Category Archives: 4ALL

How We Make Meaning

How does this baby learn about his world? For the most part, this child is constructing his own meanings and ideas about how things work. While some of the parental guidance has been edited out of the video, there’s still four hours of footage (condensed into two minutes) of a baby simply exploring his world and making sense of it all.

Why can’t this be the same approach we take with students? Students can explore, inquire, and investigate the world around them in order to create their own meaning just as this baby is doing in the video. Of course, there are key elements that make this exploration possible.

The baby has some limitations. There is a limitation of space where the baby is learning. He is generally contained in this one room, not permitted to roam throughout the house. Part of this limitation is due to his lack of mobility, but it’s a limitation nonetheless. Similar limitations can be set for student inquiries. Identifying essential, guiding, and content questions can help with focusing the inquiry. Also, hooking them with engaging examples of the phenomena to be studies will provide parameters.

Another thing the baby has that encourages his inquiry is the ample supply and variety of resources. No matter where the baby turns or what he decides to do, there are toys (or sometimes other household objects) with which he can experiment. Providing resources can be challenge for cash-strapped schools, but the internet more than makes up for these shortcomings in the form of limitless literature, multimedia, and simulations.

Finally, the baby’s inquiry goes so well because there is a skilled, caring adult providing an opportunity to actively explore his world. Much of the child’s interaction with adults has been edited out, but one can tell by the way toys have been laid out and the simple fact that his entire play session has been recorded that this baby has adults who are looking out for his well-being. The same can be said for students with teachers who care enough about their learning that they sacrifice their time and financial gain in order to help their students grow intellectually.

With these support systems in place, students, like the baby in the video, will succeed in their efforts to inquire about the inner-workings of their world. Of course, this inquiry can’t take place in an environment that is too restrictive or encourages passivity. Structure, access to resources, and caring and thoughtful facilitation are musts for inquiry to succeed.

What lessons about learning do you glean from the above video? How might these lessons inform your teaching? What can you do better in providing opportunities of inquiry for your students?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center. A special hat tip is given to eMINTS staff members Carla Chaffin and Carmen Marty for pointing out this video in connection with inquiry.

eMINTS Weekly Update 4/16/12

New MU College of Education K-12 Virtual Program: Check out the new University of Missouri College of Education K-12 Virtual program called Mizzou K-12 Online at: The program will launch this summer with 5 high school level courses facilitated by Missouri-certified teachers. The courses are open to students in any school setting or location and can be purchased by schools, districts, parent, or guardians. The courses available include American Government and Health along with several elective courses. Additional courses including English 1 – 4 and Algebra will be available beginning in late August.

e-Learning for Educators Summer Registration Open: Don’t miss registration for e-Learning for Educators summer session of online professional development courses! These 7-week courses facilitated by certified educators are open to teachers and others in any state. Course costs are $150 per person with graduate credit available at an additional cost. There are 20 partial scholarships available to Missouri educators (limit of 3 scholarships per district please) on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition to a great line-up of courses for teachers at all grade levels and content areas, two exciting new courses will premier this summer:

  • Going Mobile K-12:  Capturing the power of Smartphones, tablets, apps and more!
  • What is the Right Blend?  Making sense of blended and hybrid learning for the K-12 classroom

Registration closes May 23. Courses begin June 12 and end July 24. For more information call 573-884-4233 or visit the website at

New eThemes for the week of April 16, 2012

Literature: “Loser” by Jerry Spinelli<>

These websites are about the book “Loser” and author Jerry Spinelli. Go to his official website to learn more about him. There are also worksheets, games, quizzes, discussion questions, and lesson plans for the book. Includes links to eThemes resources on Jerry Spinelli, the literature theme of bullying and the Mark Twain literature awards for 2004-2005, for which this book was a nominee.

Literature: “Riding the Flume” by Patricia Curtis Pfitsch<>

These sites provide suggested readings and activities for the book “Riding the Flume.” Also includes sites on related themes of lumber mills, log flumes, and images/information for the region. There are links to eThemes Resources on Writing: Fiction and Writing: Historical Fiction.

Literature: “The Courage of Sarah Noble” by Alice Dalgiesh<>

These sites offer ideas for activities relating to the book “The Courage of Sarah Noble.” Writing activities involving characters from the book are given. Includes eThemes Resources on Native Americans and colonial life, which are main topics in the story.

Caine’s Arcade

The following video made the rounds this week. It’s the inspiring story of young Caine who builds his own arcade out of cardboard and other spare parts as a way to pass the time. A filmmaker discovers Caine’s arcade and decides to organize a flash mob, filming the whole thing as they go.

What’s interesting is the amount of ingenuity this boy demonstrates in building his arcade. Creativity, problem-solving, persistence, attention to detail, among other skills were developed as Caine realized his vision.

Caine didn’t learn how to build his own arcade in school. He used tools he already had within him to think outside the box, so to speak. We can only hope that his teachers also see the potential in Caine by encouraging and supporting his creativity.

Let this video be an inspiration as you try to find ways to support your own students’ creativity. Maybe they won’t create an arcade, but they may build a model of a city, write a song, or take on some other creative endeavor that allows them to realize their potential and opens the possibility for their dreams to come true.

What message do you pull from this video? How have you allowed your students’ creativity to shine through? When have you had to make due with the materials around you in order to make something great?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Working in the Future

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One of the goals of K-12 education is to prepare our students to enter the workforce when their studies are done. However, in the 21st century, no one really knows what those jobs will look like. So, this preparation is a bit of a mystery.

It’s time we gear our instruction to match this uncertainty. The time to move from low-level content knowledge to complex processes and strategies that are applicable in many situations has arrived. No longer should we depend on 19th century teaching methods to prepare our students for the jobs of the 21st century.

There are standards and guiding principles out there to help us accomplish this feat. One list to pay close attention to are the ISTE/NETS standards for students. This list of standards provides a blueprint for the kinds of skills students will need to develop for “an increasingly global and digital world.” For what it’s worth, eMINTS is one of only five programs to receive certification of alignment with these standards.

Another guiding framework is that provided by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Like the NETS standards, this framework lists skills that should be developed for students to be successful in future endeavors. Additionally, instead of listing teaching standards separately, the framework attempts to combine the two components to guide facilitation.

Together, these guiding materials should help teachers shape their lessons to prepare students for a future that’s hard to predict. Instead of focusing on content, these frameworks provide the tools students need to be able to apply to all content areas and, more importantly, careers that may not even exist yet.

Besides utilizing frameworks that address 21st century skills to shape one’s instruction, we can facilitate other activities that prepare students for their future careers. Wired posted a piece last week that suggests how to apply for jobs that don’t exist yet. Try having students create resumes and write cover letters for these jobs with an eye toward future studies and accomplishments that will allow them to reach their goals.

Planning for students’ future careers with an eye on 21st century skills is the best way to prepare students for working in the future. Sometimes, we have to take a step back from state standards and tests to make sure that we are helping students succeed beyond their time in school. Since we don’t really know what that future holds, we have to facilitate learning that is applicable in a variety of ways. Concentrating on 21st century skills and getting past the current limitations of career opportunities available better equips students for their futures.

How are you preparing students for careers that haven’t been created yet? How do you incorporate 21st century skills in your lessons? What are the best ways to include career education in your content area?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Three Ways to Share PowerPoint Presentations Online

PowerPoint has grown to be one of the most popular presentation tools inside and outside of the classroom. However, newer versions don’t always convert well on older editions of the software. It can also be easy to forget a copy of one’s presentation. So, having an online copy of a presentation can be valuable. Three online tools make it easy to share PowerPoint presentations anywhere there’s an internet connection.

Google Docs has its own presentation feature, but it also allows users to host and share PowerPoint presentations online. It’s an easy uploading process where users may choose to do additional editing using Google’s interface. Google Docs then allow multiple parties to contribute to the same presentation. Plus, Google Presentations are embeddable on almost any website or blog. The only drawback is that presentations will lose their animations, sounds, and transitions.

Another alternate way to share a PowerPoint is to upload it to YouTube. Unlike with Google Docs, this requires a simple process. When saving a PowerPoint, select a picture format such as PNG or JPEG. Then, load those files onto video editing software such as MovieMaker or iMovie. The slides work as images one can arrange in a project’s timeline. Then, go through the process to export the presentation to YouTube.

The third process for sharing PowerPoint presentations online will transform your presentations completely. The online presentation tool Prezi is something entirely different, but now it allows users to upload PowerPoint files and change them into an engaging format that breaks the traditionally linear nature of presentation software. Once the file is uploaded, users are faced with several options for making their presentations come alive. Just watch…

No longer do we have to be limited by the traditional desktop presentation as monopolized by PowerPoint. The online tools mentioned above give users new options for presentation and sharing that were previously not possible with PowerPoint presentations.

What are some other ways you have found for sharing PowerPoint presentations? How will these tools inject your PowerPoint presentations with a dose of energy?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center.

Life Class, Oprah, and eMINTS-Part 2

There was high energy in the theater!  Music, cheering, everyone was buzzing.  Then the community building began.  Oprah’s audience producer came on stage.  She encouraged the audience to say hello to the people you were sitting by and to start having fun!  I met a nice person named Carol who was there by herself!  There was a great big group hug and the audience was all one with Oprah!

The evening contained so many “Ah-Ha” moments that connect with the Community of Learners component of the eMINTS Intructional Model.

Ah-Ha #1-

Wow the audience producer developed the community and energy in the room from the moment we walked through the door!  There was music, dancing, and discussion.  How might we do this in a classroom day after day?  One of my favorite quotes from the night came for guest Iyanla Vanzant, “You are responsible for the energy in the room.”  As teachers, we are ultimately in charge of the energy in our classrooms.  As the end of the year sneaks up on us and testing is lurking right around the corner, I want to stay mindful of this quote. I have to choose my attitude and the impact it has on the children in my room.  If the students sense I am stressed, tired, worried, that will rub off on them.   If students feel loved, cared about, and excitement for learning it will rub off on them.  To maintain a positive classroom community, I must maintain a positive vibe towards all my students even as end of the year craziness begins!


Ah-Ha #2-

Our kids need to know we are proud of them and we love them unconditionally.  During the show Iyanla Vanzant worked with a man named “Steve” who was suffering from an addiction.  The root of the problem was the man did not have a male father-figure growing up.  Iyanla did an exercise where she told the man his father would be proud of him and his mother loved him unconditionally.  She also called two men up on stage from the audience.  One man stood back to back with the man.  This represent to “Steve” he had someone to lean on.  The other man told “Steve” he was proud of him.  I started thinking about so many of our young students who come to school from homes where the idea of someone being proud of them may not be reinforced.  What would it feel like to never know someone was proud of me?  I began to wonder what might be some possible community-building activities to reinforce the concept that we are proud of our classmates and we can lean on one another.  Morning Meeting is one activity where this message could be reinforced.  I wonder what the impact would be if twice a week we took morning meeting time to share specifically why we are proud of each other.  I am proud of you “Andrew” for being peaceful on the playground.  I am proud of you “Sophia” for completing your homework this week.  Along with morning meeting classroom teachers plan trust building activities with students.  Trust building activities would help students learn they have someone to lean on.

Ah-Ha #3-

Students’ behavior is a way of them acting on their PAIN (Pay Attention Inward Now).  When students act out, they are doing so to express some type of pain.  If I help students discover how they are feeling, it will help them deal with their behaviors.  Throughout the show, Iyanla Vanzant focused on people using I language as they told the story of their pain.  For example when she interviewed a convict via Skype the convict described how she felt by saying, “You feel embarrassed, you are reminded of what you did everyday.”  Iyanla had the convict change the language to “I feel embarrassed.  I’m reminded of what I did everyday.”  This helps the person in PAIN own their feelings.  Taking the time to listen to students who are acting out and helping them determine the emotion driving their behavior will help them deal with and create a vision for what they want to do in the future.  It is through owning these feelings and developing a vision that we start to heal our PAIN and work to making our selves better people.   Paraphrasing students when they tell their side of the story, labeling their emotion, and giving them a goal for the future can help them from being stuck in a funk to moving on and being productive member of the classroom community.

Ah-Ha #4 and then some…

Don’t become hypnotized by your story.  It seems that all teachers have a story, a certain parent, a specific student, an administrator that challenged them as a professional.  Don’t let the “story” hypnotize you and become your identity.  What did you learn from your experience that you might apply to future situations?  Take your story, state the truth as facts, and leave the emotion behind.  The anger, the baggage you don’t need in your life.

Surround yourself with people who share.  A great quote from last night was “You need to be around people who make deposits and not just withdraws.”  As you work with teams and committees, give and take.  We all need deposits in education! We also need to be willing to share and let others withdraw ideas.  How might this analogy be used with students when working in cooperative groups?

And my final favorite thought…

“You can’t get what you want if you don’t know what you want.”  So what do you want your classroom community to look like as you wrap up the school year?  How might you be the catalyst for creating a collaborative and peaceful environment?

My experience at Oprah was amazing!  I had no idea the message of this fun evening would impact my life and my teaching.  The lessons Oprah is teaching on her LifeClass show are life lessons!   This experience and these lessons will stay with me for a long time!

Carmen Marty is an eMINTS Instructional Specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

#Life Class #OWN #Oprah

Life Class, Oprah, and eMINTS-Part 1

A few days ago, a friend called me and said, “Hey do you like Oprah?”

I said, “Yes!”

“My battery on my phone is dying, but I have a ticket for you for Monday night!  I’ll call later.”

For a few days, it didn’t sink in.  I was going to Oprah!  I received an email with the details about the show, what to wear, what to bring, what not to bring etc.  As the time got closer, I got more and more excited!  I was going to see Oprah!!!!!

As we entered the Peabody Theater, I was overwhelmed with the excitement and energy in the building!  This was going to be a great night!  I had no idea how inspiring the evening would be or how much Oprah connected with components of the eMINTS Instructional Model.

Throughout the night, distinct parts of the eMINTS Instructional Model that stood out in my mind Powered by Technology and Community of Learners.

Oprah is very Powered by Technology.  I thought it was unique when the letter confirming my attendance included, “Bring a charged Smart Phone or Tablet.”  Hmmm, in a society where we are encouraged to put our devices away, Oprah was embracing the online community through tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and Skype.  Large screens in the theater posted directions for her Twitter Feed #Lifeclass.  Before the show began, people over the theater were tweeting about their excitement and expectations for the show!  There was another screen showing live Facebook comments.  Oprah also had viewers from six different global locations join the show via Skype.

Photos by: Stephanie Madlinger @cyberteacher

Prior to the show, the audience producer encouraged everyone to turn off their ringers, but keep posting throughout the show.  They wanted the audience to bring the experience to the viewers at home.  They wanted the viewers at home to have an interactive experience.  We even did a Twitter Poll.  The Oprah network provided the audience free wifi so we could be a big part of the interactive learning, which took place!  Throughout the show, Oprah referred to the screen of tweets and Facebook messages.  As an audience member, I was on the edge of my seat secretly wishing she’d read one of my tweets.  I was encouraged and motivated to keep paying attention to the content of the show, process what I was learning, and share with others via my Smart Phone.

How could this tool be used with students?  You are supposed to be 13 or older to have a Twitter account.  I started to look for some microblogging sites that could be used as an alternative to twitter.

We’ve featured Edmodo on our blog before.   Edmodo is an online, private, classroom environment.  As the teacher, you set up the classroom and students register.  There are opportunities for discussion boards, gradebooks, assignment calendars, voting, and microblogging!

So how might I incorporate microblogging into a class lesson just like Ms. Oprah Winfrey?

Imagine your students working on an inquiry lesson.  On the SMART Board you project your Edmodo class site.  As the students discover, question, and make authentic connections they post their thoughts and findings to Edmodo.   As a class you set up guidelines for the length of posts, what is appropriate content, how to site other classmates if you use their information etc.  Using the Power of Technology, students are engaged and interacting.  To assist with management, you could designate one person in each group to be responsible for posting information.  As the facilitator, you can watch the Edmodo feed and see where your students are with their understanding.  You can stop and highlight/summarize big classroom “ah-has”, do mini-lessons on misconceptions, or individualize instruction by providing guiding questions to a specific group based on the data from the Edmodo feed.

For a more “global” experience consider connecting with a classroom in another state, country, or school.  Collaborate and plan an inquiry project with another teacher and share ideas through an Edmodo online classroom.

What possibilities can you imagine for the power of microblogging with students?  What are some ways you are currently using microblogging?

Carmen Marty is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Collaborative Drawings with Google Docs

Nearly a year ago, Google Docs announced the launch of the stand-alone drawing tool. Instead of opening a normal Google Doc and inserting a drawing, Docs offers the option of opening a single drawing that contains all the sharing and collaborative capabilities of the typical Google Doc application.

To create a collaborative Google Drawing, simply click Create>Drawing. The interface for this drawing tool is nearly identical to that of the insert-able Docs interface. However, there are additional saving and sharing options. To share, users simply click on the appropriate button near the upper-right corner of the window. Options are available to share with others to view or edit. One may select collaborators from their email list or simply open the drawing up to those with the link or anyone.

Once a drawing is shared, users can alter and contribute their own ideas to the drawing. The chat feature that’s available for all Google Docs is also active here. So, collaborators can discuss changes and additions to their drawing. With text, shape, and insertion tools, users can create rich diagrams that go beyond simple drawings. These drawings can stand alone with a unique URL or be downloaded for use elsewhere.

Ideas that would make this collaborative tool useful include…

  • Students collaboratively create a timeline, including images with the dates on their graphic.
  • As a fun alternative, a chess or checkers board may be set up that players can easily manipulate play pieces. Almost any simple game board could be created using Google Drawings.
  • Seating charts or other organizational diagrams useful to classroom management can be created and shared.
  • For an interactive whiteboard that’s truly interactive, share a Google Drawing with students and allow them to contribute in real time, keeping them engaged throughout a class discussion.
  • Since these docs are embeddable, teachers could embed a drawing in a blog post or on their websites as a brainstorm activity or message board.
  • Save chart paper and dry-erase board space typically reserved for parking lots or other brainstorms by sharing a Google Drawing with students to edit.
  • If you have more ideas for Google Drawings, add them by editing here and see the results below:


Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

The Power of Simple Ideas

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It is difficult to find ways to address higher level thinking while helping students understand difficult concepts. The complexity of some topics can be debilitating, so much so that teachers will cover them superficially or avoid these concepts altogether. However, this is not how our brightest minds see difficult content.

MythBusters” Adam Savage makes a living out of demystifying the great enigmas of our time. In the TED talk below, he attempts to demonstrate how we can understand complex scientific concepts by incorporating simplicity and a bit of online casino’s creativity…

Consider how the inertia example might play out in class. Without even defining inertia, students could try to explain what they think happens to cause the ball react as it does. Can they recreate the same phenomena using different materials? This builds a basic foundation for later understanding a concept as complex as inertia. Then, one might introduce the terminology to match whatever definition the students discover. The simplification of such a scientific concept allows students to grasp it on their level.

Even by simplifying scientific knowledge, we don”t dumb it down. The three simplified and creative scientific discoveries Savage describes in his talk require some higher-order, abstract thinking. Simplifying science really just makes it more accessible for our students.

What scientific concepts have you been able to break down into their simplest forms in order to help students understand better? How can simplifying science not benefit student understanding? How can you use this TED talk to help your students better understand difficult scientific ideas?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

It’s March. Bring on the Madness!

The NCAA tournament for men’s and women’s collegiate basketball is underway and the country is swept up in March Madness once again. For three weeks, basketball teams will battle it out on courts across the nation while fans follow the action fervently, keeping track of every result with their brackets.

Oh, those brackets…

Every fan, even those of the casual variety, know what the brackets represent. Not only are they useful for tracking the tournament, but they are often used in office pools where participants fill out the brackets with their predictions. This practice grips the nation every March (and part of April). Productivity comes to a near-standstill as workers sneak away to TV’s and computers showing games on Thursday and Friday afternoons. People obsess over which double-digit seed will make an improbable run or which top seed will cut down the nets.

The creation of brackets can be an exercise with educational purposes as well. There’s always the community building that can occur with students filling out tournament brackets for fun, but the bracket sheet can serve other purposes as well. Below is a list of possible ideas for brackets in your classrooms…

  • Have students create brackets of US Presidents (or any group of historical figures or even literary characters). Weighing accomplishments and failures would allow the students to evaluate the contributions of each President to the growth of the nation.
  • Create a bracket of all the elements. Students would match the elements, determine what could be created with each or just balance the benefits of each before sending one on to the next round.
  • There are plenty of opportunities to incorporate math into the brackets as is. Over the years, an incredible number of statistics have been generated from past tournaments as well as the obscene amount of statistics gathered just to determine this year’s field. Trends, odds, averages, differences, etc. can all be explored throughout the tournament.
  • Geographic comparisons can be made with all the communities represented by the universities in the field or they can be replaced with more exotic locales. Creating profiles of each location that include landscapes, economies, demographics, and other factors considered in geographic analysis could be part of the project.
  • Fill a bracket with plant life in order to breakdown and evaluate biological benefits to ecosystems. The same could be done for almost any living thing. Change the regions to ecosystems with a group of students responsible for putting together each pod.

The possibilities are endless for imagined tournament brackets. Plus, the excitement of the actual tournament can feed into student motivation for these more academic bracket activities. Imagine the excitement in front of a TV at the possibility of another 12-seed beating a 5-seed transferred to your classroom. This could be a lot of fun!

How have you used brackets in your classroom to spice up your curriculum? What other ideas do you have for using tournament brackets with your students? Besides evaluation, what other higher-order thinking skills could be developed through brackets in the classroom?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger with the eMINTS National Center. His picks for the Final Four are Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, and Ohio State with his Buckeyes finishing on top.