Gundulas Stories is an interactive learning environment which enables children to acquire knowledge playfully and improve their sensory and motor skills. The concept combines classic “storytelling” with new technologies. The teacher reads a story which is visualized by a projection. During the story the children are encouraged to participate and interact physically and linguistically with their movement and language.
The main character of these “learning stories” is a tortoise named Gundula. She is an object made of wood which is brought to life by the projection. To read the story and to control the interactions an iPad-app was developed. Using the app the teacher can make each and every reading an individual experience while retaining control over the running time of the story.
Based on established teaching practice like reading aloud, it’s easy to integrate the learning environment into an existing curriculum and does not restrict the educator.
By activating all the senses Gundulas Stories provide a holistic learning experience for both children and educators.
Rapid technological and social development during the last twenty years has changed all our lives. The demands on each individual are increasing steadily. This is reflected strongly in the education of our children. Already at kindergarten or pre- schools it is increasingly expected that the children will be perfectly prepared for their future academic careers. To meet these high expectations parents and teachers turn to various learning programs. Nowadays over 70% of young children are using learning programs at school or at home. However, most of these programs are designed to focus on one child only, where this one child sits facing a computer screen. Motor skills and social interaction, which should form the basis of education at this age, get neglected. Another problem facing teachers today is that children are growing up subjected to almost continual media exposure. This overstimulation makes it increasingly difficult to attract and hold children’s attention, and keep them motivated.
The learning environment has been successfully tested with children of different ages in kindergarten. Gundula stories immediately attracted the kids’ attention. They were very impressed from the first moment when the wooden object came to life through the projection. After a series of tests it could be detected that Gundula increased motivation and arousesd curiosity. Furthermore, Gundula became an accepted friend for the children. After weeks the children were still asking when Gundula would be coming back to them. So the method of transferring knowledge through an interactive emotive character seems to be a good way to reach children. Especially for shy children the magical experience of being able to make a difference just by moving their hand was a great sense of achievement.
Initially teachers were skeptical about using such technology in kindergarten. However, after experiencing the enthusiasm the children showed when interacting with Gundula’s Stories they were convinced that the system could enrich their work and the children’s learning experience.
Since the technical implementation of the learning environment is quite complex, the challange was to keep the design as natural and easy as possible. To preserve the effect magical in the experience all technology is hidden within the tortoise. She is a three dimensional wooden object and the emotional point of reference for the children. To enable interaction a kinect camera with an embedded microphone is used. Software (programmed in “vvvv”) running on a laptop connects all parts of the learning environment, generates the sound and visualizes the learning story.
The iPad-App combines a digital book with a remote control for the learning environment. With this app the teacher can control the interactions and timing of the story. He is provided with information about how the children can interact. A prototypical learning story was written in order to assess the learning environment. In this story the main theme is “the four seasons”. The children can learn about the characteristics of each season by solving challenges with Gundula and meeting different characters. The topic of the learning story is defined by a “theme stone” which is placed on Gundula’s back.