Uni teacher takes STEM 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.”

Take a virtual tour of the Irvine Unified School District’s newest elementary campus (video)

Sliding glass walls that transform classrooms into large collaborative learning spaces. Windows that automatically dim to help control energy costs. Outdoor seating for small-group instruction.

It’s all part of Cypress Village Elementary School, the latest addition to IUSD’s lineup of award-winning campuses.

With a budget of approximately $25 million and a projected opening enrollment of about 600 students, Cypress Village is nearing completion on 10.2 acres south of Jeffrey Road and east of the Santa Ana (5) Freeway. Once finished, the site will occupy about 61,000 square, serving its namesake village at the address of 355 Rush Lily.

Irvine has a history of producing cutting-edge schools, and this one fits nicely with that tradition. Yet what’s unique about Cypress Village, set to open Sept. 2, is that it’s the first school built to the district’s new educational specifications, or ed specs. Embedded in IUSD’s Facilities Master Plan, ed specs detail the instructional activities that will be housed within a school and map out the special features needed to support those activities.

We toured Cypress Village in mid-August, and though construction crews were still at work, the campus revealed the influence of IUSD’s ed specs with an emphasis on flexible learning environments, collaboration and technology integration.

In addition to the sliding glass walls, which will enable a number of collaborative opportunities for each grade level, classrooms in grades one through six also open into courtyards for outdoor instruction. Other amenities include a cavernous multipurpose room that will feature video monitors and floating ceiling panels, a living skills lab for students enrolled in the school’s structured autism program, grade-level work rooms for teachers, student tables that tilt up to become presentation boards and adjustable skylights that bathe hallways in natural light.

“The environment is set up to create a very personalized learning experience for our students,” Susan Kemp, Cypress Village’s first principal, told us.

School leaders are planning to host an open house from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Aug. 28 for incoming students and their families to check out some of these features, but you don’t have to wait get a preview of the site. Click on the video above to take a virtual tour of the new Cypress Village Elementary School.

Fifth-graders from Plaza Vista School showcase the power of technology in Super Bowl ad

Well, Super Bowl XLVIII wasn’t exactly what we expected, but we’ll spare you our in-depth football analysis. We will say that we liked some of the commercials, and one in particular caught our eye.

If you’re among those who hadn’t switched over to the more-competitive Puppy Bowl by the fourth quarter, you may have seen the one-minute spot for Microsoft that demonstrated how innovative technologies are being used to empower users and overcome barriers. That inspiring ad, which we’ve posted above, happened to include brief cameos by Plaza Vista School students in Scott Bedley’s fifth-grade classroom.

At about the 20-second mark, three P.V. students can be seen looking at a computer, and about five seconds later, Bedley’s class is shown waving and saying “Hi!” to children from another part of the world. We’re not sure how many were watching at that moment, but the big game generally draws some 100 million viewers from nearly 200 countries.

So how did Irvine students end up in a Super Bowl ad?

The Plaza Vista portion of the commercial was actually filmed on Jan. 15 after the director spotted an intriguing Twitter comment from Bedley, who has been a local trailblazer in the use of educational technology.

Bedley, a 2014 Orange County Teacher of the Year, had sent out a Tweet about the “Mystery Skype” game, in which students teleconference with a class from another state or country and try to determine the whereabouts of their counterparts by asking yes-or-no questions. Geography and history are crucial components of the lesson, which also promotes research, collaboration and cultural awareness.

When Bedley indicated his students hoped to play the game with at least one school in all 50 states, Microsoft took note and offered to send out a film crew for an upcoming after-school session.

This kind of technological engagement could become more prevalent throughout IUSD, which recently adopted a comprehensive Technology Master Plan to serve as a road map for using high-tech tools to further instructional objectives. But for lessons like Bedley’s to be possible in multiple classrooms and at multiple sites, the district has said it will need to secure funding to rebuild its aging and outdated technology infrastructure.

Incidentally, Microsoft produced a separate ad that focuses specifically on Bedley’s Mystery Skype lesson, and you can check it out here. To read a story on Plaza Vista’s Super Bowl cameo in the Orange County Register, click here. (Subscription required)

On the heels of approving a new technology plan, board discusses tech financing options

Before the winter break, the IUSD Board of Education approved a three-year Technology Master Plan outlining long-term strategies for using high-tech tools to improve outcomes for students.

This week, the district’s technology chief and a consultant delivered a follow-up presentation to the board, exploring options for funding those ambitions with a technology bond.

IUSD’s new tech plan, which can be accessed here, shows how technology can be used to further instructional objectives, connecting specific curricular goals with measurable benchmarks. But it also acknowledges the stark reality that the district’s aging technology infrastructure is insufficient for 21st century teaching and learning.

Chief Technology Officer Brianne Ford told board members on Tuesday that IUSD currently spends about $5 million a year on technology, or roughly $165 per student. That leaves about $10 million to $12 million a year in unfunded needs.

“We have limited access to technology devices and wireless throughout the campuses,” she said, “and we’re heavily reliant on donations and one-time money to close the gaps periodically.”

Fully implementing the Technology Master Plan would cost an estimated $168.8 million over 10 years, or $257.3 million over 15 years, according to Ford. But IUSD’s current technology spending would only cover $62.7 million over 10 years and $96.6 million over 15 years, assuming a 1 percent annual increase in spending.

A technology bond could fill a significant portion of the gap.

Adam Bauer, principal with Fieldman, Rolapp & Associates, told the board that a 10-year bond at a tax rate of $19 per $100,000 of assessed value would net about $62 million for technology, while a 15-year bond at the same rate would bring in about $106 million. A bond at $24 per $100,000 of assessed value would generate about $79 million over 10 years, or $135 million over 15 years, Bauer said. And a bond with a tax rate of $29 per $100,000 of assessed value would generate $96 million over 10 years, or $164 million over 15 years.

Board members will ultimately decide whether to bring a technology bond before voters and under what terms. Passage would require at least 55 percent under Proposition 39, which limits the use of bond proceeds and requires a citizens’ oversight committee.

If you’d like to check out a PDF of the slide presentation, you can do so by clicking here. For more information on IUSD’s technology initiative, visit www.irvineforward.org.

Also Tuesday night:

  • Irvine Public Schools Foundation CEO Neda Eaton announced that IPSF raised $1.1 million during its Annual Campaign, which concluded on Dec. 31. That total will be matched by the City of Irvine, and because the foundation can include some funds that were not matched in the prior year, it is eligible to receive the entire $1.3 million pledged by the City for classroom support. Eaton thanked those who helped make the campaign a success, including the City, IUSD, the PTAs, the foundation’s corporate partners and the many parents and individuals who donated.
  • The Board of Education voted to name an elementary campus planned for the Portola Springs area. The school now officially known as Portola Springs Elementary will open at an interim site in the fall before moving to its permanent home for 2015-16.
  • Meeting a requirement of the state Education Code, board members voted to receive and file a financial audit of IUSD for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The audit was conducted by the independent firm Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co.

Middle school students preview career options during annual science conference at UCI

Some 400 middle school students from IUSD got a chance to preview potential careers in physics, robotics, aerospace, health, research and other specialized fields during a science conference at UCI this week.

Presentation titles for the 22nd annual Middle School STEM Career Options Conference, held Dec. 17 at the university’s Social Science Complex, included “Cancer Cell Biology – The Hallmarks of Cancer,” “Career Opportunities in Veterinary Medicine,” “Forensic Science: The ‘Real’ CSI” and “Crowning Touch! Careers in Dentistry.”

Based on their interests, students were able to select from a menu of more than 22 subjects during four breakout sessions, which were led by real scientists from UCI, the Orange County Crime Lab, the Irvine Ranch Water District, Boeing Co. and other reputable organizations, as well as local doctors including optometrist Dr. Art Corish, dentist Dr. Roberta Dornan and dermatologist Dr. Patrick Lee.

Microsoft gave a special presentation that invited students to “Imagine Where STEM Can Take You” with a look at off some of its latest devices. Google was also on hand to talk to future software engineers, and a special Q&A panel featured UCI medical students who previously attended schools in IUSD.

The Middle School STEM Career Options Conference was established years ago to increase student awareness and interest in science-related careers, and to encourage kids to enroll in science courses. Originally funded by the National Science Foundation, the program has more recently endured thanks to the support of the Irvine Public Schools Foundation through grants from local corporations. This year’s conference was sponsored by a Google community grant.

Board of Education approves first reading of three-year plan outlining technology goals

IUSD board members on Tuesday approved the first reading of a three-year Technology Master Plan detailing the district’s goals for leveraging technology to improve student outcomes.

Chief Technology Officer Brianne Ford led a comprehensive presentation on the document, which outlines current technology use, instructional objectives, staff development, infrastructure needs, costs and ongoing oversight. Guided by a 32-member steering committee, the plan, which has been in development since May 2012 and has already been shared with district leaders, post-secondary institutions and business leaders.

Specific curriculum goals are accompanied by measurable benchmarks and address the use of collaborative classroom tools, as well as problem-solving techniques, presentation skills, complex analysis and responsible use. Kris Linville, IUSD’s educational technology coordinator, said these goals were designed to align with another important document — IUSD’s Continuous Improvement Efforts, which outlines essential capacities for students and staff.

“As you go through the tech plan, you’ll notice that the essential capacities are reflected in all of the goals,” he said.

Linville added that professional learning is also embedded in the plan, ensuring teachers and staff will be capable and comfortable using 21st century tools.

While district leaders have acknowledged that technology will never take the place of great classroom teaching, there’s no doubt that its reach is expanding exponentially, requiring college students and career-seekers to possess a broader technological skill set. Meanwhile, schools and districts across the nation are utilizing web-based innovations to make the work of educators and support staff more efficient and effective.

Still, IUSD has some infrastructure obstacles to overcome if it hopes to realize its technological ambitions. Marty Danko, director of information services, told board members that the district’s data center is underpowered and network bandwidth is insufficient to support modern teaching and learning. Out at the school sites, he said, the majority of cabling is more than 17 years old, and most of the hardware is at least eight years old. Wireless equipment is also aging and unable to support current bandwidth needs.

IUSD has an ongoing technology budget of approximately $5 million, or about $160 per student. Upgrades, Ford said, will require additional resources.

The board is expected to approve a second reading and adoption of the tech plan at its December meeting. A technology steering committee — this group will comprise teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, students, business leaders and post-secondary partners — will ultimately be responsible for implementing and monitoring the plan, meeting quarterly starting in February 2014.

To access the plan, click here. To view the slide presentation from Tuesday’s meeting, click here, or on the photo above.

Superintendent addresses the Common Core, technology and growth in new video

Each year around this time, we like to sit down with IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker for a sort of state-of-the-district conversation. And there was no shortage of topics when we caught up with him for our interview in October.

In this five-and-a-half minute video, the superintendent discusses the new Common Core instructional standards, educational technology, the new state funding formula and the district’s rapid growth. Take a look.

Stumped on your science project? Come to IUSD’s Ask-A-Scientist Night on Oct. 16

Students looking for help on their science projects will be able to seek the advice of real-life experts during “Ask-A-Scientist Night” at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School.

Ask-A-Scientist Night

The event will be held from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

As in years past, students in grades six through 12 will have the opportunity to tap the expertise of practicing scientists and engineers from places like Beckman, Allergan, Rockwell, the Irvine Ranch Water District, UC Irvine, USC, Irvine Valley College, Chapman University and other local science-related firms and institutions. In addition, district science teachers will be on hand to assist.

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. We have it on good authority — and by “good authority” we mean the flier posted to the right — that visitors may park on Michelson and Yale without being ticketed, even though it says “No parking.”  (This special privilege only applies to Ask-A-Scientist Night.)

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

Legislation swaps older STAR tests for modern assessments aligned with Common Core

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that will replace the state’s older standardized testing system with more modern, computer-based assessments aligned with the new Common Core instructional standards.

Authored by Assemblywoman Susan A. Bonilla, D-Concord, the bill that was signed into law on Oct. 2 suspends most Standardized Testing and Reporting exams for the current school year, meaning IUSD students won’t take California Standards Tests in the spring. (More on that in a moment.) That will enable school districts to begin transitioning to the new California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress — or MAPP — assessments, which are slated to be administered during the 2014-15 school year.

“We are very pleased that the state has moved forward with new assessments that truly reflect the meaningful instruction that’s already taking place with the Common Core standards,” said Cassie Parham, IUSD’s assistant superintendent of education services. “These new standards take learning substantially deeper and align with our district’s own Continuous Improvement Efforts, and it’s critical that we not waste any more time with antiquated assessments.”

The new exams, developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, will feature computer-adaptive technology that can adjust questions based on previous right or wrong answers, providing much more precise feedback to indicate which skills and content areas have been mastered. Like the Common Core itself, the assessments will focus more on critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving.

“These are radically different tests and we will certainly need to build our technology infrastructure so that our students can learn to navigate this new environment,” IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker said. “Moving forward, the success of our students with Common Core and the Smarter Balanced assessments will depend on quality teaching as well as a strong technological backbone.”

Again, the new assessments won’t be rolled out until 2015, and the old standards tests will be shelved this year. But that doesn’t mean accountability and instructional data-gathering are on hold.

Parham said IUSD plans to work with leaders at each school to identify objective assessments for the current year that will help determine student placement in programs and courses. These will also emphasize critical thinking, reasoning and problem-solving, she said.

“With the suspension of STAR testing, every school district in California now has an opportunity to engage more deeply with the Common Core State Standards,” she added.

IUSD educators weren’t the only ones praising the transition to more modern assessments.

“Faced with the choice of preparing California’s children for the future or continuing to cling to outdated policies of the past, our state’s leaders worked together and made the right choice for our students,” Tom Torlakson, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, said. “These new assessments represent a challenge for our education system — but a lifetime of opportunity for students. As a teacher, I’m thrilled to see our state and our schools once again leading the way.”

So what will the new California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress (MAPP) program look like when its unveiled next year? Here’s a breakdown of the tests, courtesy of Parham:

  • Computer-adaptive Smarter Balanced Assessments in English-language arts and math for grades three through eight and 11 (These will be administered as field tests for the 2013-14 school year.)
  • Science assessments in grades five, eight and 10 (Current science assessments will continue to be used until replacement assessments are developed.)
  • The California Alternative Performance Assessment (CAPA) for grades two through 11 in ELA and math, and grades five, eight and 10 in science.
  • The Early Assessment Program (EAP) (For the 2013-14 school year, this will continue to be the 11th grade CST and augmented CST, which will continue to be voluntary for eligible 11th-graders. Assembly Bill 484 specifies that, beginning in 2014-15, the existing EAP may be replaced by the 11th grade Smarter Balanced assessment.)
  • The Primary Language Assessment (PLA) (Aligned to the old content standards, this can be administered by districts for English Learners and reclassified English Learners who are enrolled in dual immersion programs. AB 484 also requires the state superintendent to develop — and the state Board of Education to adopt — a new Common Core-aligned PLA no later than the 2016-17 school year, but that provision only applies if the Legislature appropriates funding for it in a future budget or bill.)

Irvine to host Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO featuring energy-efficient homes of tomorrow

The City of Irvine is hosting a unique educational opportunity — one that happens to align nicely with IUSD’s recent solar initiative.

Twenty solar-powered homes of the future, all designed by teams of college students, will be on display at the Orange County Great Park during the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO. The event is free and will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for two straight weekends, Oct. 3 through Oct. 6 and Oct. 10 through Oct. 13.

About 800 college students spent up to two years designing and constructing the fully functional houses, which incorporate features and technologies designed to reduce carbon emissions while maintaining modern comforts. Their efforts culminate in a final competition, with judges deciding which home has most capably blended affordability, efficiency, energy production and curb appeal.

Meanwhile, the rest of us get to play the part of the nosy neighbors.

Obviously anyone with an interest in innovative home designs may want to tour these houses, but organizers say this will also be a great experience for kids, particularly those interested in science, technology or architecture.

Speaking of kids, Irvine students from Scott Bedley’s class at Plaza Vista School have been participating in an ongoing series of video chats with the team from Santa Clara University, so there’s a bit of a local connection. Here’s a preview of Santa Clara’s house, as published in the fall 2013 edition of Inside Irvine magazine:

Santa Clara University’s Radiant House is driven by the three E’s: efficiency, elegance and economy. The house carries the University’s tradition of using bamboo to a new level, using the sustainable material for structural wall and joist systems. With a  spacious and versatile “Great Room,” a large deck and patio area, and clean separation between private and public spaces, Radiant House offers an elegant, adaptable and affordable solution that balances the cutting edge with deceptive simplicity.

Radiant House uses inexpensive, commonly available materials in new and innovative ways with features that push the boundaries of architectural design. Features include a structural system, including wall and joist systems, made completely of bamboo — much of which is in raw, unrefined form to avoid the need for unsustainable treatment; solar panels that are seamlessly integrated into the roof structure using an integrated rail system; a front carport with electric car charging station; a generous, living space with high ceilings and clerestory windows that fill the interior with light and open to allow hot air to rise and escape; and spacious, accessible elements including a fullsized bathroom, walk-in closet, spacious kitchen and expandable dining table that can accommodate up to 12 guests.


The Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO will also feature other interactive exhibits and activities, all promoting energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production and education. Check out the video above or the event’s website for more information.