College of Education Tag

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. –  A Washington State University Tri-Cities education professor has partnered with her father, a software engineer, to develop a fun and hands-on educational tool that will allow students to virtually explore geographic areas, expand their spatial awareness skills and improve overall geoliteracy.

Students at Marcus Whitman Elementary School use PuzzleMap as a classroom resource

Students at Marcus Whitman Elementary School use PuzzleMap as a classroom resource.

National Geographic defines geoliteracy as “the ability to use geographic understanding and geographic reasoning to make far-reaching decisions.” Sarah Newcomer, assistant professor of literacy education at WSU Tri-Cities, said students use the skill in a range of academic fields, in addition to everyday life.

That is why she and her father, Fred Newcomer, created the program, PuzzleMap, which features moveable map elements with interactive clues and images to expand the user’s knowledge of any geographic area.

“With this project, we’re really looking at how this tool supports kids in developing their geographic literacy and spatial reasoning, as there are many kids who prefer to learn that way,” Sarah Newcomer said. “Not all kids may be successful with pencils and paper. It’s a different way of learning and approaching the material, as well as a different modality that they can learn through.”

From GIS to integrated classroom technology

Fred Newcomer spent a year developing the platform. He said he wanted to use his years of experience with geographic information systems in the public safety sector to help address global environmental concerns. The project quickly showed its value for elementary students, thanks to the advisement of his daughter.

A student uses PuzzleMap at Marcus Whitman Elementary School

A student uses PuzzleMap at Marcus Whitman Elementary School.

“My initial intent was to simply make something that other people might find interesting and enjoy doing,” he said. “Games like Tetris, Candy Crush and Pokemon Go have attracted many juvenile and adult players, but they don’t really offer any secondary benefit … When Sarah first saw PuzzleMap, she immediately suggested that it could be a valuable classroom tool.”

Sarah Newcomer worked with her father to create a PuzzleMap of the United States specifically for use at the elementary school level. Students use the program to complete a puzzle by placing a state in its correct spot on a blank map. The individual pieces also feature useful facts ranging from population, to climate, to key industries in each region, which the students can use as clues.

Success in the classroom

This year, Sarah Newcomer and Jonah Firestone, assistant professor of science education and assessment, partnered with two fifth-grade classes at Marcus Whitman Elementary School in Richland and a fifth-grade class at Barbara McClintock STEM Elementary School in Pasco to assess PuzzleMap’s effectiveness in the classroom.

Although data analysis is in the preliminary stages, Newcomer said an initial review of the results indicate that the program helped students retain information at a greater rate than if they hadn’t used the program – and typically by a wide margin.

“We hypothesized that the group that supplemented their regular curriculum with Puzzle map would do better, but we didn’t plan for just how well they would do,” she said. “It just goes to show that adding supplemental resources with the regular curriculum can provide a huge benefit to students.”

Excitement for learning

Most of the students participating in the study said they loved using the program. Students enjoyed exploring both states that were unfamiliar, as well as their favorite states. Other students said they enjoyed competing with themselves to improve their proficiency score.

McKenzie Munn speaks with students at Marcus Whitman Elementary School

McKenzie Munn, a fifth-grade teacher at Marcus Whitman Elementary School, speaks with a couple of her students. Her class was one of the first group to test the viability of PuzzleMap in the classroom.

“I can place all of the states on the map in 1 minute and 40 seconds,” said Divine Salazar, a fifth-grade student at Marcus Whitman. “I even got an app on my phone to study it at home, too.”

McKenzie Munn, a fifth-grade teacher at Marcus Whitman Elementary, said students were more engaged with their geographic curriculum when they completed PuzzleMap in conjunction with their given material.

“This resource is a tool that we can use to supplement everything we were already planning on teaching,” she said. “It is not a replacement and not going to change the way we do social studies, but it is just going to make it better.”

Trevor Dunstan, a technology specialist at McClintock agreed, noting the program “would be an excellent resource for working hands-on with different content areas.”

Future of PuzzleMap

Fred Newcomer said he plans to continue working with his daughter to develop more PuzzleMap content for elementary students and on adding features that will facilitate classroom use. He is currently developing a variety of PuzzleMap ideas to raise environmental awareness, promote public spaces and market regional products. The platform is also being used to highlight the complexities of legislative districting.

The program is available now for schools and other organizations to use. For more information on PuzzleMap and related technology resources, visit

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Citiies

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities has joined forces with a local youth-operated program to grow its home-based extracurricular learning opportunities in a community in east Pasco.

The organization, Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success (ALAS), originated several years ago when Lakeview community youth wanted to improve their neighborhood through offering child friendly activities, leadership building opportunities and additional academic resources right in their home area.

ALAS camps“We started a program because there were a lot of kids running around, and it used to be a place known for drugs and alcohol,” said Brenda Yepez, ALAS mentor, resident of the Lakeview community and a WSU Tri-Cities student. “We didn’t want to see that anymore, so we started offering activities for the kids, and then started doing these summer camps.”

They since have partnered with multiple WSU Tri-Cities education faculty to grow their academic offerings, including building annual summer camps to offer lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

WSU students teach classes

“Two years ago, they (ALAS) asked if WSU would be willing to help, and we came up with a plan to have our introduction to education class teach daily at the camps,” said Jonah Firestone, assistant professor of education at WSU Tri-Cities. “I told my students to create all the curriculum for Monday through Friday classes every morning. It’s been a great opportunity, both for the kids in the community and for our WSU students.”

This year, Firestone also partnered with associate education professor Eric Johnson, and they split the camp days into English and Spanish offerings to create an academic bilingual component for the camps. Johnson has taken his education students to work in Pasco schools and with the ALAS program for the past eight years.

“My class did the Spanish lessons on Monday and Wednesday and Jonah did the lessons on Tuesday and Thursday in English,” Johnson said of the new structure for the camps. “It worked out really well and the feedback from my students is that they really enjoyed it.”

English, Spanish classes

Firestone said by offering the instruction in both languages, it allows the students to learn the material first in many of the community youth’s native language, and then the lesson is reinforced through the English language, which provides them a greater grasps of the concepts.ALAS camps

Maite Cruz, president of the ALAS program and resident of the Lakeview community, said they are glad to partner with WSU Tri-Cities for the camps, as it provides both parties with learning opportunities.

“Our first year of the camps was a little difficult because we didn’t have the experience on what to teach them,” she said. “But since we partnered with WSU, we’ve been able to expand our academic offerings to be a true benefit to the kids in our community.”

Aligning curriculum with culture

In addition to the academic offerings for the children in the community, Firestone said the partnership has presented an opportunity to educate their WSU students about the value of creating curriculum that aligns with the culture and environment of the students they’re educating.

“We wanted to get these pre-service teachers out into the community to engage in these kids’ culture and create curriculum based on where they are,” he said. “No kid has all the experiences

ALAS camps

as other kids, but there are areas where we can introduce concepts and curriculum based on the similar experiences of these kids. They then get to see that put into practice and how

successful it makes the kids’ learning. It’s been a real benefit to my students.”

Working in Pasco schools

Johnson said WSU Tri-Cities sends many of its pre-service teachers into Pasco schools to work with students as part of their educational experience.

“So for the students who have the chance with the Lakeview community in these camps or in our classes, they have a better appreciation for the resources that Lakeview offers,” he said. “They also see a lot of the students in the schools in their practicum.”

“For the students who get jobs in Kennewick or Richland, they are also more open to doing community visits because they have had that training and can apply what they’ve learned in the community to the classroom,” he said.


Media Contacts:

By Maegan Murray

Lindsay Lightner’s teaching career and experience in education has taken her all over the country, and even across the Atlantic Ocean to the United Kingdom.

31305116876_59678b1ae0_zHer first teaching job right out of college was as a middle school science teacher in New York. From there, she taught writing at Penn State after receiving her master’s degree in the subject. Her efforts then led her overseas to educate future teachers at Canterbury Christ Church University before she returned to the U.S. and took a position as an academic advisor at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

In all those years in education, what fascinated her most were the possibilities for exploring teaching styles and innovative strategies in education and helping students from all backgrounds succeed in the field she has dedicated her life to.

“The more I worked with students, the more I realized the different challenges they had, which led me to more questions,” she said. “The kinds of questions I was having I could only answer through research. That is really what interested me in pursuing a PhD here at WSU Tri-Cities – that research capability. I started thinking about what I could bring to the table that could potentially have a large impact on the future of education.”

Lightner is now pursuing a PhD through the mathematics and science education doctoral program at WSU Tri-Cities while she works full-time as the university’s alternate route to teacher certification coordinator.

Washington currently ranks third in the nation for the concentration of STEM jobs by state, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. With this distinction comes the responsibility for preparing students who will one day fill those roles. Through the College of Education at WSU Tri-Cities, students in the mathematics and science education doctoral program are researching ways to prepare both teachers and students to be successful in those fields. Both are crucial to growing the state’s local talent, and in turn, the state economy.

Blending established educational experiences with innovative research

In her current role as the alternate route to teacher certification coordinator at WSU Tri-Cities, Lightner sees first-hand how the implementation of new and engaging strategies can improve the overall teaching experience, and in turn, students’ knowledge retention.

Lightner works with paraeducators who are combining their established experience in the classroom with courses at WSU Tri-Cities to earn their bachelor’s degree in elementary education. At the end of the program, the new teachers will hold endorsements in English language learning, bilingual education or special education, in addition to the elementary education endorsement.28769500240_cfcf868fce_z

Lightner said for new teachers, teaching science and math may be intimidating as they often don’t have specific expertise in those subjects.

“The research on preservice elementary teachers indicates that many of them feel more anxious about teaching math and science than other subjects, such as reading,” she said. “Some of this could be due to their own negative experiences as learners of science or mathematics, or due to social biases.”

31226392371_071ca34be1_zLightner said through her doctoral research, she is exploring how people learn throughout their lives and how they integrate their past experiences with new learning opportunities to create new knowledge, practices or understandings for themselves.

“I’m interested in seeing how college students and new teachers make sense and learn in different environments, whether those are university classes, work situations or a free choice activity,” she said.

Through the education doctoral program, Lightner is currently conducting a survey that measures what the alternate route students think about teaching in general and also what they think about teaching science.

“A lot of the work that math and science educators do at any grade level is to inspire learners with not only the content, but also a sense of wonder and possibility about science and mathematics,” she said. “This is no different for teacher educators than for kindergarten teachers. But college students have more previous experience that we have to engage with as they learn.”

A perfect fit

In her career in higher education, Lightner said the doctoral program in mathematics and science education at WSU Tri-Cities has been a perfect fit as both her coursework and her research area apply directly to her work with students who are learning to teach those subjects.

28979748981_7c4e65d6dc_z-1“I think they are very complimentary,” she said. “It is very exciting to have something where I’m developing real-world skills that I can put toward my job.”

Lightner said she appreciates that her course schedules are a mix of online programming and in-classroom experiences, as it allows her flexibility in her full-time work schedule. She also works with nationally-renowned education professionals whose research and academic contributions have changed the world of education for the better.

Lightner also shared from her experience as a teacher, both locally in the United States and internationally in the United Kingdom, as well as from her experience as an academic advisor, and compared these experiences with those of her fellow classmates.

“One of my classmates is a high school math teacher,” she said. “Another is a middle school science teacher in a rural school. One is a community college math instructor and then there’s me: a former teacher with experience both in the K-12 system and in higher education. It is neat to be able to draw from other people’s insights and approaches.”

Interested in the math and science education doctoral program? Visit

By Maegan Murray

Once a month, a class of 12 education students at Washington State University Tri-Cities welcomes more than 20 clients from The Arc of Tri-Cities where all eat lunch with one another, interact socially, as well as play games and complete crafts.

peer-lunch-club-6The effort is part of the university’s new peer lunch club, which pairs the education students with several individuals with disabilities as a means to develop friendships, as well as to develop one another’s’ social and professional skills.

“My manager told me that WSU Tri-Cities students were wanting to learn more about and get to know the people in our community at The Arc,” Arc VIP Coordinator BreAnna Vaughn said. “For my guys, this is a great way for them to make some friends and get to know people outside of their families and outside from us at The Arc. The benefit for the students at WSU Tri-Cities is that they get to know people in this community and learn how they can help these individuals prosper in their future roles as teachers.”

As an organization, The Arc of Tri-Cities assists persons with developmental disabilities in choosing and realizing where and how they learn, live, work and play. The WSU Tri-Cities peer lunch club provides an added opportunity for Arc clients to bond and socialize with individuals in a college setting while WSU Tri-Cities students have the opportunity to get to know a group of individuals whose learning challenges may be peer-lunch-club-1unfamiliar to them.

“I believe it is a good experience for our students who are in education because nowadays, with current trends in inclusive education, they will have students with disabilities in their classroom,” said Yun-Ju Hsiao, an assistant professor of special education at WSU Tri-Cities and co-organizer of the lunch club. “It provides our students with a good start in learning how to interact with these individuals and what strategies will work best for their learning, in addition to allowing them to make some new friends.”

Value added for all

The Arc participants said they love being able to come WSU Tri-Cities as they are making new friends while participating in hands-on activities. During their last lunch club meeting, the group made paper snowflakes, which they used to decorate The Arc facility for the holiday season.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Arc client Grady Horvath said. “I’ve made lots of friends so far.”

Arc client Spencer Pidcock said his favorite parts of the experience have been bonding with his new friends over common interests such as movies, of which his favorite are from the Fast and the Furious franchise. He said also enjoys the activities they’ve completed with the WSU Tri-Cities students.

“It’s been really fun,” he said. “Making the snowflakes has probably been one of my favorite activities so far.”

peer-lunch-club-2WSU Tri-Cities students said they have enjoyed the opportunity, not only because they have been able to put some of the skills they’re learning at WSU Tri-Cities to use in working with individuals with developmental disabilities, but also because they are developing close friendships.

“It is like an eye-opener because you see people with disabilities and you generally don’t know how to act with them at first,” WSU Tri-Cities student Maria Admani said. “At first, it is kind of awkward, mainly because you’re putting this pressure on yourself to behave a certain way. But you start talking with them and you realize they are just like you. You have the same likes and dislikes. You don’t have to behave a specific way. They’re people like you and me.”

WSU Tri-Cities student Karli Korten said they’ve developed jokes with some of The Arc clients just as they would their closest friends growing up.

“I remember I brought up the Venus Razors commercials,” she said, referencing a conversation she was having with some of The Arc clients. “I started singing ‘I’m your Venus, I’m your fire,’ and Grady finished it with ‘Your desire.’ It was just so funny. We’re developing these friendships that we never would have had otherwise.”

Korten said as the lunches continue, they sit with the same people each lunch meet-up and that both groups become more and more comfortable with one another each time.

“We ask them questions about our previous activities, or about what is coming up new in their life and you realize they have the same thoughts about life and the same anxieties,” she said.

From social to professional

WSU Tri-Cities student Carrie Stewart said she will definitely use the experience in her future career as a teacher.peer-lunch-club-3

“I think it will help a lot,” she said. “To see individuals with disabilities in this environment, it is almost like a classroom environment. Knowing how to relate to them is a huge thing, as well as developing a personal relationship. This is a great way to allow us to learn how to build bonds, which will help us help them be successful in their own lives.”

Student Kimberlee Moon said they can also use the opportunity to improve the educational experience for all students.

“You get to know them just as you would any other kid in the classroom,” she said. “You can incorporate their interests just as you would any student. You may have to use different strategies, but those strategies you use for students with disabilities will also work for every student in the classroom.”