Similar to Sifteo Cubes, in that interaction comes through motion, is the fractions game Motion Math (Figure 5-5). This simple app for the iPhone and Android uses the accelerometer to teach fractions. Rather than tapping the correct answer or hitting a submit button, as you would with other math software, players tilt their devices left or right to direct a bouncing ball to the spot correctly matching the identified fraction; you learn fractions using hand-eye coordination and your body (or at least your forearm). And, rather than an “incorrect” response, the feedback loop of a bouncing ball allows you to playfully guide your ball to the correct spot.
Figure 5-5. Edu tech (from top to bottom): GameDesk’s Areo, the Motion Math app, and Sifteo Cubes
As exciting as Sifteo and Motion Math are, some of the best examples of whole body learning with technology would be the learning games developed by GameDesk. Take Aero, as an example. Codesigned with Bill Nye the Science Guy, Aero teachers sixth graders fundamental principles in physics and aerodynamics. How? According to GameDesk founder Lucient Vattel:
In this game, you outstretch your arms and you become a bird. It’s an accurate simulation of bird flight. And through that you get to understand the vectors: gravity, lift, drag, thrust. These concepts are not normally taught at the sixth grade level...
Vattel goes on to add that “a game can allow the concepts to be visualized, experienced.” And this is what is remarkable: that students are experiencing learning, with their entire body and having a blast while they’re at it — who doesn’t want to transform into a bird and fly, if only in a simulation?
GameDesk also works with other organizations that are exploring similar approaches to learning. One of those organizations is SMALLab Learning, which has a specific focus on creating embodied learning environments. SMALLab uses motion-capture technology to track students’ movements and overlay this activity with graphs and equations that represent their motions in real time. In a lesson on centripetal force, students swing an object tethered to a rope while a digital projection on the ground explains the different forces at play. Students can “see” and experience scientific principles. “They feel it, they enact it,” says David Birchfield, co-founder of SMALLab Learning.
The technology in these examples is quite simple — for Aero a Wiimote is hidden inside each of the wings — but the effect is dramatic. Various studies by SMALLab on the effectiveness of this kind of embodied learning show a sharp increase as evidenced by pre- , mid-, and post-test outcomes for two different control groups.