National Vista Science Educator Winner: The Toughest Challenge Is Educator Burnout

Lisa Harrison with some of her students from Rancho Minerva Middle School.
Lisa Harrison with some of her Rancho Minerva Middle School students, showing off scholarship kits. Images via Harrison

Lisa Harrison taught at Rancho Minerva High School in Vista for 12 years. And if bringing together nearly 170 students in grades six through eight through computer science and robotics isn’t impressive enough, consider his latest accolade.

Late last month, the Washington-based nonprofit Society for Science Named Harrison one of 95 outstanding science teachers from underserved communities. She was chosen with educators from 29 states and DC plus American Samoa, Guam and Puerto Rico as well as Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.

Lisa Harrison will share four of these kits with a learning loss photography teacher and science teacher. Image via Society4Science

This was Harrison’s first time applying for the grant — after hearing about it from his district office.

“I was intrigued by the concept of putting technology in the hands of children and letting them lead the investigation, and that’s what I wrote in my proposal,” she said.

The unsaid in her speech was the biggest challenge she sees to public education. Not charter schools or private schools. Not budget cuts or a lack of parental and community support.

“Right now, I think the biggest threat to public education is teacher burnout,” she told The San Diego Times. “The pandemic has been tough on the profession. Getting the kids back into the classroom was great, but there was a lot of extra work to make sure everyone was safe.

She and a few colleagues will share four Arduino Starter Kits (for the study of electronics), two PocketLab Travelers (for exploring physics, weather, climate studies and engineering), four trail cameras (attachable to trees or poles to monitor wildlife) and four LaMotte Water Monitoring Kits (to investigate water quality and contamination).

The kits are valued at $1,000 each.

“Together we will introduce the kits and how they work in the classroom and ask students to ask questions about their world that could be answered using the kits,” Harrison said. “Students can use the kits at school or take them home. When they are finished, they can present what they have learned in any way that makes them feel most comfortable. »

Born and raised in San Diego, she now lives in Fallbrook with her husband of 30 years.

Harrison, 55, earned a degree in biology from UC Santa Barbara and trained as a clinical laboratory scientist. She worked in the Scripps system until the birth of her third child and quit to be a stay-at-home mom.

“When my eldest started college, I went back to school to get my teaching degree and science subject clearance. I started teaching math and science at Rancho Minerva Middle School in 2010 “, she says.

A few years into her teaching career, she became a digital learning coach through a brand new company called Digital Promise / Verizon Innovative Schools of Learning (DPVILS).

“All of our students have been given the use of tablets with cell service to use for school,” she said. “During my time with DPVILS, I was sent to a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) training which allowed me to teach an introductory computer course.”

With a grant, she trained to teach both PLTW college’s CS course and their robotics course. She also attends conferences to learn the codehs platform, where students learn HTML and CSS – the website languages.

“A few years ago my district sent me to UCSD for a week-long training course to learn how to teach computer discovery program,“Harrison said via email. “Last summer I attended a training at the University of Chicago to learn their curriculum for Scratch and took the first of four courses at the ‘UCSD, which would allow me to get a single degree in computer science.

So she says she started as a math and science teacher and turned into a teacher of choice.

Harrison now teaches a computer science section for seventh and eighth graders, a Maker Lab section, a robotics section, and two sixth-grade computer science sections.

“My teaching partner and I write the entire curriculum for Maker Lab. I use the PLTW curriculum for the robotics course. For sixth-grade computer science, I use a mixture of a Scratch curriculum from University from chicago called Again, and the Scratch lessons I’ve come up with over the years.

She sees about 168 students a day at the Vista High School and Rancho Buena Vista High School feeder school.

This chat was conducted via email:

Times of San Diego: Computer and programming skills are, of course, crucial in general, but essential for the progress of society. How do you sell students on the importance of these skills?

Lisa Harrison: I think most students know that computer and programming skills are important, but don’t see themselves getting into this industry. Because each student takes at least a quarter of computer science, they have the opportunity to see what they are capable of. This is the sale; Although not everyone falls in love with computer science and programming, every student can program.

What are your most advanced students able to do? What are their career prospects if they continue in HS and college? What proportion of your students go on to computer science or robotics? Notable successes (if you’ve been teaching computer science long enough)?

Unfortunately, I have not kept track of where my students are and what they are doing. Currently, my computer science students can use HIML and CSS to create their own web pages. They are learning how to use JavaScript to create a video game. Robotics students can use RobotC to code their motors and sensors for the projects they build.

Do something special to recruit girls into your program? What proportion of your students are girls? How to retain them, keep them motivated?

I don’t do anything specific to recruit girls. In sixth grade, students have a lot of choices. For each unit, they create their own project with specific programming requirements, but they can choose the theme and the characters they include. Students choose their own seats and get to work with other students they are friends with. I have a few students who often pull out their Chromebooks for work. I try to create an environment where they are happy and enjoy what they are doing.

Political forces (Trump and climate change deniers) have made life difficult for some scientists. Does all this filter down to secondary education? Have you ever felt pressure from parents to follow a certain scientific line? Or has a parent complained about your topics or methods?

I have not suffered any refusal from the parents. Parents I’ve met at open houses or conferences are either thrilled that their college student has access to my classes, or simply amazed at what they’ve been able to learn and do.

To which groups do you belong to this defender of science education or computer science? What do these groups fear or fight? Budget cuts? School board restrictions on education?

I am a member of CCAA San Diego. I have attended the last two CASW conferences. Equity is a big boost. All students, no matter where they go to school, should have access to a solid computer education.

Is the Vista Unified School District do whatever it can to support science or computer science education?

My district has been great in supporting STEM education. There is a district committee I sit on that is working on ways to improve STEM education, including computer science education, across the district.

How will Society4Science grants help you and your colleagues do a better job? How long will these kits or grants last?

Student agency. To be able to have students learn through an experience that they have chosen or that interests them. Cool gear, which they wouldn’t normally have access to, creates excitement that fuels creativity and engagement. I haven’t used the kits from the grant yet, but I imagine they will last us a few years.

How can the public and parents in the district support science educators in general and your subjects in particular?

Parents can encourage their children to take STEM electives at school, and if those electives aren’t offered, talk with parent groups or administrators and see how their individual schools could benefit from parent support. Parents, teachers and administrators – we are all in this together.


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