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AEAs provide every Iowa child access to quality online resources

December 5, 2012
Inside Education — Jerry Schnabel , Times-Republican

Many of us may remember the scene in Mark Twain's story "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," where Tom lightens his workload by enlisting his buddies to help him whitewash a fence. Actually "tricking" may be a more accurate word than "enlisting" but the work was done more efficiently than Tom could have done himself. In this case, Tom himself primarily benefited from the activity. I want to tell another story, but unlike Mark Twain's, this one is true and benefits all the children and teachers in Iowa.

For the past 15 years, the Iowa Area Education Agencies (AEAs) have collectively worked together to provide all students in Iowa with access to high quality web-based resources for accredited public and non-public K-12 schools through Iowa AEA Online. Iowa AEA Online is a virtual library that provides no-cost access to 13 different online resources including the newest additions BookFLIX and the AEA Digital Library. AEA Online is funded and supported by Iowa's AEAs.

BookFLIX is a collection of online books for lower elementary students that a student may use in a number of ways. The student may read the book him or herself, or read along as a narrator is reading it, with each word being highlighted as it is read. Another feature of BookFLIX is that it pairs a nonfiction book with a fiction book on the same topic. For example, there is a nonfiction book on the topic of owls paired with the Caldecott award winning children's fiction book, "Owl Moon."

The AEA Digital Library consists of about 3,000 full-length digitally streamed videos and shorter clips for use in the classroom. Clips are helpful, as the teacher may want to focus on a specific part of the video, for example the clip showing real-life examples of the difference between potential and kinetic energy. By having access to clips, the teacher or student may jump right to that concept, without needing to go through the whole video to find it. Currently the AEA Digital Library is focused primarily on science, social studies and math topics.

This past year, the Iowa AEA Online resource that was accessed most frequently was CultureGrams. CultureGrams provides perspectives on daily life and culture, including customs, history and lifestyle of people around the world for over 200 countries in the world as well as all 50 states and 13 Canadian provinces.

By working as an AEA system, the AEAs have been able to secure statewide pricing, which has helped stretch the taxpayer dollar. Also, this approach permits all students and teachers across the state to have access to these resources both at school and home. So hundreds of thousands of teachers and students in the state benefit from this approach. Tom Sawyer could have learned a thing or two from folks in Iowa!

These resources have been highly popular with teachers and students. In Area Education Agency 267 alone, these resources were used more than two million times last year. A one-page flyer that gives a brief overview of each Iowa AEA Online resource is available at:


Jerry Schnabel is the Director of Information Technology with Area Education Agency 267. He is based out of the Cedar Falls office and can be reached at 319-268-7638.Area Education Agency 267 serves over 65,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency's service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.



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