As part of the Digital Playscape project, I received funding to purchase several Nintendo Labo kits. This blog entry will detail my impressions while constructing one of the Variety Kit’s projects. Opinions on classroom implementation will be provided in addition to general thoughts and concerns.
For those who are not familiar with Nintendo Labo, I will briefly describe what it is below:
The Nintendo Labo is a product developed by Nintendo and was released in April of 2018. The Labo is a product that is compatible with the highly successful Nintendo Switch video game console. Each Labo consists of both hardware and software components. The hardware of a Labo kit includes multiple sheets of cardboard cutouts and additional materials that can be assembled to create different objects that emulate things from the real world. These cardboard objects are then combined with the Nintendo Switch’s portable console and controllers to provide opportunities for interaction. Each kit also includes a cartridge that provides step-by-step directions for each project as well as software to interact with the final builds. There are several Labo kits on the market including the Variety Kit (users can create a piano, race cars, a house, and fishing poles), a Robot kit, a vehicle kit, and a virtual reality kit.
What’s in the box
The Nintendo Labo Variety kit comes with four projects that can be completed. Since I used to play piano I thought it would be fun to make the cardboard piano.
The piano activity included 8 sheets of cardboard with perforated pieces that could be popped out and assembled. When looking at the cardboard sheets it was fun to try to envision how the pieces would come together to create a piano. It was not always obvious what would go where and how they would come together to create a functional piano. I would consider this to be one of the Labo’s strengths as it definitely promoted a sense of intrigue.
Putting it together
The process of creating the piano itself was not too difficult, but it was definitely time consuming. The software that came in the package provided an easy to follow and intuitive step-by-step process of folding the pieces and putting everything together. The touch screen feature of the Nintendo Switch was also well implemented and allowed for users to rotate the 3D objects to get a better view of how the cardboard pieces were supposed to come together. It also broke the major steps into sections to help give users a sense of how much longer they had to go before finishing the project.
When I set out to put the piano together I thought it would take maybe an hour tops. However, I quickly realized this was not true. From start to finish, it took me approximately four hours to make the piano. More surprising was that I was able to use the fast forward feature to skip a lot of the repetitive steps and it still took this long. I wonder how the Nintendo Labo could be used in a Makerspace or in a classroom with such a restrictive time barrier. I imagine that kids would also struggle with some of the construction mechanics which would further add-on to the time and resources needed to construct a Labo in a classroom setting.
When finished, the piano was an endearing object that allowed me to play short melodies on its limited keys. I tinkered around with it for a few minutes and spent the evening trying to think of its educational purposes.
While the software provided a cute interface that showed which notes were being pressed, it fell a bit short for providing educational lessons. It would have been nice if the software were to include an introduction to reading sheet music, if it explained which notes correlated to which buttons, or even provided instructions on how to play some music from popular Nintendo games. It was also a bit disappointing that the set-up process did not include any educational explanations of how things worked. For instance, there was reflective tape that was placed on the back of the piano’s cardboard keys. This tape allows infrared signals from the joycon to interact with the keystrokes and software. I only figured this out by troubleshooting one of the steps on Google. Nintendo should update their software to include a better connection to key components.
As the final product currently stands, it is a rather devoid application of a musical instrument. You can extrapolate some more abstract lessons from the construction of the piano itself, but for the time and resources needed to make the piano, you may be better off finding an alternative solution. For instance, you can create a MakeyMakey piano that is cheaper, easier, and more educational. Also, with the Labo being made out of cardboard, I find the final product to be flimsy. I worry about the longevity of the device and see many Labo kits ending up in the trash. This problem is further amplified when considering the fact that kids are the ideal target audience for this product. I see many cardboard pieces being torn and rendered unusable during the construction process.