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.”

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.”

NewsFlash alert: Silverado Canyon fire grows but poses no imminent threat to Irvine

photoSmoke from a brush fire in Silverado Canyon could be seen from local neighborhoods Friday, but authorities said there was no imminent threat to Irvine.

The Orange County Fire Authority was working hard to knock down the blaze, which reportedly broke out shortly before 11 a.m. and later expanded to hundreds of acres. The Orange County Register has the story here.

[Update, 4:45 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 12] The OCFA says the Silverado Fire has grown to more than 1,200 acres. Though it still does not pose an imminent danger to Irvine, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has forecast that air quality in the region could eventually reach unhealthful levels. No time-frame was given, however.

IUSD will continue to monitor air quality levels. You can too by checking out this interactive map.

OC Health Care Agency offers tips for keeping cool during the heat wave

We may be deep into September, but the mercury is once again on the rise in Southern California, with temperatures nearing triple-digits in Irvine.

SunThat means an increased risk of heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, particularly for those who are more sensitive to higher temperatures. The Orange County Health Care Agency is therefore advising the following precautions:

  • Drink plenty of water, and don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Avoid unnecessary sun exposure. When in the sun, wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim, and use sunscreen.
  • Avoid strenuous activities if you are outside or in non-air conditioned buildings. If you are working outdoors, take frequent rest and refreshment breaks in a shaded area.
  • Never leave children, elderly people or pets unattended in closed cars or other vehicles.
  • Check on those who are at a higher risk to make sure they are staying cool, including seniors who live alone, people with heart or lung disease and young children.
  • Stay cool indoors. If your home is not air-conditioned, visit public facilities including shopping malls and libraries to stay cool.

The agency says signs of heat exhaustion can include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, weakness, headache, nausea or vomiting and dizziness. If you experience these symptoms, move to a cool location, rest and drink fluids.

Warning signs of heat stroke may include an extremely high body temperature; unconsciousness; confusion; hot and dry skin with no sweating; a rapid, strong pulse; and a throbbing headache. If these symptoms are present, call for medical assistance immediately. The Health Care Agency says heat stroke victims should be moved to a shady area where their bodies can be cooled with water.

For more information on heat-related illnesses, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Three IUSD students named semifinalists in fourth annual Broadcom competition

A trio of IUSD students has been selected to advance to the next round in a science, technology and math competition sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation.

Jeffrey Wang Xing, an eighth-grader at Jeffrey Trail Middle School; Anita Garg, an eighth-grader at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School; and Alderwood School sixth-grader Michael Wayne Schoenberger are among 300 middle schoolers from across the country to be named semifinalists in the fourth annual Broadcom MASTERS competition.

MASTERS_logoIn less than a week, that group will be narrowed to 30 finalists, who will earn a trip to Washington, D.C. in October to showcase their science fair projects in a four-day STEM competition. The first-place winner gets the top prize of $25,000, presented by the Samueli Foundation.

The Broadcom MASTERS — Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars — was established in 2011 to spark interest in science and engineering at the middle school level, thereby encouraging students to pursue higher levels of math and science in high school.

We’re told more than 2,054 applied to enter this year’s contest, each having met the prerequisite of placing in the top 10 percent of science fairs affiliated with the Society for Science & the Public. Semifinalists were then selected by actual scientists, engineers and educators.

Jeffrey of Jeffey Trail submitted a project that documented “The Study of Levitation Distance and Stability Range in Diamagnetic Levitation,” while Rancho’s Anita entered “The Effect of Competition on a Problematic Invasive Species, Brassica nigra.” Michael of Alderwood submitted a project titled, “Storm The Castle with Newton’s Second Law of Motion: Ping Pong Projectile.”

“Now in its fourth year, the Broadcom MASTERS is enabling more middle school students of all levels to regard math and science as helping them gain the critical skills that lead to rewarding careers in STEM,” said Paula Golden, executive director of the Broadcom Foundation and director of community affairs for the Broadcom Corporation. “We are extremely proud of the thousands of young people who were nominated by their regional and state fairs to compete this year and applaud the 300 semifinalists who now compete for a slot as one of the 30 finalists in the 2014 Broadcom MASTERS.”

To read the news release, click here. To view the complete list of semifinalists, click here.

What will be the name of Irvine’s next high school? IUSD is seeking your suggestions

Irvine’s next high school is on track to open with an inaugural class of ninth-graders in August 2016.

But first things first: The school needs a name, and you can help.

IUSD is asking community members to submit suggestions for what to call the new campus via this online input form. All entries received by the Sept. 26 deadline will be reviewed by Superintendent Terry Walker and his staff, which will then make a recommendation to the Board of Education.

HS5studentunion_000Board members are expected to vote on an official moniker at their Oct. 7 meeting, ensuring IUSD’s fifth comprehensive high school is no longer referred to as IUSD’s fifth comprehensive high school by the time students arrive.

Enrollment projections indicate a new campus will be needed in 2016 to accommodate thousands of new homes in the area while preventing overcrowding at Irvine, Northwood, University and Woodbridge high schools. Following nearly three years of analysis and environmental reviews, board members approved a resolution in May to do just that, securing more than 40 acres along Irvine Boulevard, west of Alton Parkway, for the new school.

And now comes the question of what should be stamped on the marquee.

The Board of Education’s policy for naming campuses and facilities states that elementary schools should be named after an adjacent street, park, or village, and middle schools should reference significant landmarks in the community. (You can find recent examples here and here.) As for high schools, the same policy says their names should be considered individually. It also suggests the process for naming sites should include community input where feasible.

So here’s your chance to brand a future Irvine landmark. To suggest a name for IUSD’s next high school, click here, or visit http://tinyurl.com/fifthhighschool.

Cypress Village Elementary students and staff are off to a picture-perfect start

Cypress Village_Web Image

We proudly present Cypress Village Elementary School’s first students and staff.

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, the school’s inaugural class gathered on the blacktop for the above aerial photo, which will one day hold historical significance. Principal Susan Kemp tells us a company called Day2Day Printing donated custom school shirts for the occasion.

Cypress Village is one of two brand-new IUSD schools, and you can check out a video tour of its campus here. Meanwhile, Portola Springs Elementary is operating at an interim site for a year while its permanent facility is under construction.

IUSD to break ground on a permanent home for Portola Springs Elementary School

Recently, we posted this video tour of the new Cypress Village Elementary School. But Cypress Village isn’t the only new school opening in Irvine.

Portola Springs Elementary School will also welcome its first batch of students on Tuesday, Sept. 2, but it will do so from an interim site, occupying the previously shuttered Westwood Basics Plus School for one year while a permanent state-of-the-art facility is built.

PortolaSpringslogoTo mark the start of Portola Spring’s construction, district officials and local dignitaries are planning to gather for a special groundbreaking ceremony at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 25, and you’re invited. The event is open to the public and will naturally be staged at the site of the new campus at 12100 Portola Springs in Irvine.

Guests are encouraged to carpool and park along Long Grass Street. For safety purposes, they’re also encouraged to wear flat, closed-toe shoes.

The new Portola Springs campus is projected to open a year from now, in August 2016. In the meantime, Principal Heather Phillips and her staff have been busy prepping their temporary home, where they recently held a tour for incoming students and their families.

Westwood Basics Plus, located at 1 Liberty, closed back in 2009 as students and staff transitioned to a newer campus in Irvine’s Stonegate village. In recent years, the facility has housed district programs and served as a training center for staff.

Transforming Westwood back into a functioning elementary school required a lot of work, but Phillips sees some advantages to building a school community prior to populating a new campus.

“I was really excited about having the opportunity to be at the interim site,” Phillips said. “I think it really gives us the option and the gift of time in that we can focus on building a community with our students, our parents and our staff. Because we’re not focused so much on the facility, but rather the relationship part. If we build that strong foundation, when we move to the new facility, that will just be the icing on top of the cake.”

School board approves boundary adjustments to accommodate fifth high school

Fifth high school boundaries

Capping ten months of discussion and analysis, the IUSD Board of Education this week approved a new attendance area for the district’s next high school, along with additional high school boundary adjustments to take effect when the new campus opens in August 2016.

Board members voted 5-0 on Tuesday, Aug. 19 to adopt changes recommended by IUSD’s Boundary Advisory Committee and Steering Committee following a presentation by facilities consultant and former IUSD principal Tony Ferruzzo. In a separate vote, the board also decided that the new high school should open with only ninth-graders in 2016. A new grade level will be added each year as the inaugural students advance.

The boundary changes will not apply to any current high schoolers, and, as depicted in the map above, the majority of IUSD families will not be affected. But new boundary lines are needed to carve out an attendance area for Irvine Unified’s fifth comprehensive high school and to ensure secondary enrollment is properly balanced throughout the district. As such, they may impact future high school assignments for some Irvine students currently enrolled in kindergarten through grade seven.

“We recognize that any time you make changes to attendance boundaries it’s going to have an impact on families,” Board of Education President Sharon Wallin said after the meeting. “Yet, with the unprecedented rate of growth that we’re experiencing in Irvine, it is absolutely critical that we make prudent decisions now to ensure high school enrollment is balanced and manageable moving forward, giving our students the greatest opportunities to succeed.”

“Above all,” Wallin said, “we are driven to do what’s best for kids while minimizing disruptions to our families, and I am proud to say that the actions taken by this board meet that standard.”

Here’s a look at how the changes affect each of IUSD’s comprehensive high schools:

High School No. 5, set to open in August 2016. The new campus will serve Heritage Fields, Los Olivos, Portola Springs, Lambert Ranch, Stonegate and Woodbury.

Irvine High School. As indicated above, Irvine cedes some neighborhoods to the new high school while picking up the area bordered by Jamboree Road, Irvine Center Drive, Culver Drive and Barranca Parkway, which was previously in Woodbridge’s High attendance area. This, however, does not include a separate, non-contiguous area assigned to Stone Creek Elementary School that’s bordered by Jamboree Road, Irvine Center Drive, Harvard Avenue and Moffett Drive. (Residents in that area will continue to attend Woodbridge.) Meanwhile, the area bordered by Trabuco Road, the Santa Ana (5) freeway and Jeffrey Road moves from Irvine High to Northwood High. Cypress Village remains assigned to Irvine High School.

Northwood High School. Northwood High School also cedes some territory to the fifth high school, as indicated above. But the area bordered by Trabuco Road, the Santa Ana (5) Freeway and Jeffrey Road has been assigned to Northwood from Irvine High.

University High School. No new areas have been assigned to Uni, but to balance enrollment, the Los Olivos area that was previously in Uni’s attendance area will be served by the new comprehensive high school, and two other Uni areas will be assigned to Woodbridge High. (See the Woodbridge High section.)

Woodbridge High School. The area bordered by Jamboree Road, Barranca Parkway, Harvard Avenue and Alton Parkway has been transferred from Uni to Woodbridge, along with the area bordered by Harvard Avenue, Barranca Parkway, Culver Drive and Main Street. As indicated above, Woodbridge also cedes some of its attendance area to Irvine High.


The boundary adjustments approved Tuesday — click on the map above for an enhanced view — represent the work of the district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, which began studying this complex issue back in October 2013. (The committee includes a principal, a teacher, a student and two parents from each of IUSD’s four comprehensive high schools, along with district staff.) After an initial draft of the plan was presented to the board at its March 4 meeting, four parent forums were held to provide information and solicit feedback. A revised proposal was then brought back to the board for another discussion on May 27.

In related news, board members on Tuesday also asked staff to re-examine a non-contiguous area assigned to Stone Creek Elementary School to determine if it makes more sense for that area to be assigned to another elementary school’s attendance area.

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.