Kinect in Education Project: When Fish Fly

This past summer, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a select group of amazing individuals – Doug Bergman, Lou Zulli, Margaret Noble, and Donna Thomas – in Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Forum (IEF) in Redmond, Washington on a learning excursion.  One of the objectives of participation was to collaboratively develop a project that could be integrated in our classrooms.  The project we decided upon was to have students develop a game that simulated the “fish tossing” witnessed in Pike’s Place Fish Market.  While the project was well-received and well-praised by all members, the scope of the project seemed daunting.

What happens when you “turn a classroom of Computer Science students loose?”  Simply stated, they will create phenomenal and unprecedented work.  

In a mere eight weeks, high school students from Lou Zulli’s and Doug Bergman’s classes have already developed this application using the Kinect SDK.   In this program that’s a work-in-progress, users can “catch” fish and receive cash based on the type of fish caught. 

Here is a an overview of the project’s objectives:

“’When Fish Fly’ is a Kinect game creation project designed to replicate the sights, sounds, history and “sense of place” of Pike Place Fish Market while actively engaging the student design team in the 21st Century Learning process. The intent of this project is not so much to get other educators to complete a project on this specific location at Pike Place, but more so introduce a way of looking at a new kind of semester long project which increases learning by allowing students to incorporate game design, Xbox 360, Kinect, multimedia technology, motion, art, and Computer Science as they collaboratively research, design, and program a game simulation. This concept is intended to be used as a model to be replicated for any location in any city in the world, it is not location specific!

In addition to the game play, there is also a heavy educational component to both building the project as well as playing the completed game. We want educators and students to consider the different roles that might apply in their own area of interest (i.e. paying customer, business owner, or employee) and introduce the idea of project creation from different prospective, each with its own purpose, skills requirements, and implementation issues. This project has two focuses: 1) to have the students bring  leading edge technology into their learning in an innovative way , and 2) to learn and teach about a specific business, location, activity or institution.  In order to simulate the location as accurately as possible, students also observe and record the many types of people interactions, transactions, and activities that occur in the market. The completed project will support dynamic motion-based interaction using the Kinect camera system.  Part of the creative challenge and fun of this project is determining what motions and kinetic movement to incorporate into the project. With the Kinect cameras being the central input device(s), it is through gestures that the navigation and action of the game is controlled.

This kind of project could take advantage of the passions of students, by encouraging them to  consider designing such a game to bring to life something they love such as a baseball game, a music recital, a family-run business, an entire favorite city (consider gestures that might relate to each famous sightseeing place),  or even a space shuttle launch.”

While this begins to describe the gist of the project, Rob Bayuk, Senior Education Marketing Manager for K-12 with Microsoft, wrote a blog post in September that further captivates the development of this cohort and the ideas generated during the learning excursion that took place in Seattle, Washington. 

I have personally used this in my classroom, and it was a major hit with the students.  Ultimately, the goal is to share this development with others around the globe to integrate in their classrooms.  This will take the project to a level beyond its above stated objectives and serve as a strong testimony to the power of global collaboration.

From a “real-world” perspective, fishing is a cultural phenomenon.  What was initially an activity designated for survival has evolved into a past time for families and friends. Fortunately for us, innovators thousands of years ago pioneered fish hooks.  Today, these hooks can be purchased from most stores; as a result, the masses can focus on the art of fishing rather than developing the tools needed to fish.  If we studied the history of humanity and our advancements, we’d discover that every major shift is marked by the use of new tools and new ways of processing information.  As illustrated with the fishing analogy, those who embrace new methods prosper; those who don’t are lacking relative to their potential.

The tool itself is irrelevant without supporting assets.   It is my opinion that for many schools, the development of immersive applications like “When Fish Fly” and practical activities promoting whole-person engagement symbolize the innovative fish hook developed thousands of years ago.

When the time is right, Lou and his students will release this application for other educators around the globe to download and integrate in their classrooms.  I hope to provide pictures and videos soon from global users.  Certainly, this could be a “catch” heard around the world.

I’m confident that all participants in this event would validate my belief that the IEF made major contributions towards professional growth and created lifelong relationships.  Read about all the US forum finalists that will be competing at the Global IEF in Washington, D.C. in November to gain further perspective on the amazing things teachers are doing in their classrooms.

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