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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  1. cranberry says:

    Is there a term for “quackery in education?”

    I had to check to make certain the article hadn’t been written by The Onion.

    The students sitting on the side of the classroom aren’t “engaged in embodied learning,” are they?

  2. I think that we can safely say that this is a great example of technology for the sake of technology. What a crock.

    • In fact, worse than a crock. Why confuse students by having them do faint imitations of real activities?

      • cranberry says:

        Everyone gets paid, that’s why.

      • cranberry says:

        On a more serious note, does this middle school have a lab classroom outfitted to teach the sciences? For $35,000 the school has (to judge from the picture) an apparatus which projects activities to small groups of students. Such activities could be performed individually on laptops (which I’m pretty sure the school has.) Instead of 25 kids playing math games on their laptops, we see two or three kids playing an “embodied” game, and the other students observing. Or gossiping or daydreaming, whichever is most likely to appeal to a typical middle school student.

        The public and private middle schools my children attended had lab classrooms, in which real children could perform real lab experiments. Light and gravity are free. A set of prisms and the basic elements of labs for classical physics experiments (balls, weights, ramps, etc.) wouldn’t be that expensive. They also wouldn’t need to be updated to the latest version.

  3. >>>. . . a student learning about chemistry would be able
    >>>to grab and combine molecules in a virtual flask

    So, apparently, the student is supposed to learn that molecules combine because he/she wants them to, and not because that’s what they do.