How Nintendo Is Bringing Labo Into Classrooms
Nintendo partners with Institute of Play to bring Nintendo Labo to Douglas G Grafflin School on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 in Chappaqua, N.Y.CREDIT: CHARLES SYKES/AP IMAGES FOR NINTENDO
Nintendo’s quirky cardboard construction set, Labo, always seemed ripe for exploration as an educational tool, and now the company wants to put that theory to the test.
Nintendo is partnering with the Institute of Play for an initiative to bring Labo into classrooms as a facilitator of STEAM learning.
The two companies have just concluded early pilot programs introducing Nintendo Labo into 11 elementary schools in the New York tri-state area. Their next step is running a five-month program starting November at 100 schools across the country, encompassing approximately 2,000 students between the ages 8 and 10.
A Teacher’s Guide developed during the pilot programs will help educators effectively incorporate Labo into everyday lesson planning, and an online portal will provide webinars and opportunities for teachers to share experiences and troubleshoot problems. While Nintendo will provide each participating school two Nintendo Switch, two Labo Variety Kits and enough cardboard for the classrooms, the Teacher’s Guide will be made available online for even parents to use at home.
The initials lessons start slow, following the current structure of Labo. Kids breaks up into groups and follow the instructions on building cardboard fishing rods and pianos. From there, students are challenged to use the Toy-Con Garage mode—a light input/output coding tool that can affect different behaviors to the constructions. As an example, after building RC cars, groups compete in a relay race and use their imagination through coding to gain an advantage.
The Institute of Play, a nonprofit made up of teachers, designers and researchers, were able to demo Labo before its release in April and very quickly saw how it could have applications in the classroom.
“We were really taken with its kind of unique ability to bring together hands-on design technology with gaming,” says Arana Shapiro, co-executive chair at Institute of Play.
For Nintendo, though, it came as a surprise. Education wasn’t part of the core design, but while testing and demoing in the United States, teachers and parents began highlighting its opportunity as a learning tool. Nintendo did a bit of homework and decided to partner with Institute of Play, who focus on building curriculum.
“We see this as a great set of foundational experiences, that then could be further pushed on within the classroom, especially as the students get older and take more advanced classes and have more advanced experiences,” says Reggie Fils-Aime, president and COO of Nintendo of America.
A bit of the benefit of using Labo in education seems obvious: bringing a Nintendo game into classrooms tends to spark attention.
“That’s where we really see the magic for Labo,” Shapiro says. “The students are engaged immediately, and they’re kind of forced collaborate and communicate and problem solve and think critically, and they don’t even realize that they’re building those skills as they’re playing.”
While the initiative focuses on the United States, Nintendo is also collaborating with Actua, Canada’s leading education-outreach organization for STEM topics, to offer Labo programs in the country as well.