VISTA Project Recognized as One of ‘Programs That Work’ for 2013

Posted: May 29, 2013 at 12:24 pm, Last Updated: May 31, 2013 at 12:16 pm

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By Jill Williams

Now in its third year, the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) was recognized as one of the 2013 “Programs That Work” by the Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition. Continuing to engage students and teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, the VISTA program, which is led by George Mason University, was recognized for its significant impact on education.

Representatives of the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) accept their award. Pictured from left are VCU's Jacqueline T. McDonnough, Mason's Donna R. Sterling, W&M's Juanita Jo Matkins, and Mason's VISTA director of Science Education Mollianne Logerwell and Mason's  VISTA Instructional Resource Design Specialist Andre Radloff.

Representatives of the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) accept their award. Pictured from left are VCU’s Jacqueline T. McDonnough, Mason’s Donna R. Sterling, W&M’s Juanita Jo Matkins, and Mason’s VISTA director of Science Education Mollianne Logerwell and Mason’s VISTA Instructional Resource Design Specialist Andre Radloff.

In addition, a team of teachers from Pocahontas Elementary School in Powhatan, Va., was recognized as part of the award. The teachers participated in the VISTA program in summer 2012 and developed a STEM Academy that integrates engineering in a hands-on environment for students in second, third and fourth grades.

“To date, VISTA has provided professional development for more than 300 Virginia teachers and leaders,” says Donna Sterling, principal investigator for the project and professor of science education in George Mason’s College of Education and Human Development. “Almost 13,000 Virginia students are already being taught by VISTA teachers, and nearly half a million students are being influenced by VISTA science coordinators. We’re seeing increased excitement and curiosity for science and engineering across the state as a result of the dynamic science investigations their students are conducting.”

Two teachers from the STEM Academy at Pocahontas Elementary, Barbara Adcock and Deborah Putney, attended the VISTA program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where they used the skills they learned to strengthen their program. Serving 90 students, the academy creates a learning environment that offers students the opportunity to design and create solutions throughout the curriculum.

“Everyone on my team has worked very hard to create an environment for our students where they can take the risk to ‘think out of the box’ and thereby become better problem solvers, critical thinkers and communicators,” says Adcock. “VISTA has helped me to bring out more growth in my students and has made me want to share what I have learned with other teachers. I tell anyone who will listen about VISTA and the difference it has made for my students and myself.”

Professor Harold Geller speaks to students before showing them the inflatable Planetarium at the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) Camp at Fairfax Campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn/Creative Services/George Mason University

Professor Harold Geller speaks to students before showing them the inflatable Planetarium during a Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) Camp on the Fairfax Campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn/Creative Services/George Mason University

The VISTA project offers teacher professional development programs at four sites across the state: Mason, William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech. The goal of the program is to help shift science instruction in grades K – 12 from a teacher-centered, worksheet-driven approach toward one focused on hands-on science, student-centered inquiry, the nature of science and problem-based learning.

According to Sterling, VISTA helps K – 12 teachers step out of the role of lecturer and instead lead students on problem-solving journeys. Students take on the role of scientists who are engaged in solving real-life problems, which gives them learning context that allows for better understanding and retention. In the same vein, teachers use a problem-based learning approach to tie together concepts in ways that help students develop higher-level thinking skills.

“VISTA is an exemplary program in achieving the goals of science instruction in Virginia,” says Eric Rhoades, science coordinator for the Virginia Department of Education. “VISTA does a wonderful job at helping teachers engage students in scientific inquiry and develop scientific habits of mind. It is also bringing together science leaders from across the state. Not much else compares to the magnitude of VISTA.”

The Virginia Mathematics and Science Coalition support efforts to achieve and sustain excellence in STEM education. Several officials from the Virginia Department of Education sit on the VMSC board. The award is funded by Dominion Resources.

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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