How Do You Connect Big Rocks?

Dr. Jon Sheldahl, Chief Administrator

Stack of pebble stonesWhen Steven Covey used the analogy of putting big rocks in a bucket to emphasize the importance of aligning personal and professional priorities in life, he likely had no way of knowing that the term “big rocks” would become such a ubiquitous term in the field of organizational leadership in future years.  No doubt you have seen the illustration where a jar or bucket represents a finite amount of resource capacity and big rocks represent priority areas in work or life, while sand and gravel represent lesser or competing priorities.  The most common resource limitation is no doubt time, but the size of our bucket could just as easily represent limitations in money, people etc.  No person or organization enjoys unlimited resources and, metaphorically speaking, who among us hasn’t stared at what seemed like a big pile of rocks and a woefully small bucket?  The point of the illustration is that the big rocks will only fit in the bucket with the sand and gravel if they are put in first.  When one puts the small stuff in the bucket first, the big stuff doesn’t all fit.  One can find a myriad of videos and articles illustrating this principle by simply entering “big rocks” into any search engine.  You will find the big rocks illustration being applied to personal, spiritual and professional priorities in colleges of business, churches, and time management seminars throughout the world.  It’s a powerful, but very simple message about the importance of  “keeping the main thing the main thing.”


The Future is Now: GPAEA’s 21st Century Classroom

Dr. Sally Lindgren, Director of Technology & Innovation

21st Century Classroom Open House
Tuesday, September 30
3:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Join us virtually via Zoom at

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Room 21C is the result of re-designed learning efforts to create a learning environment specifically designed to promote both collaborative and personalized learning through the use of technology. GPAEA’s Bright Bytes data suggest that there is a large-scale need to develop the attributes of 21st Century learning. These attributes, known as the 4C’s (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity) are factors that are linked to improved student achievement and career success.

Recent research about active learning spaces comes under several different names including SCALE-UP, TEAL, TILE and others. But regardless of the name, the conclusions are the same. The classroom must support active learning using digital media and flexible space.

GPAEA’s 21st Century Classroom, located in the Burlington AEA Office, offers a two-fold design: a classroom and a learning lounge.

The learning space integrates the three tenets of classroom design:

  • The classroom furniture must be mobile and flexible.
  • Each collaborative area must have access to a digital display.
  • Each collaborative area must have a writeable surface.

The use of digital media is a primary ingredient used to promote understanding and engagement with content. The room also has an interactive table, networked lighting, a two-way audio management system, a theater sized screen with a 3D projector, and all of this is controlled by an iPad!

GPAEA’s Room 21C is only one of several efforts that are underway in Southeastern Iowa to re-design the K-12 classroom into 21st Century Learning Spaces. The Mt. Pleasant Middle School Science classroom has been transformed. Cardinal Community School District is in the process of creating both a classroom and several learning lounge spaces at the Middle/High School building.


Professional Development Opportunities – Fall 2014

Woman in living room using laptop smilingGPAEA has many great professional development opportunities scheduled for this fall!  Course categories include behavior, literacy, math, science, autism, early childhood, TAG, and fine arts.  Also being offered are Paraeducator certification courses, Substitute Authorization courses, and Evaluator III.  Courses are still being added so please check the catalog in MyLearningPlan for new additions.



  • Paraeducator Certification courses (evening classes)
  • Para Educator Certification Level II Generalist with Area of Concentration: Special Needs (Saturday and evening classes)

Substitute Authorization

  • evening classes
  • Ottumwa and Burlington sessions

Assessing Academic Rigor: Evaluator III


  • Bullying Investigation Training
  • A Behavior Tool Box for Your Classroom
  • Developing a Social Skills Tool Box
  • RESPECT: Recognizing Everyones Strengths by Peacebuilding, Empathizing, Communicating and Trustbuilding
  • PBIS Tier 1
  • PBIS Tier 2


  • K-2 Counting and Cardinality/Operations and Algebraic Thinking
  • Grades 3-5 Number and Operations/Fractions
  • Ratio and Proportion, Grades 6-8
  • Function, Grades 8-12


  • K-12 ELA Curriculum Design
  • 6-12 Content Curriculum Design
  • Iowa LETRS 1-3
  • Ongoing MS-HS Second Chance Reading: 2014-2015


  • HS Science Networks 1 & 2
  • Elementary Science Networks 1 & 2
  • HS Science Networks 1 & 2


  • Professional Learning for Gifted Programs


  • ST-AT 1 Structured Teaching for Autism: Basic Components

Early Childhood

  • Teaching Strategies GOLD Assessment Data Study Group
  • Creative Curriculum for Preschool (3-5) An Introduction
  • Inquiry Based Learning in Early Childhood
  • Teaching Strategies GOLD Assessment

Fine Arts

  • Weaving Class

Workshops and Other Trainings:

  • Collaborative Leadership Academy
  • Iowa Alternate Assessment Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) Training
  • SWIS Training Workshop
  • Nonviolent Crisis Intervention Initial Training

Please visit our online course catalog to register.

GPAEA Schools in the News – Summer 2014

A list of the July/August 2014 headlines featuring a Great Prairie AEA School District:

Did we miss something? Send your school news to

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.

Out My Window – Connecting Creativity Series

screenshotThe Connecting Creativity series is a learning quest designed with concept and content convergence in mind, supported by meaningful technology integration. Each Connecting Creativity concept is designed so teachers can repurpose the idea to meet the needs of their students and the needs of their curriculum goals. The series will offer support for implementation including a monthly Google Hangout launch and suggested Common Core connections. Teachers can view the video feed live, or catch the recorded video via YouTube at their convenience. When designing and planning for the Connecting Creativity series, action essentials were established: students create/design, students write, and students publish. These elements are at the center of each experience.

We hope you will join Connecting Creativity’s September learning quest: Out My Window. Where poetry, picture, and geography converge to provide an avenue for student voice and creativity while increasing an appreciation of global perspective.  

This quest will begin at 7:30 a.m. (CST) on Sept. 2 via Google Hangout.

If you would like to ensure that you receive monthly updates about all of the learning opportunities, you can sign up here. We look forward to working with you to celebrate and empower student creativity through these new learning experiences. If you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, please feel free to get in touch with Erin Olson and Leslie Pralle Keehn at!

Put the Power to Prevent Bullying in Your Hand


Parents and caregivers who spend at least 15 minutes a day talking with their child can build the foundation for a strong relationship, and help prevent bullying.

KnowBullying, a new mobile app by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), encourages dialogue between you and your children and helps you start a conversation.

KnowBullying by SAMHSA includes:

  • Conversation Starters: Start a meaningful discussion with your child.
  • Tips: Learn ways to prevent bullying.
  • Warning Signs: Know if your child is affected by bullying.
  • Reminders: Find the right time to connect with your child.
  • Social Media: Share tactics and useful advice.
  • Section for Educators: Prevent bullying in the classroom.

The KnowBullying app is available for Android and iPhone®. It is a free resource for mobile devices provided by SAMHSA, in conjunction with the Federal partnership.

Put the power to prevent bullying in your hand. Get the KnowBullying app.

Note: The article above comes from media sources who are solely responsible for their content. It is being shared for educational value.

Call for Proposals! Iowa STEM CAPS RFP Released

Iowa STEM logoThe Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council seeks schools wishing to establish and innovative, replicable Iowa model of the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) Program. CAPS originated by Blue Valley School District in Overland Park, KS, and now occurs in four additional locations across the country, including Waukee, Iowa (see Additional CAPS Models below.)
  • Northland CAPS immerses students in professional environments without the need for new buildings or classrooms.

The Council has designated a portion of the state legislative funding to promote Iowa STEM CAPS programs, with the goal of uniting the expertise of public and private sectors to strengthen the continuum from school to careers. The number of proposals accepted will depend upon available funds and proposal requests.

To learn more about the CAPS model in Iowa, join one of our webinars on August 12 at 1:00 p.m. CSD or August 20 at 9:00 a.m. CSD. Please check back for the link to the webinar. 
Please find the request for proposals here

 Proposals are due October 15, 2014

Questions? Please address questions to

The IOWA STEM CAPS Taskforce is chaired by Southeast Regional Manager Kristine Bullock at