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eMINTS: Sounds sweet, makes teaching cool

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 29, 2008 - eMINTS sounds like something sweet: candy ordered over the Internet perhaps. The term actually means Enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies, a rather long-winded description of a highly regarded program for boosting student achievement.

The program stands out as a shining example of Missouri's innovation in instructional technology even as it struggles to cover the costs of other technology programs. Unlike other programs, Missouri is using federal dollars to slowly expand eMINTS into districts throughout the state. That eMINTS doesn't yet cover even half of Missouri's 500-plus districts shows how far the state has yet to go.

In any case, this program shows teachers how to engage students by using multimedia tools. It tries to get beyond the traditional model of a teacher standing in the front of a classroom, lecturing and trying to hold the attention and interest of bored students. Classrooms for eMINTS programs include a laptop and workstation for the teacher, a SMART Board and projector, a scanner, printer and digital camera, a computer for every two students if the program is for grade 3 through 6, and a laptop for each student if the class is for middle school and high school.

Teachers who want to use eMINTS have to undergo 200 hours of professional development during which they are taught how to integrate technology into their lessons.

"We believe it's an extremely successful program," says Lori Kaplan, coordinator for eMINTS, which is based in Columbia. "The data show that students in eMINTS classrooms tend to do better than those in regular classrooms."

She adds that 3rd and 4th graders in eMINTS classrooms show significant improvement in their scores on the MAP.

If the program is that effective, why isn't it used across the state? One word: money. The average cost for an eMINTS classroom is between $9,000 and $37,000, depending on the grade level.

An important goal of the program is to provide a new method of teaching students how to think.

"In eMINTS classrooms, teachers are not to be lecturers, telling kids what they need to know," Kaplan says.

Instead, the teacher encourages the student to think critically and learn to solve a problem as part of a group. Teachers make an effort to put the problem in a realistic context.

An example, says Kaplan, might be a water conservation or purification project. Instead of lecturing about the issue, the teacher gives each student responsibility for working on an aspect of the problem as part of a team effort. Through that method, Kaplan says, the problem has a lot more meaning to the students and that makes them more engaged and focused on solving it.

eMINTS began with 44 school districts in Missouri and has grown to cover more than 38,000 students in 244 districts in Missouri, 10 in Utah, 60 in Maine, two in Nevada, one in East St. Louis, and one in Arkansas.

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