Fun with fads: embodied learning

“Embodied learning” lets students combine computer simulations with movement, reports Ed Week, visiting Elizabeth Forward Middle School in Pennsylvania. The school invested $35,000 in a SMALLab.

. . . 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.

“By combining concepts like kinetic learning and collaborative learning, students are able to absorb information more effectively,” claims David Birchfield, one of SMALLab’s creators.

While many of the lessons deal with learning in the stem subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—Mr. Birchfield cited a scenario that involves students’ bodies symbolically filling in for a character in a novel. If they want to access information about their characters’ thought processes, for example, students tap their own heads, or for content about characters’ emotions, they touch their own hearts.

Teachers and students like the lab, says Principal Michael Routh. However, it’s too soon to say whether students are learning more.

Let’s take this one step further, snarks Katherine Beals on Out in Left Field: Replace virtual reality with Reality.

Instead of waving wands in front of projected images to explore gravity and blend colors, students could pick up and drop objects in 3D space and manipulate actual 3D light-emitting devices and prisms! Instead of grabbing and combining molecules in a virtual flask projected on a floor mat, students could use actual chemicals and actual flasks! And instead of accessing information about their characters’ thought processes by tapping their own heads, or about characters’ emotions by touching their own hearts, they could pick up an actual 3D book and read it!

It’s just a thought experiment, writes Beals.

I tried out an embodied learning lab at a high-tech school in Chicago. A partner and I used wands to move a line of light on a mat to . . . Hmmm. Make a shape? At the time, I knew the goal, but not what students were supposed to be learning.

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