINTS was founded in the Show-Me State in 1999 and has since gone international. O’Neal Elementary was selected as one of the 50 original pilot schools in the state to receive the training.

“We didn’t even have the Internet in the classroom or the building or the district, so part of our interest was that DESE would run a T1 [fiber optic telephone] line to two of our classes at O’Neal,” recalled fourth grade teacher Treena Murray who, along with her husband Phillip, now an instructor at the 5th & 6th Grade Center, volunteered to go through the certification course.

To become eMINTS certified requires over 200 hours of research-based professional development, which entails learning how to use online resources to create and facilitate a curriculum that meets changing state standards. Teachers who are not able to make the two-year commitment have the option of receiving a lesser ‘e4All’ designation, which takes about half the time.

Among other tools to be included in their graded portfolio, voluntary participants must create an interactive website for students. A recent assignment in which Murray had her students use 21st century skills to problem solve, for example, took place when the girls and boys went through Black Friday sales bills in the newspaper, then compared prices online in order to accomplish specific tasks defined on a shopping list.

“That’s the way I like to teach,” said Murray, whose classroom site can be viewed here. “Our kids still complete the same textbook chapters and the same written tests, we just use inquiry-based learning and real world application that the Common Core [State Standards Initiative] is heading toward.”

Valerie Ivy, a 5th & 6th Grade Center science teacher, is on track to become an official trainer through the nonprofit eMINTS National Center, once she graduates from the Professional Development for Educational Technology Specialists program in May. Ivy has been a district trainer for the past four years.

“I believe in this program and know it works because I’ve seen the results in our students, including my own children who are in the third and eighth grades,” Ivy commented. “It’s no longer a paper/pencil/textbook world. We have to keep up with the kids, or lose them.”

As of this month, each of the nine pods in the 5th & 6th Grade Center contains an eMINTS classroom with 14 MacBook Airs, one for every two students that pass through, according to Principal Mike Owen. The laptops were purchased with Title 1 funding that became available when DESE passed a waiver lifting the sanctions required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

If the board approves the digital transformation initiative when it goes to a vote in the spring, every Junior and Senior High student will be issued a laptop by the 2014/15 school year. School officials agree that this one-to-one transition will go smoother due in large part to the eMINTS program that the district has sustained since the grant ended in 2008.

“The program has taken root exactly how a grant is supposed to, allowing us to use the seed money to implement this eMINTS philosophy,” said Jim Thomas, director of media services. “It’s not as much about computers as it is about changing our teaching method. What I call a teacher-centered classroom is one where you have the teacher standing before rows of students, handing out worksheets and collecting tests, whereas in a student-oriented classroom, you see students working in small groups while the teacher guides them along.”

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Cutline: Valeria Ivy taught her eMINTS class—[seated from left] Shiela Boyles and Jennifer Goins, each of Lake Road, Cheri Sparkman of Eugene Field and Lora Foust of 5th & 6th—how to use the computer network Edmodo last week at the 5th & 6th Grade Center.

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