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Xtra special ed: Cari Parr ’94

With robots and videos, Cari Parr ’94 is using animation and technology to reach her special-needs students.

Xtra special ed: Cari Parr ’94

Cari Parr ’94 uses robots and videos to teach the special-needs students in her classroom.

Xtra special ed: Cari Parr ’94

With robots and videos, Cari Parr ’94 is using animation and technology to reach her special-needs students.

Special education teacher Cari Parr ’94 is using talking robots and videos to reach her students at Barfield Elementary School in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Using the website Xtranormal.com, she has instantly turned words into a 3-D animated movie in order to connect with the special-needs students in her classroom, most of who have autism.

“The program allows you to customize videos for your unique needs,” she says. “You choose your characters and type in the text you want them to speak.”

Because most of Parr’s students are boys, she opted for two robots, which she named George and Max. Her first lesson was curriculum based, stressing social skills and the four steps to asking for help.

“The kids were drawn in immediately,” she notes. “The robots introduced the lesson in a two-minute video and the kids were mesmerized.”

Part of Parr’s teaching methods include repetition, so that by the second day of showing the video, she says students were reciting the words.

“After seeing the kids’ positive responses, I began writing my own videos about special issues that were significant in our classroom,” Parr says. “The videos are short and simple, introducing the lesson. Following the video, I then build upon what the kids have seen and interact with them on a more personal level.”

Her video topics include how to introduce yourself to a stranger and how to say thank you in a friendly way.

Parr is always looking for innovative ways to connect with her students. A recent training in her district highlighted research on Reactive Attachment Disorder at TCU’s Institute of Child Development, where psychology professor David Cross was featured.

“Imagine my surprise seeing Dr. Cross again in the training videos, like it was my first day of class in Psychology 101, but 22 years later!”