Stumped on your science project? Check out IUSD’s Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night

Need help with that upcoming science project? Why not consult an expert?

Ask-A-Scientist 093014IUSD will once again host its Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School. The annual event will assist students in grades six through 12 who are working on this year’s science projects, as well as sixth-graders who have been tasked with making Rube Goldberg machines – like the ones in the Mouse Trap board game or the breakfast scene from “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

As in previous years, Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night attendees will have an opportunity to chat with real scientists and engineers from places like Beckman, Allergan, Rockwell, the Irvine Ranch Water District, UC Irvine, USC, Irvine Valley College and Chapman University. In addition, IUSD science teachers will be on hand to help answer questions.

Attendance is free, but each child must be supervised by an adult for the entire evening.

Rancho San Joaquin Middle School is located at 4861 Michelson Road. Visitors may park on Michelson and Yale without being ticketed, even though it says “No parking.” (Note that this special privilege applies only to Ask-A-Scientist/Engineer Night.)

For more information, check out the flier, email or call (949) 936-5057.

Groundbreaking ceremony for fifth comprehensive high school set for Oct. 16

The date is set for the groundbreaking of Irvine Unified’s fifth comprehensive high school.

The IUSD Board of Education, district staff and local dignitaries will gather for a special ceremony to mark the beginning of construction on Thursday, Oct. 16. The event, which is open to the public, is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. at the future site of the new campus, which will be located on the south side of Irvine Boulevard, west of Alton Parkway. (Click to enlarge the map below.)

Because there’s not exactly a parking lot yet, guests are encouraged to carpool. For safety reasons, they’re also encouraged to wear flat, closed-toe shoes.

HS5 mapIrvine’s next high school may not have an official name — more on that in a minute — but it does have a targeted opening date. If all goes as planned, the state-of-the-art campus will welcome its first batch of freshmen in August 2016. That’s significant, because enrollment projections indicate IUSD will need a fifth comprehensive high school in place to accommodate thousands of new homes — and to prevent overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools.

In 2011, IUSD and its developer partners reached a tentative agreement on the school’s location, setting the stage for an exhaustive evaluation and testing process that culminated with approvals from the California Department of Education and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control. Nearly three years later, the Board of Education passed a resolution formally selecting the 40.2-acre site along Irvine Boulevard and allowing ownership of the property to be transferred from developer Heritage Fields.

Now it’s almost time to break ground on the new high school. But first comes the matter of what to call it.

In anticipation of the Oct. 16 ceremony, IUSD recently asked the community to submit potential names by Sept. 26 through an online input form, and the public responded with more than 300 suggestions. Superintendent Terry Walker and his staff will carefully review the list of entries before making a recommendation to the Board of Education, which is expected to vote on an official name at its Oct. 7 meeting.

Be sure to follow @IUSD on Twitter if you’d like to learn the name that evening.

IUSD officials break ground on a permanent home for Portola Springs Elementary

PortolaSpringsGB 092514

A little more than 15 months after breaking ground on Cypress Village Elementary School, IUSD officials were at it again on Thursday, ceremoniously kicking off construction of the new Portola Springs Elementary campus.

This time around, the celebration included dozens of children, many wearing red and black Portola Springs T-shirts. It was a genuine display of school spirit, attributable to the fact that Portola Springs has already opened and is serving an inaugural class of 240 enthusiastic students at an interim site just a few miles away.

Against a backdrop of dirt and earth-moving equipment, Principal Heather Phillips welcomed many of those students — along with parents, teachers and staff members — and delivered the day’s opening remarks before turning the mic over to IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker, who in turn introduced Board of Education President Sharon Wallin. Then it was the students’ turn to take the stage, dutifully singing “America the Beautiful” under the direction of their teachers.

Other local dignitaries were on hand, including Board of Education members Paul Bokota, Lauren Brooks and Ira Glasky; Irvine Mayor Steven Choi and City Councilwoman Christina Shea; Irvine Company Senior Vice President Mike LeBlanc and Vice President of Community Affairs Robin Leftwich; and IUSD assistant superintendents John Fogarty, Eamonn O’Donovan and Cassie Parham.

At a cost of about $33 million, the new Portola Springs campus is on track to open in August 2015 at the address of 12100 Portola Springs in Irvine. It took a little imagination to envision the completed school near the intersection of Portola Parkway and Portola Springs on Thursday, but its layout will mirror IUSD’s other new elementary school, Cypress Village, which opened its doors on Sept. 2.

PortolaSpringslogoPrincipal Phillips told the gathered crowd that Portola Springs Elementary will embrace Irvine Unified’s traditions while establishing many of its own.

“We gather today to celebrate not just the groundbreaking for a new school, but the beginning of a new chapter in the story of IUSD,” she said.

Superintendent Walker followed, introducing the board members, district staff, city leaders and Irvine Company executives in attendance and offering praise for those who made the project possible. He also noted that the presence of Portola Springs students added a new level of energy to this type of ceremony.

“What strikes me as very uniquely great and wonderful about this event is that you’re here,” Walker said. “You’re going to be here from the beginning to see this grow, and I agree with (Principal Phillips) that there isn’t anything more exciting than to watch something that’s going to be so profoundly important in the lives of our community, our students and our families.”

Board President Wallin said Portola Springs is just the second school built from the district’s educational specifications. Approved in 2011, ed specs spell out desired instructional activities and the physical spaces needed to support those activities.

“But the ed specs and the state-of-the-art facilities alone do not make a successful school,” she said. “It takes talented teachers, involved parents, a dedicated staff and engaged students to breathe life into a campus, and fortunately we have all that right here.”

After the speeches were over, board members and district staff were presented with white hard hats and silver shovels to pose for a few photos, symbolizing the start of construction. Others joined in as well.

“To those who will be working and learning here a year from now, I have three requests,” Board President Wallin shared a few moments earlier. “Love your new school, make it your own, and set the bar high for those who will follow in your footsteps.”

Picture above, from left to right: Assistant Superintendent Cassie Parham, Portola Springs Principal Heather Phillips, Board of Education member Paul Bokota, Board of Education member Lauren Brooks, Superintendent Terry Walker, Board of Education President Sharon Wallin and Board of Education member Ira Glasky.

IUSD in the News: Irvine High junior assists fellow student-musicians in Costa Rica

The altruism of an accomplished young musician from Irvine High School is the subject of this story on the Orange County Register’s website.

newspaperUpon visiting a music school in Costa Rica in 2013, junior Justin Koga was inspired by the passion of the local students — and concerned that there were too few instruments in good repair. So he took matters into his own hands, organizing a pair of concert fundraisers in Orange County and New York.

The money he helped raise paid for eight violins, three violas, three cellos and much-needed supplies, according to the Register.

“Sometimes you really need to go far to look at what you really have back at home,” Justin, 15, told the newspaper. “Music has played such a huge role in my life. It’s given me a lot; allowed me to travel, meet new people. And these kids, they wanted to play music and they couldn’t just because they didn’t have the instruments to play it.”

O.C. Register contributing writer Kiran Kazalbash has the story here.

Take that, Newton: City of Irvine lands at No. 14 on latest list of best places to live


Citing its robust economy, numerous parks and — ahem — “incredible schools,” Money magazine has named Irvine among the best places to live in the whole U.S.

McKinney, Texas was No. 1 on Money’s list, which focused this year on cities with populations of 50,000 to 300,000. More than 50 characteristics were examined, including jobs, housing markets and, of course, education.

At No. 14, Irvine ranked just behind Centennial, Colo. but ahead of Newton, Mass. (Let the Irvine-Newton rivalry begin!) Here’s what the magazine specifically had to say about our fair town.

This SoCal city appears on our list year after year, thanks to its strong economy — more than 100 companies are headquartered in Irvine — incredible schools, and acres of green space.

The city boasts more than 54 miles of bike paths and 20,000 acres of parks and preserves. Then there’s another little perk: The Pacific Ocean is just 10 miles away.

One of the largest master-planned communities in the country, the city is organized around 24 “villages,” complete with parks, pools and shopping centers. While Irvine has historically lacked a central spot for locals to gather, that’s beginning to change. Now residents are congregating at the 1,300-acre Orange County Great Park, home to gardens, a weekly farmers market, and arts complex , or Irvine Spectrum, which is being transformed from shopping center to a walkable complex of apartments, outdoor restaurants, specialty shops and entertainment.

The downside of this sunny spot? Median home prices top $650,000, and traffic can be a brute during rush hour.


Irvine has now placed in the top 15 on this list three times in nine years, according to this story in the Orange County Register.

To check out Money’s full breakdown of the best places to live, click here.

UC, CSU and community colleges affirm their support for Common Core

Implementation of the new Common Core standards “has the potential to dramatically improve college readiness and help close the preparation gap that exists for California students,” say the state’s major systems of higher education.

In a joint letter sent to the California State Board of Education just a few weeks ago, the leaders of the University of California, the California State University system, California Community Colleges and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities affirmed their support of the new standards, which outline what students should know and be able to do in reading and mathematics from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

CommonCoreLOGO (1)“The Common Core standards provide teachers and districts a roadmap to developing courses that cultivate the deep understandings required for college preparation,” the Aug. 29 letter says. “In concert with this transition, the a-g requirements for CSU and UC admission, specifically areas ‘b’ (English) and ‘c’ (Mathematics), have been updated to align with the Common Core standards and the message is being transmitted to schools, parents and students.”

Meanwhile, the state’s colleges and universities say they’re also making sure that their teacher preparation programs and administrator leadership academies reflect the new standards. You can read the full letter here.

In 2010, the California Legislature added provisions to the state Education Code that set the stage for adoption of Common Core. Implementation began in 2013-14 and is continuing this year.

Like the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges, IUSD has also embraced the new standards, in large part because they align with the district’s own Continuous Improvement Efforts.

Under Common Core, hands-on activities and collaborative exercises will be much more prevalent, and there’s been a shift toward nonfiction texts. Media skills will also be integrated into everyday lessons, writing will be shared with outside audiences and next-generation assessments will evaluate higher order processes.

Math classes will teach fewer concepts, but they will reach new depths in exploring those concepts. Students will be challenged with more real-world applications and fewer theoretical equations, and there will be a greater emphasis on learning the process rather than merely providing the correct answer.

For a primer on Common Core math, we recommend this recent column that ran in USA Today. The author is Solomon Friedberg, who chairs the math department at Boston College and is editor of a book series called “Issues in Mathematics Education.”

According to Friedberg, math has often been taught as a set of rules rather than concepts. But that’s changing.

Kids learn in elementary school that you can “add a zero to multiply by ten.” And it’s true, 237 x 10 = 2370. Never mind why. But then when kids learn decimals, the rule fails: 2.37 x 10 is not 2.370. One approach is to simply add another rule. But that’s not the best way.

Common Core saves us from plug-and-chug. In fact, math is based on a collection of ideas that do make sense. The rules come from the ideas. Common Core asks students to learn math this way, with both computational fluency and understanding of the ideas.


Again, you can read his column here. And for more information on Common Core in IUSD, check out the district’s Common Core webpage.

City program to offer emergency response training for parents of school-age kids

Did you know that September is National Preparedness Month?

We didn’t either. But now’s certainly a good time for families, schools and businesses to revisit their emergency plans, stock up on supplies and seek out best practices.

CERT Training FlierSpeaking of which, the City of Irvine’s Community Emergency Response Team — or CERT — is offering an upcoming 11-session training program for moms and dads of school-age children. The hands-on course, focusing on such topics as personal and family preparedness, fire suppression, first aid and light search and rescue, will be held from 9 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning Oct. 7 and concluding Nov. 11.

The idea behind CERT is to prepare citizens to help themselves, their families and their neighbors in the event of a major catastrophic event. To receive certification in the course, participants must attend all 11 sessions, which will be staged at the Irvine Police Department headquarters, Orange County Fire Authority Station No. 6 and Irvine City Hall.

You can find more information by clicking on the flier to the right, and you can request an application by visiting the City of Irvine’s CERT webpage or by calling 949-724-7164. Space is limited, so don’t wait too long if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about the Irvine Unified School District’s emergency planning efforts, take a look at this recently updated Emergency Preparedness webpage. You’ll find information on emergency communications, lockdown training, Comprehensive Safe School Plans and more.

IUSD produces 110 semifinalists in the 2015 National Merit Scholarship program

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. has released its annual list of semifinalists in the running for National Merit awards, and 110 of them are from right here in IUSD.

meritThese Irvine scholars are in select company. About 16,000 students have earned the prestigious distinction nationwide, representing less than 1 percent of all high school seniors. The press release is here.

So what does it take to become a National Merit semifinalist? Well, for starters, you have to do really, really well on the Preliminary SAT.

About 1.4 million juniors from more than 22,000 high schools took the PSAT during the last school year, and those that aced the exam earned an opportunity to pursue roughly 7,600 National Merit Scholarships worth some $33 million. The scholarships include corporate-sponsored awards, college-sponsored awards and “National Merit $2500 Scholarships,” of which 2,500 are up for grabs.

To make it to the next round, our local semifinalists must submit detailed applications and fulfill a number of additional requirements, like earning outstanding marks throughout high school, securing the recommendation of a school official and producing a high score on the SAT.

We’re told about 90 percent of all semifinalists will become finalists, and more than half of the latter group will become Merit Scholars — and earn the college funding that comes with that title.

Past National Merit Scholars include former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, former Indiana Governor Mitchell Daniels, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Elena Kagan, an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

Perhaps there’s a future Supreme Court justice or labor secretary somewhere in IUSD.

Uni teacher takes STEM education to new heights with ambitious satellite experiments

Tinh Tran was looking to integrate more hands-on science, math and technology activities into his classroom lessons, with the ultimate goal of sparking an interest in STEM career paths.

ArdusatSo when the University High science teacher heard about an ambitious program that would enable high schoolers to conduct space experiments, using data from real satellites, he was interested to say the least.

“Mind-blowing” is how Tran describes the technology offered by an education company called Ardusat, which has launched softball-sized satellites called CubeSats into low orbit. (One is pictured to the right.) Each is equipped with sensors that will allow Earthbound students to track temperatures, magnetic fields, UV levels and luminosity using classroom kits with microcontrollers.

Thanks to grant funding secured through the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s Innovative Teaching Awards Program, the ninth-graders enrolled in Tran’s Earth science systems course will be among the first to pilot the new Ardusat system. And that’s drawn interest from the U.S. News & World Report, which recently interviewed the Uni educator for this story about CubeSats and the future of STEM instruction.

It’s an interesting read even without the IUSD connection. Meanwhile, Tran told us that the mini-satellites will have broad applications at Uni, allowing his students to analyze weather patterns, measure solar flares, monitor the greenhouse effect and much, much more.

“There’s a really steep learning curve for anyone jumping into this,” he said. “One of my goals this year is to integrate STEM (project-based learning) activities into my classroom to encourage more kids to think about STEM fields as a career path. This fits the bill nicely.”

As for his inclusion in the U.S. News article, he said he was happy to weigh in on a subject that’s becoming more critical by the day.

“Whenever there is a chance to promote STEM awareness, I’m in.”

Alderwood teacher relies on a longtime friend and a little ingenuity for ice bucket challenge

Over the summer, we saw a number of ALS ice bucket challenges featuring celebrities, politicians and regular folks. But we hadn’t seen one quite like this.

Dan Grubb, a sixth-grade teacher at IUSD’s Alderwood Elementary School, recently took part in the viral fundraiser, employing the help of longtime friend Edward J. McNeill, as well as a little ingenuity.

McNeill is a 35-year survivor of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS. He’s also the author of several novels.

“Edward is so inspiring,” says Grubb. “When I think things in my life are tough, it helps to change my perspective to all that Edward has overcome. This man has written three novels using one finger on a keyboard. Edward feels that it is his drive to write that keeps him going year after year.”

Even though McNeill’s physical limitations prevent him from hoisting a bucket of ice water, Grubb wanted him to do the honors. So the Alderwood teacher constructed a classic Rube Goldberg machine using household items, including parts from his garage door opener.

In the video, Grubb takes a seat under a bucket. Nearby, McNeill nudges a tennis ball down a slope and into a roll of duct tape, which taps a row of dominoes, which sets off a rat trap, which … well, you should see it for yourself.

The ALS ice bucket challenge has been a fundraising juggernaut this summer due in large part to its viral nature. Specifically, each participant calls on friends and colleagues to donate or perform the stunt — and most do both.

Before being doused, Grubb challenged Alderwood Principal Kara Rydman, IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker and Mark Sontag, IUSD’s director of math, science and career technical education. He also issued a parting challenge to his students — past, present and future.

“More research is needed to end ALS,” he said. “What difference can you make? Be a difference-maker.”