CRAIG, Colo. - March 6, 2012 - First-grade teacher Cheryl
Arnett spent much of last summer playing Kinect for Xbox 360
with her grandkids.
For fun, yes, but the 19-year veteran teacher at Sunset
Elementary School in Craig, Colo., also had an agenda. A
longtime lover of technology, Arnett was looking for ways to
teach with Microsoft's controller-free device. When she
brought Kinect to her classroom at the start of this school
year, the reaction from her enthralled students was "over the
top," she said.
First-grade teacher Cheryl Arnett introduced Kinect
into her classroom at Sunset Elementary School in
Craig, Colo., and has been delighted by the
results, which include outstanding standardized
"Bringing technology into the classroom inspires them," she
said. "Their lives are different than ours were, and just
giving them a book and a worksheet is not always appropriate
anymore. I'm fascinated by Kinect. There's power for kids in
things that capture their interest and are also something
they can learn from. We've barely scratched the surface of
where this can go; it's limited only by our imaginations."
Since Arnett's students started using Kinect to study
subjects like animals, geography, and science, she has seen
improvements in their comprehension and the retention of what
Arnett is not alone in her quest - teachers all over the
world are using technology like Kinect to teach their
Microsoft is working with schools across the U.S. that are
testing using Kinect in the classroom to develop "21st
century skills." This week at the SXSWedu innovative learning
conference in Austin, Texas, Microsoft education experts will
panel with other educators to explore the value of
interactive gaming in learning, specifically using Kinect in
There will be a lot to talk about, said Cameron Evans,
National and Chief Technology Officer for U.S. Education at
Microsoft. "Who would have thought one little sensor could
turn out to be this phenomenal in the academic space?" he
Left to right: Computer science students Jebediah
Pavleas and Jack Chang, and professor Robin Angotti
have created a custom Kinect app that brings math
to life by letting students graph functions like
distance, acceleration and velocity with their
bodies instead of pencil and paper.
Click for high-res version.
Launched a year ago as a controller-free gaming device for
Xbox, Kinect sales topped a world-record 8 million devices in
the product's first 60 days on the market. That made Kinect
the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history,
according to Guinness World Records.
The device also has taken on a life of its own outside the
living room, thanks to scientists, tinkerers, hobbyists,
healthcare workers, and others who have taken the time to
dream up and create unique non-gaming applications for it. In
the case of education, academics are both using existing
Kinect games for educational purposes and creating their own
games and applications.
Microsoft, keen on supporting the creative ways people were
using Kinect right after it came out, released an academic
and hobbyist software development kit for non-commercial
projects in June 2011. Aimng to support similar creativity in
the commercial world, it released a commercial Kinect for
Windows software development kit
Pull all the creativity together, and you have the genesis of
the so-called "
Kinect Effect" - a term coined in the hallways and
conference rooms of Microsoft to describe the device's
increasingly widespread appeal and diversity of uses. "It has
a lot of people excited about what they can do today, and
what they can dream up tomorrow," Evans said.
Gaming is not a new idea in the classroom - what is new is
Kinect, which offers a human user interface that creates a
rich and simulated world that participants can be involved
in. "We have the ability to get data behind game play to help
inform instruction," Evans said.
The potential behind bringing gaming to education is immense,
The majority of time spent playing video games, the gamer is
failing, he said. Yet when a player fails in a game, they
come back again and again until they get it right. Bringing
gaming to education could help a student who fails a math
test, for example, keep trying until they get it right.
Reaching Out, Touching Math
Math, as it turns out, is one of the most abstract subjects
to learn. Students learn it in books without easily seeing
the concrete results of their work in the real world. That,
say math teachers, makes it hard for them to retain what they
Professor Robin Angotti uses her hands to move a
line around a graph and watches its equation
change. Angotti wants to use Kinect to change the
way students learn math, making its abstract
equations and concepts more approachable and
Click for high-res version.
Robin Angotti, now an associate professor of math education
at the University of Washington-Bothell, hopes to change all
Angotti and two computer science students at UW-Bothell,
Jebediah Pavleas and Jack Chang, have created a custom Kinect
app to help teach students various functions of mathematics
such as distance, acceleration, and velocity by letting them
plot these equations on a graph in real time using Kinect and
their bodies rather than just computing an equation with a
pencil on graph paper.
"I was a high school math teacher for 10 years, and I knew I
wasn't reaching all of the students. I knew I was missing
something," Angotti said.
So she went back to school to get a Ph.D. in math education.
Then she got "bit by the research bug," which is how she came
across Kinect and decided to create a math app that would
bridge the gap between the abstract formulas and the real
world her students live and breathe in.
"Math is a gatekeeper. If kids don't get into algebra by
their freshman year of high school, they're off track to
major in any kind of STEM [science, technology, engineering
or math] field," Angotti said. "It's really interesting -
data shows that math is a favorite subject when kids are
younger. Somewhere in the middle school years, when they're
starting to have to abstract (when math moves from the
concrete world of addition, subtraction and multiplication to
the more abstract equations of geometry and algebra), we're
losing them. This piece of software makes math less
When word got out that Angotti was researching Kinect apps
for math, she was inundated with requests for more
information and for advice from other teachers.
She, Pavleas, and Chang are already working on a next version
of the app that incorporates a number of new features
including a two player mode, so students will be able to use
their bodies to explore math - and perhaps even solve the
classic "two trains traveling at different speeds" story
"It's amazing. I think we've only scratched the surface. I
see so many applications for education," Angotti said. "We're
not just saying here's the equation, or telling them what to
do and having them repeat it. It's a phenomenon where they
can reach up and touch the equation, and move it around. All
of a sudden they're asking different questions, and there's
this sense of understanding."
Students in the United States have notorious struggles with
science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
education. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that by
2014, the U.S. will have more than two million STEM-related
jobs, but there may not be enough qualified workers to fill
Fewer than 15 percent of current U.S. college undergraduates
are pursuing degrees in science or engineering-compared to
more than 30 percent in India and more than 40 percent in
"In a nutshell, it's about America's competitiveness. Our
readiness for college, career, and life is just not there,"
Evans said. "In some ways, it's because the students'
engagement isn't there. That brings with it a ripple effect
that's going not just across communities, but across
generations and time."
First Graders Without Walls
In Colorado, Arnett's first grade class is planning a trip to
Disneyland - virtual Disneyland, that is, which they will
visit with the Kinect game Disneyland Adventures. But not
before they learn budgeting and calculate the finances of the
trip, learn some geography should they choose to drive, and
even take a field trip to the airport to learn about air
At the end of the project, each group of first graders will
get to spend 30 minutes playing Disneyland Adventures and
will have to agree together on how to spend their time in the
virtual Magic Kingdom.
"It's a tremendous amount of math, geography, and
collaborative learning," Arnett said.
At age 40, Arnett switched careers from banking to become a
teacher. She's always loved technology, but as a teacher she
helps others love it too, pioneering a technology-rich
classroom, school, and school district complete with smart
boards, document cameras, and now Kinect.
She's also become an advocate for innovative technology, and
has traveled around the world to meet and collaborate with
other teachers through programs such as the
U.S. Innovative Education Forum, presented by Microsoft
Partners in Learning "The world has changed. My life has
changed. I have friends from all over the world I talk to on
a daily basis, and it's all because of technology," she said.
"Never would I have imagined this for myself, but these kids
are going to be doing different things in their lives ahead
of them, more than I can imagine right now."
Embracing technology has not only changed her life, but her
classroom. Her students are now doing a water study project
with classes in Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. The
students use Skype to speak to children in other classrooms
around the world. They watch webcasts from the Smithsonian
Institute with experts, researchers and scientists who talk
to them and teach them remotely on a variety of subjects.
Add it up, and technology and Kinect have earned a permanent
place in her classroom.
"You couldn't take me back," she said. "And the teachers
don't have to know how to do everything - get the kids
involved. There are a lot of things I don't know the answers
to, but I'm willing to work with them, and find the answers
with them. We need to be the facilitators, the ones who make
these opportunities available. This is important. Learning is