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Santa Clara Unified Hopes VR Will Help Students with Math

The Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees held their last meeting of the 2022 – 2023 school year before heading off for their summer break.


VR in the Classroom

Math is just one of those subjects that so many students struggle with and Santa Clara Unified is trying something new to help students grasp their lessons better: virtual reality. The Board of Trustees enthusiastically approved a new contract with Prisms for their VR math modules at the Board’s Thursday, June 22 meeting.

“[Prisms] puts students in an immersive environment to address real-world problems in a way that leverages mathematics that has typically been a huge roadblock for a lot of students,” said Brad Stam, Chief Academic and Innovation Officer.


The $70,400 contract is for the 2023-2024 school year where Santa Clara High School and Wilcox High School math teachers can opt-in to use the program in their Algebra 1 classes. According to Stam most of the cost is for the one-time hardware purchase of VR headsets and locking carts.

Though the first year will initially focus on Algebra 1, Stam believes that many math, and also science teachers, across many grades will be excited to use this technology. This supplementary hands-on tool can be used in regular or hybrid classroom instruction. Stam also thinks this will be a great method for those who are retaking Algebra 1.

Board Member Jodi Muirhead confirmed with Anurupa Ganguly, Founder and CEO of Prisms, that students wouldn’t be doing VR every day in class. For example, in Algebra 1 there are five three-day modules that will happen every 4 weeks. Ganguly said once students can get a better grasp of the concept they’re learning with the VR module, the other parts of the unit go more quickly.

“We definitely went a less is more [approach],” said Ganguly. “It’s not about doing VR all the time. It’s about going after those topics that are at the root of fragility and making sure the kids have a deep understanding and then saying that once you have that, you can use some of your other materials. VR has a kind of specific purpose of enduring retention and deep memories and real-world problem-solving.”

Ganguly says the lessons with the VR headset can be done at desks, but she’s also seen teachers take students to larger spaces, like the library. As part of the contract, Prisms will provide teachers with onboarding and professional development. With Prisms, teachers will get familiar with the hardware and VR modules, teacher dashboard, and curriculum content.


New and Familiar Faces

Sara Silverman was approved as the new Wilcox High School Vice Principal. Also, the Board approved the new job description for Lead ERMHS Therapist which was discussed at their last meeting.

The Superintendent’s Employment Agreement got an update. The Board approved extending Dr. Gary Waddell’s agreement by one year and it is now set to end on June 30, 2027. He also got a merit bonus of $16,253, which is 5% of his base salary, after his satisfactory review.


K-5 Literacy

The Board approved the 2023-2024 consulting contract with Lori Musso, who will facilitate the district’s K-5 literacy workgroup. Board Vice President Bonnie Lieberman was concerned about the makeup of the workgroup and who would be involved since K-5 literacy is a very important topic.

Kathie Kanavel, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, explained that Musso will help the workgroup take inventory of the District’s current K-5 literacy instruction, as well as guide the group in identifying what areas may need more resources so that the group can make recommendations. Kanavel said they are determined to build a group where they can hear important input.


Other Business

From the Board’s last meeting, they approved the annual update of the 2021 – 2024 Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) and the 2023 – 2024 adopted budget.

The Santa Clara Unified Board of Trustees is taking the month of July off, but they come back for their next meeting on Thursday, August 10. Meetings are live-streamed on the District’s YouTube page and agendas are posted on their website.


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