Heritage ECS Pilots Mixed-Reality Game

Heritage ECS Pilots Mixed-Reality Game, Learns Design Process from Inventor
Posted on 10/30/2019
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Students building towers on Norilla table and skyping with the mixed reality game's inventor in the Innovation Hub at Heritage ECSHeritage Early Childhood School students are the first in Ohio to try out a new interactive learning tool called Norilla. The mixed-reality game bridges physical and virtual worlds, encouraging students to experiment with 3D objects as they learn basic Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills, along with simple physics principles like base, height, weight and width. 


In the corner of the school’s Innovation Hub, piloted at the ECS level this year, two Heritage students stand captivated at the Norilla table. They follow the prompts to build two different towers displayed on the screen before being asked to predict which one will fall once the table shakes. After answering “why” to the outcome, they use what they’ve learned to face off against each other and build a tower that will remain standing. 


Innovation Specialist Jenny Haynes has witnessed countless interactions like this one and approves wholeheartedly of its relevance to early childhood learning. 


“It mimics the exact design process we ask students to use when building critical thinking skills,” said Haynes, who is excited to see the concepts come alive in the second graders’ annual bridge building project later this year. “It basically asks students to make a prediction, observe the results and then explain why before trying it for themselves.”


To take the experience a step further, Haynes organized a video conference between Norilla’s creator and a fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, Nesra Yannier, and a second grade class who prepared interview questions based on their experiences with the tool. For 45 minutes, the class raised questions about the design process Yannier used to bring Norilla to life. Among their questions: 


  • Why did you create Norilla?
    “When I was your age, I asked a lot of questions and I always liked building and creating things. I wanted to create something that would help kids understand why things happen the way they do in the real world.”

  • How did you come up with the name?
    “I wanted a strong animal that would be strong enough to shake the table, so I tested the idea of a gorilla with other kids and they liked it. I combined a ‘Gorilla’ with ‘Nesra’ to come up with ‘Norilla’.”

  • How does the system know something is on the table?
    “A lot of programming. It uses a camera to track what you’re doing and then responds accordingly.”

  • How many mistakes did you make and what did you learn?
    “Lots. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That’s how you progress. In fact, don’t even call it a mistake. Call it a learning experience.” 


Students had the opportunity to reflect on their own user experience and provide Yannier with constructive feedback. They cited the system’s ability to let students collaborate and compete - both features that Yannier said she added during the design process based on student feedback. 


“It’s a really good learning environment, but it’s also very fun,” reflected Heritage second-grader Marley Simms, who wants to be an inventor. “I learned that it takes practice and you always learn from your mistakes.” 


“It’s exciting to provide this new interactive learning opportunity that brings together hands-on and digital learning,” said Chief Technology Officer Todd Wesley, who brought Norilla to Lakota. “Better yet, studies have shown that the Norilla approach increases student learning by five times compared to just learning the same concepts on a tablet.“ 


Norilla was rolled out at Heritage ECS this year as part of the school’s new pilot Innovation Hub. “Our Innovation Hubs are designed to provide expanded learning experiences for our students. Norilla fits right into that mold, allowing students to learn and practice real world STEM and design thinking concepts shared by so many current and future careers.”