Vista Unified Hailed As Innovators By Educators & Entrepreneurs Around The Globe
Ray Huard …Simon Hay of the London-based Firefly Learning said he was impressed by the way some Olive Elementary first graders worked independently on computer tablets while others were guided by teacher Teresa Dominguez.
“We work with schools in 26 different countries and we don’t see this very often,” Hay said. “It’s really cool to see what’s going on.”
Hay was among more than 100 educators and entrepreneurs from around the world who recently toured several schools in the Vista Unified School District to see first-hand the innovative teaching practices they’d heard about.
“The big thing I’m noticing is just the independence of the students,” said Sarah Rahn, a teacher in Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota. “It’s eye-opening to see what the students can do when they have their own devices.”
Rahn said she was envious because each of the Olive Elementary students has a tablet to use, while she has to check out tablets from the school library when she wants her students to use them.
Olive Principal Stephanie Vasquez said technology is an important element in the school’s focus on critical thinking, collaboration, communication and clear writing.
“That technology is meeting students at their level,” Vasquez told the tour group.
In Teresa Dominguez’s first grade, the students are using tablets as they learn how to write opinion pieces.
“It’s super exciting to hear first graders’ opinions,” Vazquez said.
The visitors also got a peek at Myrna Gonzalez’s fifth grade class, where the students are growing vegetables in the classroom, using aeroponic towers, which use no soil but spray a mist of nutrients onto plants hanging from the towers.
“I’ve never seen these before,” said Jason Bedford, senior vice president for client express and engagement at Dreambox Learning of Raleigh, N.C.
Bedford said he liked how Gonzalez was guiding her students as they worked on projects.
“I really see the teacher as an activator,” Bedford said. “We talk about facilitator. She was an activator. She was giving them what they needed.”
The school tours were in conjunction with the recent semi-annual meeting of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools in San Diego and the annual ASU-GSV (Arizona State University-Global Silicon Valley) Summit, also in San Diego.
The summit brought together a wide range of companies and individuals to share the latest developments in educational technology.
The League of Innovative Schools sessions were co-hosted by Vista Unified and Cajon Valley school districts.
Digital Promise is an independent nonprofit organization created by Congress to accelerate innovation in education. Digital Promise’s League of Innovative Schools is a national coalition of school districts considered leaders in using technology in the classroom. Vista Unified and Cajon Valley are members.
“I hope that we’re able to share the great things that our teachers and students are doing every day,” Vista Unified Superintendent Devin Vodicka said.
Schools on the tour included Temple Heights Elementary School, Mission Vista High School, Vista High School, Rancho Minerva Middle School, Vista Magnet Middle School, Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts, Vista Magnet Middle School, Casita Center for Science, Technology & Math, Vista Innovation & Design Academy and Olive Elementary.
At VIDA, Darrin Sato of Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii said, “I appreciate the enthusiasm of students.”
VIDA recently opened a maker space lab sponsored by Qualcomm where students are encouraged to let their imaginations roam as they tinker by designing and building robots and other creations aimed at inspiring them to consider careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).
Visiting the VIDA lab, Sato said “I definitely love the collaboration – students working in groups. It’s such a 21st Century skill, collaboration.”
As program director of IT education technology services for his school district. Sato said “I definitely love the infusion of technology that I’m seeing.”
VIDA Principal Eric Chagala explained that VIDA is “a more project-based learning school” where students learn core skills by making things and puzzling through problems.
“They can actually go out and solve real world problems in real world and innovative ways,” Chagala said. “We want kids to be what Google calls smart creators.”
For example, Chagala that said students learn high school level physics “by fooling around with rockets.”
The school also has a crime scene investigation course, where students investigate a murder.
In the process, “We’re teaching them biomedical science.”
David Alderslade, vice president of finance and administration at the educational development firm Edgenuity of Scottsdale, Ariz., said he hasn’t been in a school since he was a student and what he was seeing at Vista Unified was far different from what he remembered.
“It’s not the old brick-and-mortar school,” Alderslade said. “I’m used to a teacher at the front with all the desks lined up and a black board and that was it.”
Alderslade said he liked the changes he saw being implemented at Vista Unified.
“Clearly, kids are engaged and encouraged to be innovative,” Alderslade said. “I love that they can direct their own pace.”
At Vista Academy, Valerie Truesdale, chief officer of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, said she liked the way teachers were using what she called “inquiry-based learning.”
“Instead of the teachers saying, ‘This is the information,’ and teaching it, the teacher helps kids puzzle it out,” Truesdale said, adding, “That takes a lot of planning for teachers.”
Tina Bobrowski, a teacher and media specialist at Owsley County School District in Kentucky, said she liked the way Vista Academy infuses the arts throughout its curriculum.
“It was consistent from room to room,” Bobrowski said. “They’re touching all sides of a student.”
Like many of her colleagues, Bobrowski said she was impressed with the way Vista Unified tailors curriculum to meet the needs of individual students.
“I see the excitement of the children, because they see this is working for them,” Bobrowski said. “When you have people coming from all over the country to visit you, you know you’re doing something right.”