Makerspace Movement in Ottumwa

Joni Nicholson, Elementary Teacher-Librarian for Ottumwa Community School District

maker magnetThe Makerspace movement has created a buzz in the library-media community.  Many public libraries have embraced this opportunity to add more hands-on activities to appeal to their patrons.  But in the school setting, teacher-librarians often express many concerns about how to incorporate a Makerspace into their program with so many obstacles.  These obstacles—time, space, and budget—are not new to any of us in school libraries, but they don’t have to be roadblocks that keep you from creating a great “Makerspace” of your own.

Stacy Moran and I, both elementary librarians for the Ottumwa Community School District, teamed together to do  just that.  We were both wanting to implement some form of Makerspace in our libraries, but we were both faced with those same pesky obstacles.  With classroom teachers’ schedules already being very tight, we knew it would be a challenge to find time to add another event into the school day.  In some of the older school buildings where libraries are often confined to a classroom or a converted auditorium stage, space was another issue.  And of course, adding another item to an already meager budget seemed impossible too.  These are not concerns unique to the Ottumwa Community School District.  Most other schools face these same constraints. Continue reading

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Lakeview Elementary Closes the Gap for Students in Special Education

Featured on – Centerville’s Lakeview Elementary has seen tremendous success in closing the Literacy achievement gap for all students, but especially those in special education. “Wdsc_0062hen I think about where we were six years ago when we were first reviewing data in the SINA process and where we are now, I attribute that to support from the AEA and our staff’s willingness to redesign instruction,” says Principal Terri Schofield.

A suggestion from the AEA to include special education students into general classroom instruction and a change in grade-level team structure set the foundation for achievement. “With C4K and MTSS, we began to develop our tiers. Special education students have 90 minutes of reading instruction, Title 1 intervention (students recognized as scoring below FAST benchmark), and specially designed instruction,” she explains, “Teachers have changed teaching to meet the needs of the way kids learn!” Continue reading

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Support through Assistive Technology – from Pal-Pad to Head Switch: Meet Zackary

Ellie Hamilton, Assistive Technology Specialist

img_3257Zackary, a student in the Centerville District, receives homebound special education services* from Great Prairie AEA. The district and AEA work together to serve and support Zachary’s learning. Earlier this year, his IEP team requested that GPAEA’s Assistive Technology Team complete an assessment of his needs. The team, along with Zackary’s family, used the Student Environment Tasks and Tools (SETT) form to prioritize what tools were needed to support him. It was determined that Zackary did not demonstrate a preference for items and was currently using a pal-pad switch to activate switch activities. The goal became for him to demonstrate preferences for items using a variety of assistive technology tools. Continue reading

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This is Eli…

Jennifer Woodley, Communication Specialist

A little over a week ago, I visited Jamie Reifsteck’s first grade classroom in the Fairfield Community School District to participate in an Autism Awareness activity. I was welcomed by a group of smiling faces and blue shirts! “We are all wearing blue today – for Eli!” they told me, “Eli has Autism.”

Eli’s family (mom, dad, and sister) visit the class a couple of times a year to share information, lead awareness activities, and encourage the kids to ask questions about Eli and Autism. “All this is to help build a community around Eli. We don’t want the kids scared or confused, and we want them to be comfortable interacting with Eli anywhere at any time,” explained Eli’s dad and Great Prairie AEA School Improvement Specialist, Mike Stiemsma. “It’s great when they see him at Hy-Vee, they run up and give him a high 5 and say “hi” even if he doesn’t say “hi” back.” Continue reading

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Success for Maddox

Maddox-1st gradeEveryday AEA Speech-Language Pathologists provide consultation and therapy for children who have difficulties with language, voice, articulation, and stuttering. Recently, one Great Prairie AEA staff member received a wonderful note of appreciation from an area parent:

Dear Ms. John,

I’m Maddox’s mom (West Burlington) and I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for all of your work with Maddox these last few months. He loves his time with you and we have seen such incredible progress in such a short amount of time. A couple of weeks ago, he started saying his L’s, and is so consistent and determined! It still catches me off guard to hear them, and they come more and more naturally. Last night, he really caught me off guard when I got home from my studio and he told me he had just taken a “bath”. Last night was the first time in entire life he said “bath” and not “baf”. I made him repeat himself about 5 times, and the rest of the night we kept saying “th” words back and forth to each other. He randomly practices the sounds that you do with him, and I love hearing the pride in his voice as he does it. His J’s sound more like Z’s instead of the D’s they used to sound like, and he is consciously practicing his SH’s, too.

I knowing teaching in any sense can be a thankless job sometimes, and I wanted to make sure you know just how much we appreciate what you are doing for Maddox, and how thankful we are to have you in his life.

Thank you!
Wendi & Travis Riggens-Miller

“It is always great to receive feedback from parents, who can hear the speech behaviors changing in their child,” replied Diane John, GPAEA Speech-Language Pathologist. “Maddox is a joy to work with and be around – children like him, are the reason that I do what I do!”
Learn more about Speech-Language services from Great Prairie AEA at
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Finding His Step… Aiden’s Story

by Deena Recker, Orientation Mobility Specialist

Using his AMD to find the door opening to class.

Using his AMD to find the door opening to class.

I am an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, working with GPAEA since August 2012. My role is to help our students who are experiencing reduced vision or no vision to understand the environment and learn how to move safely within it.

When I began working with Aiden he was 4 years old and not walking or crawling. He struggled to understand the world around him due to his lack of visual information. With the help of his IEP team and paraprofessional, Nancy, who faithfully follows the routines set for Aiden, he has learned to support his body weight using a stander, begin standing alone (with leg braces for support), then walking with support, and now he is able to walk independently and without braces. Using an Adaptive Mobility Device (AMD) and changing it as his abilities have grown, Aiden continues to make tremendous progress. Hopefully within the next year he will be ready to use a long cane for travel.

Aiden attends a regular education class and with the help of teachers, therapists and his paraprofessional, he is learning alongside his peers. The Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Lane Anthony, is instructing Aiden in Braille so he can learn to read and write without vision.

Originally posted at

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Fun with FOSS Kit at Keota and Burlington

by Rosemary Peck, GPAEA Science Specialist

In late September, I visited pilot classrooms at Keota Elementary (Keota) and Blackhawk Elementary (Burlington). The teachers in these two buildings are implementing the FOSS kit curriculum in a pilot program establishing a partnership between

2nd grade students using earth materials to make bricks

2nd grade students using earth materials to make bricks

VAST Center (Van Allen Science Teaching Center) at Grant Wood AEA, the Eastern Iowa Science Consortium and GPAEA. More information about this partnership opportunity will be shared with Great Prairie LEA administrators in the coming months.

During my visits to the classrooms, excited, engaged and enthusiastic students were making observations, asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing data, writing in science journals and making connections to what they were learning in the classroom to the world outside, in their local schoolyards.

Kindergarten students of Mrs. Wax (Burlington), Mrs. Hart and Mrs. McClenahan (Keota), studying FOSS Trees and Weather are observing their “adopted” tree throughout the school year, learning basic characteristics and needs of trees, predicting the changes that will occur, and connecting the seasonal weather changes with the impact those changes have on “their tree” and other living things. Mrs. Wax commented “We are very excited to be learning about trees this year.  We were even more excited when a tree showed up in our classroom.  We will watch our tree through the seasons and see what happens to it.   We also took guesses to see how big our tree will be by the end of kindergarten and when we are fifth graders.” Continue reading

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