Lu device blends play with learning

Pickerington Local School District officials are saying the district is among the first in the state to integrate "interactive playground" technology into middle school physical-education curriculum this school year.

In addition to traditional physical-education lesson plans that might seek to teach and engage fifth- and sixth-graders at Diley, Harmon and Toll Gate middle schools in activities, such as square dancing, track and field or basketball, teachers will be adding interactive electronic games that require movement and challenge students' learning in classroom subjects ranging from English, to history and mathematics.

The Lu Interactive Playground, created by Canadian company SAGA, has been installed in gymnasiums in each of the three middle schools.

It allows teachers to project electronic images onto walls that serve as a sort of "touch screen" for students to throw rubber balls at targets as far as 15 feet away.

Instead of merely providing recreation and requiring students to move physically and teach game rules and strategy, the multitude of games supplement classroom learning by posing questions in each of the middle schools' curriculum areas.

Students, often grouped in teams, advance in the games by hitting targets emblazoned with designated answers.

"At the end of last year, we kind of had a little bit of money left over and we thought, 'OK. We've changed the way our classrooms look with all the technology we have now,' " said Brian Seymour, the district's director of instructional technology. "Gym is probably one of those classrooms that looks exactly the same as it did 50 years ago.

"So we thought, 'How can we start to re-engage some of our kids back into physical activity and kind of gamifying that, as well as introducing or reinforcing what we're doing in the classroom?' "

The district invested approximately $51,000 in the Lu software and equipment. According to the district officials, Pickerington is believed to be the first in Ohio to integrate Lu Interactive Playground into curriculum.

Seymour and Superintendent Chris Briggs said they believe the project will go a long way in making gym classes more fun and educational for a wider section of students, including those not necessarily interested in traditional sports activities.

"It was really around the fifth- and sixth-grade level where some of our kids just didn't want to be in gym class anymore, didn't want to be engaged in it anymore," Seymour said. "We know we need kids to have more physical activity than what they're having now.

"So how can we re-engage those kids back into it? This is really where that came from. This is a cool, gamification now of the gym class."

The Lu system uses 3D cameras to detect interactions on gym walls and floors, multicolored lighting and a sound system to create a dance-floor ambiance, and because many programs are designed for teams, the district officials say the system is ideal for incorporating the "Five C" life skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and connectedness.

"Physical education is usually seen as gym class. It's exercise. And that's important," Briggs said.

"The question is, 'How can we marry what we're doing in our classrooms with courses like PE in ways that inspire learning?'

"All this fits into the district's approach to incorporating emerging technology into the learning process," he said. "We are always looking for ways to use technology to positively impact instruction, but we also want to be intentional about it."

Less than a week before Lu was to be unveiled to students at Diley, Harmon and Toll Gate, about 10 Toll Gate students gave the system a test run Aug. 9.

Sixth-grader J.T. Metzka said he enjoyed the competitive nature of the game. He said it encouraged teamwork as groups had to coordinate efforts to efficiently answer questions and attack target answers.

Fifth-grader Cael Kogge said, "You learn a little bit of math in it and it gives you a lot of exercise."

Toll Gate Middle School Principal Kara Jackson said she's excited to see students' responses to the system and how extensively physical-education teachers have decided to blend it with traditional lesson plans and activities.

"Learning's about our kids being engaged in the learning process," Jackson said. "This is going to really help our kids be engaged in all the different subject areas. We're really excited to have something different for our kids to be able to access the curriculum."