Education

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Jonah Firestone, an education professor at Washington State University Tri-Cities, knows that technology is the future of education, which is why he is researching the use of virtual and augmented reality as tools for not only the general classroom, but specifically with special education in the kindergarten through 12th-grade setting.

Virtual reality in the classroom

A student tries out a virtual reality headset as part of research being completed by Jonah Firestone, a professor of education at WSU Tri-Cities. Firestone will complete a study on how the technology may be used in special education.

“With regular video games, you’re looking at a flat screen,” he said. “But with virtual reality, you wear a head set and you can look all around. It’s a 360-degree view up and down and you can see this complete world around you. As kids get more used to using this type of technology and as the price goes down, schools are going to start adopting these because you can now send an entire classroom on a field trip to The Louvre without leaving the classroom.”

Firestone said for subjects like science and history, teachers rely on textbook and stationary images to give students a picture of what they’re talking about as it is expensive to take students to laboratories and settings that are referenced in those lessons. With virtual and augmented reality, however, teachers can bring those settings and projects to the students in the virtual sphere.

“We can use this technology to put children and adults into complete virtual worlds where they can be a cell in the human body, or students can do experiments in physics and chemistry that they couldn’t normally safely do in the classroom setting,” he said. “You can then repeat those over and over again.”

Overcoming learning disabilities

Firestone said virtual and augmented reality have different purposes, but both can be applied as additional tools in the classroom, which could help students who struggle with traditional learning methods.

“We used to talk about this thing called learning theories where certain people were characterized as different types of learners, but that’s not really true,” he said. “We all learn in a variety of different ways. But with the more modes in which we learn, whether it be oral, visual or tactile, the more we’re readily going to learn.”

Virtual reality controllers

Controllers for the HTC Vive virtual reality technology.

Some students may have problems processing information that is given to them orally, or students may have visual disabilities where they have difficulty processing static information like documents with lots of text, he said. Students also may have issues holding their attention for an extended period of time.

“So what virtual and augmented reality do is reinforce learning in ways that helps from a variety of different vectors,” he said. “And realistically, strategies used in special education are good practices for any education setting. We can translate what we learn about these tools into the general classroom setting, as well.”

With virtual reality, students wear a head set where it provides them with a complete 360-degree view of a setting or project that the students can interact with. With augmented reality, students use a device like a tablet or a headset where the device projects an image into the real-world setting. Firestone said a good example of augmented reality is Pokemon Go, where the image of a Pokemon is projected through a screen into the real world.

“We’ve all taken classes where we’ve aced the class, but we have no idea what we’ve learned,” he said. “What we want to accomplish with virtual and augmented reality is a more organic method of learning. This organic method of learning is accomplished through learning by doing.”

Research results so far

Firestone worked with Don McMahon on the WSU Pullman campus to run a study with special education students at the college level who studied bones and skeletons using augmented reality with the help of iPad Minis. They compared what the students learned and absorbed with augmented reality to what they learned and observed from textbooks and the team got great results.

Firestone is now taking that research a step further by applying the same tools to kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.

Students test out virtual reality

A group of students test out virtual reality headsets. WSU Tri-Cities professor Jonah Firestone will complete a study on how the technology may be used in special education.

“College kids are great, but I am very much interested in how these technologies can be applied to the k-12 setting,” he said. “What we’re currently doing is taking this same process and we’re modifying it for fifth-graders. Then, we’re going to modify it for middle school and high school.”

Firestone said he is using augmented reality to supplement different school lessons, including science where students observe and learn about the human body.

“Imagine looking at a picture of a femur, but with augmented reality, not only do you see a picture of a femur, but it has a voice that defines it for you and then shows you where it is on the human body,” he said.

Firestone is also looking into using virtual reality to immerse the kindergarten through 12th-grade students in an underwater experience called “The Blue.”

“It’s an underwater application where you see whales and you’re in a reef,” he said. “I’m then comparing that to the same information that the students glean from a text.”

Firestone said he’s had great results with the technology so far and that blending the virtual experiences with what students are presented with in a textbook is a winning combination.

“There is no one magic solution for learning, but the more things we can put together, the more kids are going to end up learning,” he said.

RICHLAND, Wash. – David Isley, a recent Washington State University Tri-Cities alumnus (education, ‘17), received a rare opportunity in his beginnings as a teacher this year — the opportunity to student teach with his own first-grade teacher.

Janelle Rehberg (right) and David Isley

Janelle Rehberg (right) and David Isley

At WSU Tri-Cities, students are required to complete a number of volunteer hours in a classroom setting before being admitted into the undergraduate education degree program. Isley decided to seek out his own first-grade teacher, Janelle Rehberg, to complete his volunteer work at Cottonwood Elementary School. After the experience, Rehberg invited Isley to complete his student teaching in her classroom during his senior year at WSU Tri-Cities.

“We hit it off right away, although it did take him a long time to get him to call me Janelle, instead of Mrs. Rehberg,” she said with a laugh. “David is a natural in the classroom. He’s great with the kids and it’s obvious that he loves teaching.”

Rehberg said she has never heard of another teacher and former student working together years later as a mentor and mentee in student teaching.

“It really is rare, but that made it all the more special,” she said.

From student to teacher

As a first-grade student, Rehberg said she never imagined Isley would become a teacher. Isley was an outgoing, passionate young student who had a passion for science and dinosaurs, she said.

“I would have thought he’d go on to be a scientist,” she said.

Isley said even to this day, he still thinks dinosaurs are the greatest, but instead of studying their history as a career, he plans on using them to educate a new generation of students.

“I’m excited to introduce them to my own students,” he said. “I do plan to feature dinosaurs in some of my lessons.”

Since his own days as first-grade student, Isley said the grade level has seen a lot of changes. For one, technology has advanced rapidly, and students use iPads, advanced computers and more to complete their work, innovate and create, he said. Rehberg said students are also expected to know a lot more.

“When I was in the first-grade, we learned the alphabet,” Rehberg said. “Now, that is usually learned in Preschool before they get to kindergarten. From the public’s point of view, I’m not sure people realize the amazing achievements of young little kids these days. Every generation seems to move along more rapidly than the previous one. The reading performance of today’s first graders is impressive.”

Isley said he’s up to the challenge for educating the talented youngsters.

“I’m excited to jump in and work with these amazing kids,” he said. “One of the best things I’ve learned from Janelle is that you have to know your kids and meet them where they are. That’s something I plan to use in my own career as a teacher. That, and you have to make learning fun.”

Foundational learning for use in the real-world

Isley said he appreciates that WSU Tri-Cities requires so much real-world work in the classroom, as that’s the business that teachers are in – working with children and inspiring in them a passion for knowledge.

“Being able to apply what I’ve learned through my professors and textbooks at WSU to the real-world setting in the elementary school classrooms is invaluable,” he said. Rehberg agreed.

“You don’t learn nearly as much as when you are right here in the trenches,” she said. “That first-hand experience is the best.”

Looking toward the future, Isley said he plans to take what he learned through both his coursework and professors at WSU Tri-Cities, and what he learned from Rehberg, to educate a whole new generation of students.

Isley recently accepted a kindergarten teaching position at Washington Elementary School in the Kennewick School District. He’ll also have a piece of Rehberg in his future classroom to remember his student teaching experience with his first-grade teacher, mentor and now colleague. Rehberg said she made a giant sculpted dinosaur for a class project and plans to give it to David to hang in his future classroom.

“It really has all come full-circle,” Isley said.

Rehberg said she’ll miss Isley teaching alongside in her classroom, but that she’s excited for his future.

“Since I had David in my classroom, I’ve missed him terribly,” she said. “I loved having David student teach in my class. But I know he’ll be successful wherever he goes.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Kylie Chiesa, this year’s Washington State University Tri-Cities valedictorian, has always felt she had a special connection to children with developmental and physical disabilities.

She began working as a life-skills helper in high school and with her school’s Buddy Club.

“They learn in unique ways that fit their individual personalities and needs,” she said. “It is incredibly rewarding to see these individuals grow at their own pace in order to make their distinctive mark on the world around them.”

Finding her passion

In college, Chiesa started on the nursing track, but soon realized that career path wasn’t for her. From there, she spent three summers working at a camp for children with disabilities at The Arc of Tri-Cities, and realized that working with disabled children was her true passion.

Chiesa spent three years as a paraeducator at Canyon View Elementary School in Kennewick before deciding to pursue a degree in education with an endorsement in special education from WSU Tri-Cities.

“I loved what I was doing and decided to take the next step to become a teacher,” she said.

Kylie ChiesaClassroom exposure

During her coursework at WSU Tri-Cities, Chiesa had the opportunity to complete several practicum experiences in the classroom. She served in a variety of elementary school classrooms around the Tri-Cities focused that focused on general education, autism, and life-skills. Currently, she serves as a long-term substitute teacher in a resource classroom at Lincoln Elementary School and Canyon View Elementary School.

“My education at WSU Tri-Cities prepared me for a career as a teacher in many ways,” she said. “Going to different placements allowed for me to see many different teaching methods, strategies and approaches. The courses I took prepared me for teaching various subjects.”

In each class, she and her fellow students were given tools that they could use to stock a figurative tool bag.

“When we step into our first classroom, we will have a tool bag full of various tools to use with our students,” she said. But the learning won’t stop there, Chiesa added, as WSU Tri-Cities also taught her to be a lifelong learner.

First position in Kennewick

Chiesa has accepted her first teaching position as a primary autism teacher at Washington Elementary School in the Kennewick School District.

“Far too often, children with special needs are told what they can’t do,” she said. “Instead of focusing on everything these children can do. I repeatedly hear them described by their limitations. It is my goal to discover what those children with special needs can do well and assist them in reaching their full potential. There is no greater joy than seeing a student meet a milestone that they have been working so hard to achieve.”

Chiesa will graduate with the 2017 WSU Tri-Cities class at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at the Toyota Center, 7000 W. Grandridge Blvd., in Kennewick, Wash. Doors open at noon. The event is free to the public and tickets are not required.

 

Media Contacts:

Kylie Chiesa, WSU Tri-Cities valedictorian, kylie.chiesa@wsu.edu

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333, Maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu