Vista Teach featured in Rochester D&C: making a difference in STEM Education

The June 18th Rochester Democrat & Chronicle features a news article about Vista Teach making a difference in STEM Education in Rochester and beyond…

Rochester DandC

 

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DandC Photo

I grew up incredibly fearful of math and, unfortunately, nothing in my educational background ever helped change it. Anytime someone calls themselves “math phobic” I instantly feel a kinship.

I still have math phobia.

When Sue Sorrentino, of Henrietta, told me she was once math phobic I was instantly surprised and intrigued. Sorrentino based Vista Teach Instructional Services is the last person I ever would expect to have been fearful of math.

“I was math-phobic growing up,” said Sorrentino. “I did love algebra but it was only because I had a hands on, great teacher.”

Sorrentino went on to be a teacher herself and also worked for a time in software quality control and development where she was exposed to the practical, important implications of math.

She founded Vista Teach in 2009 with providing real world, engineering education to young students as well as with empowering and educating other teachers to bring robotics and engineering directly into their classrooms so all students can participate – not just the few in after-school programs or on competitive teams.

Three other women make up the Vista Teach team: Donna Chaback, of Bergen, Teresa Parsons, of Victor, and Kathy Irvine, of Brighton.

“We are all female, like-minded kindred spirits with backgrounds in corporate engineering and teaching who joined forces,” Sorrentino said. “We are passionate about bringing robotics into classrooms so they are accessible to all kids.”

The women were recently awarded the K-12 Corporate STEM Innovation Award from the International Association for STEM Leaders at their invitation-only, STEM Forum in Washington, D.C.

Sorrentino and the Vista Teach team consult with and train teachers around the country along with, teaching throughout their in-school and summer camp STEM Education Programs at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester, where they are all faculty members.

Every student at the school, grades K-5, receives their STEM teaching, which includes their systematic, grade-by-grade, continuum with a hands-on approach to designing and building interactive structures and smart robots programmed with motors and sensors. Elective course offerings, in robotics and engineering, are offered at the school for the older grade levels.

“Robotics is so powerful,” Sorrentino said. “With robotics kids are able to apply math skills in really meaningful ways. They are able to see the results and make connections with other areas of learning.”

Sorrentino is passionate about starting children young when it comes to robotics. When she was an elementary school teacher at Byron-Bergen and Avon she began teaching 2nd and 3rd-graders robotics, single-cell animation, and computer programming.

At Allendale Columbia, her team begins teaching students about robotics beginning in kindergarten. By the time they are in 2nd grade, they are building and programming complex robots.

“If you start them at that young mind set, they understand failure is informative,” Sorrentino said. “Young children are so capable of learning so much.”

Sorrentino told me a great story about calling Carnegie Mellon University to order RobotC, an industry standard, text-based programming language, for her fifth grade students. The person taking the order told her that RobotC was geared for high school and college students, not elementary, but she still placed the order.

“They did it,” said Sorrentino, about her 5th-grade students using RobotC. “And they were so successful at doing it.”

Sorrentino attributes that success to the fact these particular students had started robotics in kindergarten, rather than high school, and had developed their skills earlier.

I also would attribute their success to her and her Vista Teach team – I wonder if I would be math phobic had I been introduced to their work as a child?

Probably not.

Contact Caurie Putnam at caurie@urgrad.rochester.edu with news from west-side towns. On Twitter as @CauriePutnam.

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Vista Teach offers summer camp STEM programs at Allendale Columbia School. Limited availability for this summer remains. For more information call (585) 414-7170.