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‘Embodied learning’ blends lessons with student-computer interaction

First Pennsylvania lab of its kind immerses students in computer simulations for what educators hope is more effective learning

SMALLab Learning uses a projector, motion-sensor cameras, and a computer to create scenarios in which students can learn by immersing themselves in the lesson.

In an Elizabeth Forward Middle School classroom, students in an eighth-grade math class spent a recent morning getting into their lesson—literally.

Standing in their socks on a 15-by-15 game board that was projected onto a foam mat on the floor, they waved wands to move brightly colored virtual balls around the space.

They used trial-and-error to figure out what each colored ball did when it came into contact with another.

Did one ball bumping another cause it to multiply? Or did one eliminate another?

The students strove to develop a strategy to beat their opponents.

What they end up doing, educators say, is honing skills related to reasoning, decision-making, and critical thinking.

The teaching tactic is called embodied learning. It blends lessons and human-computer interaction.

Elizabeth Forward educators are implementing it with Situated Multimedia Arts Learning Lab, known as SMALLab Learning, which uses a ceiling-mounted projector, motion-sensor cameras, wands, and a computer to create scenarios in which students can learn by immersing themselves in the lesson.

The district is the first public school system in Pennsylvania to use this educational technology, developed at Arizona State University.

“It’s about getting students out of the standard desk and up and moving,” said Todd Keruskin, Elizabeth Forward’s assistant superintendent.


A $20,000 grant from the Allegheny County Intermediate Unit and the Grable Foundation helped fund the technology, which cost $35,000 and is new to the district this year. The district paid the balance.

Teachers in all subjects trained on the program, so anyone can incorporate it into a lesson plan.

“It’s as much about how the teacher drives discussion as it is about the game itself,” said Bart Rocco, superintendent.

Students who aren’t playing the game observe from the perimeter, taking notes and offering their classmates suggestions.

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  1. Tomsmcdonald

    September 27, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I’m interested in how this will advance individual long term (deep) learning outcomes that will result in individual long term, performance improvement outcomes (of critical must know information)

  2. dadesway

    October 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Education is more than “critical must know information” – It is also about creativity and encouraging problem solving, activities described in the article. The learning outcomes are more difficult, but not impossible to assess if you must assess them. I do wince when I read language suited to the business world used in Education “long term performance improvement outcomes”.