The Cornerstone – November/December 2012

Download a PDF copy – CS Nov-Dec 12

Let’s Focus on Early Literacy to Battle Poverty

Dr. Jon Sheldahl, Chief Administrator

A recent series in the Des Moines Register brought attention to Iowa’s growing number of children living in poverty.  No state has had a more rapidly shifting demographic than has Iowa over the past 25 years and southeast Iowa has led the way.  Of Iowa’s 496,000 school-aged children, over 195,000 or 39% receive free or reduced priced lunches.  (Iowa’s student sub-group for poverty is defined by eligibility for this program).  In the 14 counties in the Great Prairie region, over 17,000 out of roughly 37,000 school aged children receive free or reduced priced meals, a number approaching 47%.  Nine of the area’s 33 school districts have free and reduced rates over 50% and only six districts have free and reduced rates under the statewide average.  We know that these figures are probably low because some families that would qualify do not apply.  We also know that the percentage of families that do qualify has risen steadily now for two decades and that the formula for determining eligibility has not been significantly altered in terms of real dollars.  Poverty isn’t the only demographic that has been shifting in southeast Iowa, as our population has also been aging and becoming significantly more ethnically diverse, but poverty is a sub-group where we seem to be finding our way toward incremental improvement.

Continue reading on Dr. Sheldahl’s Blog

7th Grade Aldo Leopold Students Select Top Three Online Databases!

Kristin Steingreaber, Media Specialist

After a day of introduction with GPAEA Media Specialist, Kristin Steingreaber, the 7th graders in Mr. Michael Carper’s class created a list of terms to define online databases.  The list included informational text, visuals, currency, primary sources and awesome!

After two more weeks, they sent pictures with their assessment “The kids loved the activity and are particularly enjoying SNAP, the visual thesaurus, and Student News Network.”

Students and teachers in GPAEA have 22 online databases and depending on their needs, they are finding a good fit!

SNAP, the GPAEA Media catalog, provides digital video from 10 sources including Iowa AEA Online’s Learn360, GPAEA’s access to NBC Learn and 8 independent vendors – Weston Woods and Human Relations Media, as two examples.

In planning sessions, teachers are considering how to use the video clips?  As prior viewing as an introduction, background and vocabulary builder or afterwards as a review.

Visual Thesaurus helps build vocabulary and each student and teacher in GPAEA can create their own account.  Seymour teachers created word lists from their content area to share with students.

Student News Net (SNN) is our newest online database.  Featuring daily stories, the Editor, Judith Miller, shared that the online database has three goals:

  • build prior knowledge or correct a misconception – easy for SNN to do – every single story is real, informational text
  • create a framework for students – start with current event and then move to concept thinking.   See the Periodical Table as a great example.
  • foster metacognitive skills – SNN includes writing practice, enotes and a way to organize student thinking

Seventh graders used SNN to practice their writing by emailing their teacher both the main idea and the supporting evidence.

New to Iowa AEA Online – AEA Digital Library!

Kristin Steingreaber, Media Specialist

Iowa’s Area Education Agencies are pleased to announce that AEA Digital Library – a new video database for Iowa students and teachers – has been added to the list of fabulous Iowa AEA Online resources! AEA Digital Library’s collections offer current and relevant materials for curriculum needs and student learning, both in and out of school. Parents are encouraged to use this access with their children to model and guide good practices for information retrieval and problem-solving. Use the online database username/password assigned to your school. Browse through AEA Digital Library at

Featuring science and social studies titles, these digital videos include the entire Visual Learning catalog ( ) as well as Bill Nye titles.  Teachers login with their Educator Account for access to resources.  Students login with district UN/PW.  No building keys are required for GPAEA.  Questions?  Contact us at

More ideas on how to use the GPAEA Media Resources, please check the Table of Contents for Core subjects listed on the Media support page:

Iowa AEA Online databases – 13 total!

Background information on these rich resources can be found at|Product%20Literature 

Iowa AEA Online Flyer – IAO_Overview_Flyer

TeenScreen Announcement

We are sorry to inform you that the TeenScreen National Center will be winding down its program at the end of this year. Accordingly, we will no longer train or register new programs.

We will provide updates on the TeenScreen website for a limited time with respect to any other screening programs of which we become aware.

In addition, certain resources relating to teen mental health screening are available in the public domain and can be found at the links below:

Additionally, licensed clinicians will be able to access these materials for a limited time on the TeenScreen Program website.

For more information on TeenScreen, please go to  If you would like to bring TeenScreen to your school, please contact Amy Molyneux or Katherine Horn at GPAEA.

District Websites Going Google

Seth Denney, Instructional Technology Specialist

School districts have had websites for several years.  In the past, websites had to be coded be coded by hand, created using difficult-to-use tools, or created through a third-party content management system.  Websites used to be difficult to create, difficult to keep updated, and/or expensive.

Now, school districts can create and update websites easily, and for free.  Several districts use free tools, like WordPress and Joomla!, for their websites.  And an increasing number of school districts use Google Sites for their websites: Danville, Harmony, Morning Sun, WACO, and Wayne Community School Districts use Google Sites for their district websites.

Google Sites is a free service that is included in Google Apps for Education.  Most of the school districts in the Great Prairie region have a Google Apps domain, and creating a site is as easy as logging into a Google account.  Districts don’t need to spend money on a web server, because Google Sites runs in the cloud.

Google Sites are also easy to use.  Sites take just a minute to create, and there are really only two buttons:  one to create a page, and another edit the page.  Other Google resources, like calendars, documents, forms, and videos can be easily inserted into sites.

Different users can have different levels of access to different web pages.  For example, an activities coordinator could manage the athletic pages, and the food service coordinator could manage the lunch calendar page.  Staff can have private pages on the district website that are not visible to students or the community.

Your site can be highly customized.  You can choose your school’s color scheme, and insert your district’s logos.  Google Sites lets you customize just about everything, including fonts, layouts, favicons, and iOS icons.

If you would like to create a Google Site for your classroom, school, or district, email

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Apps for Educators

Seth Denney, Instructional Technology Specialist

For iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch
ClassDojo is a classroom tool that helps teachers improve behavior in their classrooms quickly and easily. It also captures and generates data on behavior that teachers can share with parents and administrators.

For Android and iPad
CloudOn brings Microsoft Office® to your iPad or Android tablet and links it to your Box, Dropbox and Google Drive accounts.

For Android, iPhone, and iPad
Turn your phone or iPad into a Walkie Talkie.


$14.99 for one license, $49.99 for five
It’s not really an app, but it allows you to display your iPad on your computer (Mac or Windows). It’s cheaper than buying a $99 Apple TV to do AirPlay, and you can capture the screen of your iOS device and save it as a video file for later review.

Iowa’s AEAs Create Blogs for Online Learning Updates

Things are picking up in the world of online learning! In order to bring timely, relevant information to educators across Iowa, the statewide AEA system has developed two blogs to post updates about AEA PD Online and the new AEA K-12 Online. See below to see what’s new!Educators across the state have increasingly taken advantage of AEA PD Online, an initiative provided by Iowa’s AEAs to provide high-quality professional development anytime, anywhere. Go to for updates or click on the direct article links below. For real time updates, follow AEA PD Online on Twitter at @aeapdonline.Recent Updates: 

New! Through AEA K-12 Online, learn how to create and deliver your own online or blended-learning to K-12 students. AEA K-12 Online includes free content, technical supports, consultation and professional development specifically around teaching online. Go to for updates or click on the direct article links below.

Recent Updates:

AEAs Impacting Lives – November

Read the latest Impacting Lives update at

Jack (left) and Tommy Selby hang out in their cowboy pajamas one morning before Jack goes off to kindergarten.

In this issue, you’ll find information about the Area Education Agencies’ collaboration with the Iowa Dept. of Education, exciting news in the world of online learning, learning outcome success stories and a heartwarming article about the Selby brothers.

National School Psychology Awareness Week

Thank you Great Prairie AEA School Psychologists for your dedicated work helping Iowa students achieve! School psychologists help students discover, share, and celebrate their strengths during National School Psychology Awareness Week—November 12–16, 2012

Bethesda, MD—The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) designated November 12–16, 2012, as National School Psychology Awareness Week. This year’s theme, “Know Your Own Strengths. Discover Them. Share Them. Celebrate Them.” helps our students to discover and celebrate their individual strengths. Whether strengths are academic, athletic, or social–emotional, they serve to bolster an individual’s resilience in the face of challenges. NASP offers a series of resources and activities for school psychologists to use with school staff, students, and parents to help students boost stress tolerance, improve academic performance, increase life satisfaction, and even improve self-confidence.

NASP represents more than 24,000 school psychologists who work in schools and other education and health settings. School psychologists work with parents and educators to ensure that every child has the mental health and learning support they need to succeed in school and life. “This year’s theme expresses the importance of students and school staff being aware of their strengths, both as individuals and as members of their school community,” says NASP President Amy Smith. “We know from the positive psychology research that students do better in school when they see themselves through the lens of their abilities rather than their inabilities. Our job as educators is to reinforce students’ positive attitudes and feelings of competence by emphasizing and building on their strengths.”

The learning environment is the ideal setting to help students discover, share, and celebrate their strengths. “When students are engaged in learning, they are not just building skills, they are shaping their understanding of the world and their place in it,” explains Smith. “We have the opportunity to help students see a particular characteristic, such as kindness or curiosity, as a strength and then help them to apply that strength to a positive action, such as solving a problem or helping a classmate.” The more students practice this strengths-based thinking and acting, the more natural it becomes and the greater affect it has on students’ learning and resilience.

When schools imbed a strengths-based approach in all aspects of learning, the whole school community benefits as well. “Positive approaches to teaching and learning can improve school climate and connectedness,” says Smith. “When students feel connected at school and see themselves as contributors to their school community, they start to take responsibility for its well-being.” A number of activities include NASP’s “Know Your Own Strengths” program to reinforce how individual strengths contribute to community strengths, as well as the connections among students, between students and staff, and between home and school.

Smith points to the importance of school psychologists in fostering strengths in students. “School psychologists promote wellness and resilience in students by reinforcing problem solving, anger management, positive communication and social skills, and optimism,” she emphasizes. “The training and expertise a school psychologist holds is important in improving resilience, goal setting, empowerment, and emotional awareness leading students to be more engaged, academically successful, and self-confident. These are skills that will serve students well through their academic careers and when they transition to adult life.”

Great Prairie Area Education Agency is served by more than 25 School Psychologists who work as School Psychologists as well as roles in Administration, Early Access, Specialized Consultants, and School Improvement.

GPAEA Schools in the News – November 2012

Enjoy the November 2012 headlines from local media sources about districts in Great Prairie AEA:

November 1

November 2

November 5

November 9

November 13

November 19

Note: The articles compiled in this list come from independent media sources who are solely responsible for their content. GPAEA staff did not participate in writing any of these articles and GPAEA does not necessarily endorse the content of the articles.  Some articles may be available only by subscription.