eMINTS: Changing the way teachers reach students

Certified eMINTS teachers don’t always do things in a traditional manner. Desks may be put together, or not utilized in a lesson at all, to bring students closer together in a learning environment.
Certified eMINTS teachers don’t always do things in a traditional manner. Desks may be put together, or not utilized in a lesson at all, to bring students closer together in a learning environment.
Photo by Jessica Vaughn

FOLEY - Over the last decade, teachers have been utilizing a program that shows them new and exciting ways to reach their students: eMINTS.

“Most people think of eMINTS as a technology program, but that’s not what it is,” said Education Technology Support Services Coordinator Jeremy King. “It’s a professional development course that works with teachers to understand how to use technology correctly in their classrooms. Teachers learn how to build and teach lessons that harness the power of what they have in their classroom and use it with their students.”

eMINTS started out as a way for teachers to not only learn more about technology in schools, but to help with receiving new computers for classrooms. Over time that transformed into something much larger, giving teachers new tools to engage students in lessons. eMINTS is a two-year process during which teachers and administrators go to eMINTS classes twice a month for four-hour sessions. The majority of classes take place at night when teachers are off-duty from the schools, but as the demand for eMINTS certification has grown daytime classes have been added where available. Night course attendees are given a small stipend for gas, dinner expenses, childcare expenses, and the extra work hours. Currently there are five nighttime classes going, with approximately 22 teachers and admins in each.

There are four key components involved: community building, high-quality lesson design, authentic learning, and power by technology. As part of the plan, certified eMINTS teachers have the ability to receive their National Board Certification. There are approximately 150 certified eMINTS teachers in Baldwin County after ten years of courses being offered.

“One of the things teachers learn is the kids are part of the community they’re in,” King said. “One of the first things we teach is not how to teach the lessons, but how to get your kids involved in what you’re doing so they feel like they’re part of the community and they’re comfortable.” eMINTS courses teach how to organize group work, giving students the chance to develop life skills in teamwork and organization to benefit them in the future. To this end, teachers are instructed on making decisions based off each individual lesson: some lessons may be taught in the traditional method of reading from the class book while other lessons may take place with kids standing in separate groups before charts or working together with desks turned to face one another.

“The big trick of the program is to learn how to make your classroom what the kids need, not what you need in your classroom,” said King. “Sometimes desks are facing each other, sometimes they have beanbags, it varies classroom to classroom. It all looks different depending on what those kids at that grade level at that school need at that time.”

Students are given the chance to develop classroom Norms, such as ‘respect one another,’ or ‘work as a team.” At the same time, teachers keep journals to reflect on individual lessons, detailing what worked, what didn’t, and their personal thoughts on how a lesson went. In this way, teachers are able to reflect on what they’ve learned, exactly as students are doing.

“A lot of people ask if eMINTS change test scores, and a lot of factors go into that so I can’t say,” King said. “What I can say is that teachers repeatedly tell us the kids in their class like being there, there’s less absenteeism, the students are more engaged in what they’re learning, meaning they’re in school and they’re participating. Since the four-part project began we have seen graduation rates going up, so things are moving in the right direction.”

eMINTS also assists teachers on any grade level, as once you learn the courses the lessons you leave with can be applied no matter what grade you’re teaching. For teachers who switch schools, grades, or even those who move on to work in the school library or as a school administrator, the lessons taught in eMINTS still apply. While teachers still have to learn the new academics or job duties, the skills they obtain during eMINTS training are transferable.

“That’s what is so great about the program, it’s not a curriculum,” King said. “The State of Alabama sets our curriculum and that’s what we teach, but eMINTS is how you teach it. When planning a lesson the first thing you look at is the Alabama standards that you’re trying to cover, then you ask how you are going to teach those standards. You’ve got 50 different ways to choose, but which one is going to work best for those kids?”

To learn more about eMINTS, check out their website at http://emints.org.