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A Visit to VIDA

posted Nov 12, 2014, 11:14 AM by Colin Hanel   [ updated Dec 3, 2014, 1:34 PM by Tom Borer ]

The Quantum Academy learned of VIDA in the most unlikely places. Twitter.

Dr. Eric Chagala, an active administrator on Twitter, is part of the creative force of VIDA, a new school in Vista Unified School District. VIDA stands for Vista Innovative Design Academy and is a very fitting name. Dr. Eric Chagala was given the challenge to reinvent and redesign Washington Middle School, a school whose reputation had been declining. His energy and passion for student learning was seen by the current staff of Washington Middle School, as almost 100% of the former staff elected to stay and be part of the redesign process.

On October 1, the Quantum Academy team had the opportunity to visit VIDA. Dr. Chagala spent three hours talking with the team and giving us a tour of their Design Labs, iStudio, and FabLab. Dr. Chagala describes the Design Labs as the heart of the school. These classes utilize the design thinking process to solve problems:

  1. Empathy: Develop a detailed description of user needs, including a variety of insights, gained by utilizing a variety of observation strategies and interview.

  2. Define: Identify the user needs through empathy, create a thoughtful and actionable needs statement.

  3. Ideate: Generate a large number of ideas. Work as a team and use the statement, “Yes and…” Utilize the concept of “How might we…”

  4. Prototype: Create an innovative solution based on the user needs.

  5. Test, Reflect, and Refine: Test the prototype, reflect about what worked, add new ideas, ask new questions, and work on ways to improve.


Design Labs are choice based classes offered to 100% of the students. Each grade goes to Design Labs at the same time during the day in order to fit into their modified block schedule.

Some of the Design Labs we visited were:

  • Cryptozoology

  • Entrepreneurship

  • CSI Medical Detectives

One thing in common with all of the Design Labs we visited was that students were fully engaged! Every student we talked to wanted to show us what they were doing and was able to share what they are learning.

We also had a chance to visit their iStudio and FabLab. The iStudio is their “high res lab” where students can get hands on with technology. The class we visited was busy soldering a speaker to a breadboard that was then connected to an Arduino board. Then students were using code to program their Arduino boards to play music. The FabLab is their “low res lab” where students were creating catapults using duct tape, scrap cardboard, and anything they could get their hands on from recycled materials they brought from home.

The biggest takeaway from our visit was how much innovation was happening with very little of the flashy new innovative classroom materials and furniture.