Dance parties, exercise breaks, and jumping around are a typical part of many Pre-K classrooms. But jumping around isn’t just one way to solve the problems in suburban New York City’s Greenburgh Central School District.
The kids here learn essential math and English skills through an online platform called Kinems. Similar to a Nintendo Wii, the platform uses motion-based sensors and enables contactless interaction so that children can control an avatar on the screen by moving their body.
Miriam Figueroa, a pre-K teacher in the district, said the physical activity combined with a virtual world with bright colors and animated characters is for even the most shy of students and also for students struggling with learning disparities such as ADHD and dyslexia , appealing, dyspraxia and autism.
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Full-body engagement is especially important for her students, almost all of whom are completing special education.
“The kids really loved it,” said Figueroa. “They enjoy interacting with the screen while learning readiness skills like colors, shapes, and receptive languages like following instructions.”
Before the pandemic forced the district to turn to distance learning, Figueroa’s classroom was one of the first in Greenburgh Central to test the use of kinems to assist students with disabilities.
Now the district sees the platform as a way to get its most needy students safely back into class while adhering to social distancing rules, said Corey Reynolds, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and staff at Greenburgh Central.
The duration of use of the platform by students may vary depending on the grade level. In preliminary stage K it can only be 15 to 20 minutes. Although some teachers only use Kinems for a short period of time each day, students can actively learn without the risks associated with sharing physical material, Reynolds said.
“It really helps to reduce the spread of germs,” he said.
According to Symeon Retalis, co-founder and chief scientist of Kinems, the Kinems platform was originally created to help children with special educational needs and improve their cognitive and motor skills. Because these students’ learning needs are different, Kinems can be fully customized. Kinaesthetic learning is built into every game, whether it’s math or ELA. Teachers can personalize activities based on the academic needs of each student or, for students in special education, on the goals of their individual educational program or IEP. The program gives teachers real-time feedback on learning and motor skills.
Retalis, a professor at the University of Piraeus in Greece, worked with other educators, physiotherapists and content developers to create multi-sensory educational games that incorporate occupational therapy. The “unique recipe of Kinems,” he said, “uses a theory of embodied knowledge” – the idea that the body affects the mind – and learning of the body.
“When the body is active everything becomes more engaging, stimulating and children actively participate in the learning process,” said Retalis.
The games can also be customized to meet various state and common core standards. Early grade students can practice math vocabulary and learn to count, while older students can practice math operations, language and vocabulary skills, and sentence structure and spelling.
Although the Kinems program has only been in use in US schools for a few years, a 2017 study by Pace University’s School of Education of Kinems found that the data showed “the effective use of kinesthetic movements to increase engagement and performance outcomes in the Strong support for students ”For students with disabilities.
While there was instant buy-in from some teachers at Greenburgh Central, the use of Kinems didn’t catch on until after the pandemic, said Reynolds, the assistant superintendent. “Sometimes it can be a feeling of ‘oh, not a thing’ anymore,” Reynolds said. But since the pandemic, he said, the platform has been more widespread in the district – and not just in the special education program.
Even so, the platform is not perfect. Now that many children are back in the classroom, first grade teachers have had to be extra vigilant in teaching the children the importance of keeping distance from one another.
Retalis said it usually takes a few hours of class for teachers to get used to the platform. However, the more difficult and important aspect is training teachers on how to adapt games to IEP goals, which requires more in-depth coaching. “We’re not changing the way teachers work,” Retalis said. “We want teachers to be in full control.”
Despite some initial issues using the platform, Reynolds said, teachers in the district have already begun building student interest and engagement. A teacher recently told Reynolds that one of her nonverbal students, who was often unwilling to follow directions, has become a model for other students when they use Kinems. “The excitement on this student’s face … was incredible,” said Reynolds.
This story about Kinems was produced by The Hechinger Report, a non-profit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.
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