Nin­tendo brings its Labo gam­ing kits to class­rooms

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - TECH - Ed­ward C. Baig

Nin­tendo Labo is go­ing to school. The video game maker is team­ing up with the non­profit In­sti­tute of Play to bring its Do-It-Your­self Labo card­board gam­ing kits to 100 ele­men­tary schools around the coun­try.

“Our goal is to help teach­ers and stu­dents have fun with the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, art and math­e­mat­ics, col­lec­tively known as STEAM,” says Nin­tendo of Amer­ica Pres­i­dent and COO Reg­gie Fils-Aime. “We be­lieve Nin­tendo Labo can be a pow­er­ful learn­ing tool to fos­ter 21st Cen­tury skills such as com­mu­ni­ca­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, cre­ativ­ity, crit­i­cal think­ing and prob­lem solv­ing.”

The pro­gram aims to reach some 2,000 stu­dents be­tween ages 8 and 11 dur­ing the 2018-2019 school year.

The Labo kits, which I gave a pos­i­tive re­view in April through the eyes of my 11-year old son, Sa­muel, are a bit chal­leng­ing to pi­geon­hole. Think of them as kits that marry the re­quired Nin­tendo Switch por­ta­ble video gam­ing sys­tem with pieces of card­board that a kid can bend and fold into var­i­ous so-called “Toy-Con” projects, in­clud­ing a minia­ture piano (that can play real notes), fish­ing rod and ro­bot.

Step-by-step an­i­ma­tions ap­pear on the Switch to help stu­dents build their projects.

The schools that par­tic­i­pate as part of the pro­gram will re­ceive two Nin­tendo Switch sys­tems and Labo “Va­ri­ety Kits” at no cost, along with ex­tra card­board to ac­com­mo­date mul­ti­ple stu­dents in a class­room. Nin­tendo and the In­sti­tute of Play have also put to­gether a guide for teach­ers.

The re­quired Nin­tendo Switch nor­mally lists for $299.99, and the Labo card­board is $69.99 for a va­ri­ety pack with five projects, or $79.99 for the ro­bot kit.

Schools can still ap­ply to be part of the pro­gram. Arana Shapiro, the co-di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Play, says the or­ga­ni­za­tion is seek­ing pub­lic and pri­vate schools, and schools in sub­ur­ban, ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas that rep­re­sent so­cioe­co­nomic di­ver­sity.

Nin­tendo and the In­sti­tute of Play have al­ready worked on a pi­lot with 11 schools in the greater New York area, in­clud­ing the Dou­glass G. Graf­flin School in Chap­paqua, New York, and the Lake Hi­awatha Ele­men­tary School in Lake Hi­awatha, New Jersey.

“Stu­dents were im­me­di­ately en­gaged be­cause of the Nin­tendo brand, but watch­ing what they cre­ated with the card­board come to life took the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to an en­tirely dif­fer­ent level,” says Stephen Fig­urelli, prin­ci­pal of Lake Hi­awatha Ele­men­tary School.

Fils-Aime says that ed­u­ca­tors came to Nin­tendo with the idea to bring Labo to schools, not the other way around.

“Fun­da­men­tally, do we be­lieve this is go­ing to be good for our busi­ness, cer­tainly,” Fils-Aime con­cedes. “But I have to say much more pas­sion­ately, we be­lieve that this is go­ing to be good for stu­dents.”

The in-class­room pro­gram will run through March. Nin­tendo hasn’t de­ter­mined yet what will hap­pen once the pro­gram has been com­pleted, or spelled out if or what it might end up charg­ing schools in­ter­ested in adding Labo to their cur­ricu­lum.

Will kids us­ing Labo in the class­room get some­thing dif­fer­ent out of the kits than they might at home?

“My can­did an­swer is we’ll learn,” Fils-Aime says. In the class­room ex­pe­ri­ence, “we have seen stu­dents take charge, we’re see­ing stu­dents be proac­tive, we’re see­ing them re­ally en­gage with their teach­ers in a way that the teach­ers are telling us they haven’t be­fore.”

NIN­TENDO OF AMER­ICA

Third-graders at the Dou­glas G. Graf­flin School in Chap­paqua, N.Y., par­tic­i­pate in an in­ter­ac­tive ses­sion with the Nin­tendo Labo led by Re­becca Rufo-Tep­per.

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