Some students are confident with academics, some athletics, but a new system in the gym at John Sevier Elementary School allows both groups to shine.

Like a video game system on steroids, the Lü interactive playground installed this summer allows students to move while honing academic skills, have fun working the wiggles out or calm down to focus on learning.

Although Lü has sold more than 300 units in 20 countries, JSE was the first school in Tennessee to receive it, according to the company.

The Maryville City Schools Foundation awarded an $18,000 schoolwide grant, which added to $3,000 from John Sevier paid for the system and two years of new applications and upgrades each month.

Bringing the Lü to Maryville started with third grade JSE teacher Amanda Mullen, who saw it online and tagged then-Principal Ginny Boles and physical education teacher Alex Rouse in a Facebook post during the past school year.

“In Maryville we like to be innovative, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” Mullen said.

With the principal’s support, the teachers dug in to research and write their grant proposal.

Adaptable for every student

The Lü converts a large section of the gymnasium wall into a touchscreen, using a projector and 3D camera, with a light and sound system mounted from the ceiling.

So far John Sevier has access to more than two dozen apps that run on the system, covering topics from nutrition to constellations.

To reinforce math skills, for example, a problem will pop up on the wall and students must throw a ball to hit the correct answer among several possible targets. For spelling, an object appears and they must hit — in order — the letters in its name. By moving countries around on a map like puzzle pieces, they can master geography.

To transition from a high-energy game back to the classroom, a teacher can use the Gaïa app to lead students through a relaxation exercise.

Assistant Principal Brian Tinker walked by the gym one day and saw 40 kindergarten students sitting quiet and still. “It’s amazing to see them so calm,” he said.

“It’s a big-time class-management tool,” said Rouse, who is training other teachers on how to use the system. He’s also tracking results of a schoolwide math challenge, with the top class earning a Lü party at the end of the nine weeks.

Teachers can sign up to use the system from 7:50-10 a.m., before PE classes begin, and Rouse plans to train the after-school Adventure Club to use it, too.

Lü offers a dozen languages within the system, making it useful for English learners. Plus game targets, lights and sound all can be adjusted, so teachers can adapt it for students with special needs.

To support their grant proposal, Mullen and Rouse dug into the research on kinesthetic learning, in which students benefit by touching or manipulating objects, and whole brain teaching..

“Using your body gets your brain energized and ready to learn,” Mullen said.

The high-tech game style draws in today’s digital natives, too. “Our kids are not the same learners they were 50 years ago,” she noted.

Most of the foundation’s awards are smaller classroom grants, so its board had to be convinced of the high value.

During their pitch, the teachers had the board members try the same activities with paper and then digitally.

In addition to running its own apps, the Lü system can be used to project other materials, such as videos or professional development content. For part of the training, Rouse talked with an instructor from Lü over the screen.

Any teacher’s laptop can be plugged into the system, and John Sevier has a handheld controller and headset microphone, allowing Rouse and other instructors to walk around the gym while operating the system and giving instructions.

JSE administrators and staff are thrilled with what they have, but Tinker noted there’s even more the system can do. Going from the current ÜNO setup to a two-wall DÜO system would allow teachers to create different activity groupings at the same time and to play basketball and flag-football style games. The price tag for that would be about another $5,000.

See John Sevier third-graders using the Lü interactive playground system in a video posted to The Daily Times website. Learn more about the Lü system on play-lu.com.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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