SMALLab Learning Makes a Breakthrough on STEM Education with Embodied Learning and Active Games

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Given the declining number of students in STEM education across America it is crucial that we find ways to keep students engaged in science. SMALLab Learning has dedicated itself to embodied learning and active games for K-12 students.

Alien Health Game

Alien Health Game

Middle school students were randomly assigned to two conditions where they practiced making decisions about healthier food choices.

SMALLab Learning announces the presentation of their latest embodied learning and active research at the premier conference for education, American Educational Research Association (AERA). SMALLab Learning is launching several new games that are supported by the efficacy of the recent studies. SMALLab Learning in conjunction with the Embodied Games for Learning lab at ASU create games for STEM education that are kinesthetic and active. Three studies will be presented at the AERA conference in San Francisco on Monday, April 29, 2013.

America is losing the majority of its young scientists by the end of high school. Three new studies to be presented on Monday may help to slow that loss. SMALLab Learning and the EGL lab at Arizona State University show that using active education games can increase retention of science content. Active means the students move their bodies and use gestures to manipulate virtual objects, whenever students are in the active learning condition they retain the knowledge significantly better.

SMALLab Learning continues to create engaging and kinesthetic content to instruct K-12 students. With the advent of the cost-effective Microsoft KINECT sensor, it is now possible to track multiple players’ body movements in real time.

The first study was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The ASU lab created a media-rich lesson on Centripetal Force and recruited 109 participants. The study found that learning gains were not dependent on the type of learning environment (three types were compared: a fully immersive system that also tracked locomotion, an interactive whiteboard system using the tracking pen, or a typical desktop computer using a mouse), what mattered was whether the content had been designed to be embodied and active. Active means the students were actually spinning a real object or they controlled the spinning of the virtual object with their own gestures (circling the pen or the mouse). When students generated their own actions, they retained the information significantly better on a two-week follow-up test.

The second study, called Green Teen, was a sustainability game using the Kinect sensor. Students used real physical gestures to perform virtual acts of energy conservation, e.g., pulling a virtual chain to turn off a ceiling fan, brushing their teeth in a mirror that displayed their real body outline while they choose either hot or cold water. In the classroom portion of the game, they manipulated objects to build a virtual solar oven. A matched control group worked on a project-based lesson with the same teacher for the same amount of time. For both conditions, large gains were found on the posttest for sustainability; however, the active Kinect game group significantly outperformed the group that was not as active during learning.

The third study focused on a nutrition STEM game. Middle school students were randomly assigned to two conditions where they practiced making decisions about healthier food choices. Again the Kinect sensor was used as the input device. Pairs of students worked collaboratively to make rapid food choices, after which the experimental group would do short cardio-exercises to help the avatar “metabolize” the foods. In the control condition, students played a tapping game to the same music. Again both groups showed significant gains in learning the content on the immediate nutrition post-test; however, at the two week follow up test, the group that was more active during the learning displayed significantly better retention.

These studies present a compelling case for the use of more active and embodied content in all lessons. The effects of active learning are often not seen until days or weeks after the learning has occurred, so it important to run follow-up studies.

About SMALLab Learning
SMALLab Learning is advancing embodied learning in schools, museums, libraries, and the home. Embodied learning is kinesthetic, collaborative, and multimodal, enabling students to learn in new ways that integrate physical action with digital media. The company offers a suite of products that have been demonstrated effective. SMALLab Learning LLC emerges from over six years of research conducted at The School of Arts, Media and Engineering at Arizona State University with funding from the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, Intel Research, and the Kauffman Foundation. For more information, please visit http://smallablearning.com/research.

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Cyndi Boyd
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