VISTA's Year in Health Sciences

The Virtual International Science & Technology Academy's Year in Health Sciences consists of a series of Story-Centered Curricula. Students take on the roles of professionals working in the field of health sciences, such as nutrition advisors and sports medics. They solve the kinds of problems these professionals typically solve in their day-to-day work.

This curriculum, designed for high school students, introduces participants to a number of possible careers in the Health Sciences field. Students complete "rotations", each lasting roughly 1-5 weeks in length, in which they get to "walk around in the shoes" of a Health Sciences professional, such as a doctor or nutritionist, performing tasks similar to those the practitioner would execute in the real world. As students perform these real-world tasks, in addition to topic-specific skills, they will practice general skills such as scientific reasoning, writing and oral presentation, and teamwork, which will be useful to them in life as well as any Health Sciences career.

Software Development

The Software Development program is series of several overlapping Story-Centered Curricula designed to immerse students in the world of developing modern web-based applications, from simple web pages to interactive web sites with databases, from individual writing of code to team-based requirements analysis, project planning, and design, to new business development. Throughout the course, students work two different projects simultaneously, for variety, and challenge, and reinforcement of concepts and skills.

Students begin as developers in two very different projects. WebMake is a long-term project to build an interactive web site for a company looking to provide customers with the ability to customize products, a la Dell computers. In this project, students learn about how HTML is used to create web pages, how CSS is used to develop easily modifiable look and feel, and how Javascript is used to make interactive forms.

At the same time, students are also working on a short-term project for NASA, developing navigation programs for simulated planetary exploration robots. Students learn the rudiments of programming, in Java, including variables and loops, compiling and testing, while getting to play with a graphic simulator.

The programming skills learned in the robot project move from play to practice as the robot project finishes, but the WebMake project transitions from mockup to a real system with a server-side database. Students now apply the same kind of coding used with the stand-alone robot application to create server programs for web sites that store information in persistent database, for later retrieval and order processing.

In the storyline, this is also when the students graduate from programmers to systems analysts, and are assigned to WebSell, a new team-based project to develop an eBay-like web site for collectors. Students are organized into small teams and put in charge of gathering and analyzing the project requirements, estimating the scope and time of the project, designing the database and web site structure, and implementing and testing the system.

While WebSell is getting underway, WebMake's final phase begins. Students are tasked with developing Java applets to add a richer graphical user interface.

When WebMake wraps up, the storyline takes students into the world of innovation and entrepreneurship. They are asked to develop a new web-based business idea, and develop a working prototype, using the development skills they've learned in the past year. First they need to present a project proposal, describing not only the idea but what the current competition is. Then, after responding to criticisms and receiving approval, they need to design and implement a working prototype.