The Tempe School uses virtual reality, robots and other innovative teaching techniques

TEMPE – SPARK students at Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School are reinventing classroom modules and using technology such as robots, green screens, 3D printers and virtual reality to learn math, science and other traditional materials. SPARK is a special program housed on the school campus.

“We really are an atmosphere of mixing and learning,” said Mary Brown, the school’s executive teacher designer. “In addition to 3D printers, we have Sphero for students to practice coding, and one of the most interesting technologies we have is virtual reality. So when we want to visit a place we could never really visit, like the Amazon rainforest, the students put on virtual reality and they are actually inside, they can make observations as scientists in this space.

Brown said revamping classroom lesson plans helps improve teacher retention and build student enthusiasm and engagement.

“I saw a lot of things that discouraged me in education,” she said. “When I was alerted to this opportunity, it felt like the answer to all the problems I saw in education. Let’s redesign, work in teams of teachers, and make learning look different for students to that they are engaged and enthusiastic in class.

SPARK School teaches the core curriculum of math, science, language arts, and social studies, but with a more personalized technique. Its teachers believe that replacing written books and tests with more interactive materials motivates students to stay engaged in and out of class.

“We learn about mock trials,” said third-grade student Neftali Rivera. “A few weeks ago we had a person who was a lawyer come to talk to us about it and answer a few questions.”

Rivera is a juror in the upcoming mock trial, which supports language arts. His group reads books and takes notes for their case, SeaWorld v. The State.

“It’s unusual,” he said. “It’s a new program that used to be called Imagine, but is now called SPARK. I like it, I like it a lot. »

Science students research the weather and produce their own weather report.

“We’re writing a script to become a meteorologist and we’re going to run it on a green screen,” said fourth-grade student Audrey Colbert.

SPARK is “modern,” she said, giving students more freedom and the ability to use computers on a daily basis.

The change in teaching methods has posed challenges, but Brown said his team is tackling them step by step.

“The biggest challenge is getting back to our five design principles,” she said, “especially the one where the students lead the learning and where the learning feels a bit more personalized. And because it is so different from the traditional classroom, we’ve done it in iterations and stages; slowly we’re moving towards a more personalized experience.

Although the approach to teaching in SPARK differs from traditional classrooms, Brown said each lesson meets Arizona academic standards.

“Students will always take the AzMERIT here; everything we do is always standards-based,” Brown said. “Everything you see here is within our standards – we just teach it differently.”