'Embodied Learning' Blends Movement, Computer Interaction

The SMALLab at Elizabeth Forward Middle School gets some fantastic coverage in Education Week.

The SMALLab at Elizabeth Forward Middle School gets some fantastic coverage in Education Week:

Technology brings content to life

By Mike Bock

Zachary Benedek usually can’t wait for science class to be over. But when he learns about concepts like light and gravity in a 15-square-foot digitally enhanced laboratory called the SMALLab, he doesn’t want the period to end.

Waving a wand in front of colors and circles projected on the floor of the lab, he and his classmates worked together recently to blend colors in a unit on the electromagnetic spectrum for science class.

“It’s a lot more fun. You get it, and when you do it with your hands, it seems a lot simpler,” said Zachary, a 6th grader at Elizabeth Forward Middle School in Elizabeth, Pa.

Last month, the school built one of the nation’s first “embodied learning” labs, a technological platform that combines learning sciences and human-computer interaction by incorporating students’ body movements into the lesson. For example, a student learning about chemistry would be able to grab and combine molecules in a virtual flask projected on a floor mat through the use of motion-capture cameras that sense movement and body position.

‘Embodied Learning’

The basic idea behind embodied learning is that students who fully use their bodies to learn are more engaged in the lesson than they would be simply sitting at a desk or computer. The SMALLab, or Situated Multimedia Arts Learning Lab, was developed by Arizona State University professors and aims to incorporate blended learning into traditional classroom lessons with the help of educational technology.

On the surface, the SMALLab seems similar to Microsoft’s Kinect, a camera peripheral sold as an attachment to the XBOX 360 video-game platform that is now being used in some classrooms. But while Microsoft’s motion-capture gaming technology is typically used for physical education and special education, the SMALLab hosts lessons in core subjects like math and science.

Elizabeth Forward Middle School is one of six schools in the nation to use the SMALLab. Housed in what was once an unused classroom at the school, the SMALLab contains mounted cameras, a projector, a computer, and a large mat to stand on. Participating students are given a wand to help control an individual learning game, or scenario. Each teacher was given instruction on how to use the technology in a one-day training seminar at the beginning of the school year.

Read the whole article and learn more about Elizabeth Forward’s innovative approach to classroom education at Education Week.

Published October 10, 2012