Jul 24, 2018

High-Tech ‘Playground’ Blends Mental, Physical Learning

Math Program in the Lu Interactive Playground

In a darkened gymnasium, a handful of students stand side by side, their faces basked in a pale, purplish light bouncing off the wall 15 feet away.

The kids are here to learn a math lesson, but instead of holding pencils and paper their hands clutch yellow and purple rubber balls about the size of a volleyball. Excitement is evident in their eyes and their shuffling feet as they await permission to start using the district’s new Lü Interactive Playground.

Suddenly, the image projected on the wall changes. Math equations appear along with six possible answers. One of the girls does a quick mental calculation that seven plus four equals 11. She throws her bright yellow ball against the gym wall, selecting the large letter “11” from the available choices.

With a satisfying sound and a flash of light, her team is rewarded with a point, and she is rewarded with cheers from her teammates.

During the next few minutes, the gym is filled with excited squeals as students on two teams complete to get the most correct answers, hurling rubber balls against answers to an ever-changing set of math problems.

The students were among the first lucky students in the district to test out one of three new Lü Interactive Playgrounds that Pickerington Schools installed in its middle schools this summer.

Part video game, part interactive educational software library, and part gym class, the Lü will offer an innovative new way to blend technology into Pickerington’s curriculum, according to Brian Seymour, Director of Instructional Technology.

Watch videos of the Lü Interactive Playground (courtesy of SAGA): Video 1 | Video 2

It also is designed to reinvigorate students’ interest in physical education courses while creating some cross-discipline lessons with traditional classes.

“Physical education is usually seen as gym class. It’s exercise. And that’s important,” said Superintendent Chris Briggs. “The question is, ‘How can we marry what we’re doing in our classrooms with courses like PE in ways that inspire learning?”

Pickerington Schools is the first district in Ohio – and one of the first in the United States – to purchase the Lü Interactive Playground from Canadian company SAGA. The district decided to place these systems in the middle schools because that is the age some students begin to lose interest in physical education courses and begin to become less active, Seymour said.

Used correctly, technology can be the key to re-engaging students physically and keeping them interested in active PE courses, he said.

Middle school also seemed to be the sweet spot for the Lü system, Seymour said. Elementary school students might find some of the physical aspects to be too challenging, while the academic concepts might not be rigorous enough for older students – at least for now. The company’s vision is for additional programs to be added to the system on an ongoing basis, much like happens in a smartphone app store.

By turning educational topics into virtual video games that require students to be physically active to participate, Lü Interactive Playground gets students inspired both mentally and kinesthetically.

“We can now do math problems in gym, and it can be active and moving,” Seymour said. “We can do trivia questions, spelling, and geometry – all kinds of different things that tie into our base curriculum, and we can also incorporate exercise and kinesthetic learning.”

Because many of the programs available in the Lü Interactive Playground are designed for teams rather than individuals, the system is also ideal for incorporating the “Five C” life skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and connectedness.

According to Lü CEO Vincent Routhier, the system should see several new programs added to the system each month in an ever-expanding catalog of relevant subject areas. The possibilities are fairly limitless, and Routhier said his company plans to incorporate students in the brainstorming process for developing future programs. So, it’s possible an idea generated in Pickerington could be developed into a game that will be played by students in China someday.

So, how does this high-tech system work?

“We use 3D camera vision to detect interactions on the walls and the floors,” said Routhier, one of Lü’s inventors. “This detection is used as an ‘input’ for the games that are displayed using projection mapping, lighting and sound effects, in an effort to reinvent the way the gym can be used as a playground for learning.”

The system also includes multicolored lighting and a sound system, which creates an exciting, almost disco-like ambiance for physical learning.

“All this fits into the district’s approach to incorporating emerging technology into the learning process,” Dr. Briggs said. “We are always looking for ways to use technology to positively impact instruction, but we also want to be intentional about it. We’re not buying a game just to buy a game. This reinforces the five C’s, supports our curriculum, and integrates physical education in a way that’s relevant to our whole approach to teaching and learning.”

And, of course, it would not make sense to ignore another key component of the Lü Interactive Playground.

“It’s fun and it’s awesome,” Seymour said.