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Redefining the (digital) Classroom

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kids Kinect in the Classroom

On Friday a colleague and I went to the Microsoft Training Center to learn more about how we could use the XBox Kinect in the classroom. I'm not going to lie; I was extremely skeptical. In considering this tech against my recent obsession with the SAMR innovation continuum, I felt that the Kinect was barely on the second level (augmentation). It seemed little more than an elaborate gimmick to engage kids, further limited by the fact that it could truly only engage 1-2 students at a time.

As we participated in this day-long training, I began to feel that my doubts were justified. The titles offered - Kinect Sports, Body and Brain Connection, Once Upon a Monster and the upcoming National Geographic game - were all interesting but seemed to lack true educational substance. The Body and Brain Connection, for example, has some good algebraic concepts involved, but certain levels could allow a child to guess consistently and attain a high score.

It wasn't until the afternoon that I began to change my thinking. The presenter explained how counselors were using the XBox Live's Avatar Kinect to allow students to discuss their issues anonymously. Think of a confessional in which you speak through a curtain - however this curtain is the XBox Live environment and you get the added benefit of an avatar that translates your facial emotive moves, body movement, etc. The wheels began to turn and I started chatting with a colleague from another school about integrating this concept into our Social Emotional Learning periods such as Morning Meeting.

What if my class submitted issues from within our classroom community, and the students from my friend's school discussed them - and vice versa. Then on a designated day each week, we could meet up in our Avatar Kinect environment - protected by anonymity - to offer possible responses to these classroom community issues. We could further the concept of "walking in someone else's shoes" by having students appear as avatars contrary to their body type, race or gender.

I see my students also utilizing their iPad technology to blog about their reactions, participate in back channel discussion about what they are observing or participating in and sharing audio/visual artifacts with their peers in the XBox Live Avatar Kinect.

Another interesting thought is the taking advantage of Kinect SDK (software development kit) to build apps better suited for the educational environment. Johnny Kissko, an ADE friend and tech whiz, has created the website Kinect Education to promote the creation and sharing of Kinect for education apps. I hope to learn more about this but know I have a ton to learn about programming before I could dream to do this myself. I can, however, dream of apps that could be made: A dynamic geometry app in which my students can unfold polyhedrons into their nets, then refold then and explore volume, surface area and geometric features (edges, vertices, etc.). A celestial exploration in which students are walking across the surface of Mars, floating through the asteroid belt, digging through the chemistry of the sun. A number sense activity where students create arrays and divide quantities into groups - using their bodies.

All in all, do I think that the Kinect games themselves will provide much more than engagement and incentive for my students? Not really. However do I think that the Kinect sensor technology offers some interesting Redefinition opportunities for the classroom? Why yes, I do. Let the experimentation begin.

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