About Us

VISTA » About Us » Why VISTA?


VISTA'S professional development programs are empowering hundreds of science educators across the state to use an active style of teaching that engages students in the classroom and beyond. Collectively, these professionals impact around 625,000 students statewide.

Most people know that effective science education starts early. The Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) knows that even the youngest students can become scientists who use innovative, critical thinking to begin solving society’s most complex issues. 

This knowledge is at the heart of everything VISTA does, and is why we are dedicated to educating science teachers, administrators and faculty on proven methods to harness the potential of every student through hands-on, problem-based learning (PBL).

This unique approach to science teaching enables students to act as “real world” scientists, working in collaborative groups to address timely and exciting issues like how to create a more energy independent Virginia, build a rocket, or clean up a local river.

Unlike some teachers who stand at the front of the class and deliver a lecture, teachers trained in VISTA’s professional development programs understand how to facilitate the learning process by helping students discuss the problem at hand and ask questions (known as "inquiry"); engage in self-directed learning; apply their knowledge to the problem; and reflect on the effectiveness of the solutions they’ve proposed.  Click here for more information on these “best practices” in science teaching.

VISTA’s proven methods are backed by solid research on student achievement; teacher effectiveness and growth; and the relationship between school administrators/key stakeholders on the policies surrounding science education. 

VISTA is a statewide partnership among 80+ Virginia school districts, six Virginia universities (George Mason University, College of William & Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, James Madison University and the University of Virginia), and the Virginia Department of Education. The initiative is funded by a five-year, $34 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which includes a $5.7 million private sector matching requirement. Oregon State University directs the independent evaluation of the VISTA program.

VISTA’s objectives include:

  1. Increasing student learning in science including students with special needs and Limited English Proficiency (LEP)
  2. Enhancing the quality of elementary science teaching by including inquiry-based teaching
  3. Enhancing the quality of teaching by new, underprepared secondary science teachers, including having students conduct inquiry-based activities
  4. Increasing the number of certified middle school and high school science teachers
  5. Increasing access for rural teachers to professional development
  6. Building the state infrastructure to support effective science teaching and learning
  7. Conducting research to determine what makes the most significant difference in helping teachers to help students learn