Play Impossible Game Ball Brings An “A-ha” Moment to Education

Every now and then you see a piece of technology that leaves your mind whirring about the possibilities for both educators and students alike. Back in 2016 I encountered the HP Sprout for the first time and blogged my first giddy thoughts about how this could be integrated into incredible teaching and learning moments, calling it an “almost magical technology”.

At BETT London 2019 I saw the Play Impossible ball for the first time, right at the very end of this video and the integration with Microsoft Hacking STEM templates in Excel generated the same reaction in me that the Sprout did:

What endless possibilities could creative teachers come up with when technology infused ball sports in such a fun and natural way?

What’s the big deal? Have a look at this:

(If you’re in a hurry, make sure you scroll to the bottom and watch the video I recorded showing the Play Impossible Game Ball and Excel Data Streamer workbook in action.)

In essence, the Play Impossible game ball is:

an active STEM system that delivers fun and challenging games integrated with math and physics lesson plans through a professionally crafted ball containing sensors that connect to a smartphone, tablet or PC via Bluetooth.

Robust in build quality, small enough for younger hands, it’s easy to get up and running on the platform of your choice (currently supporting Windows10, iOS and Android) and then the intuitive app guides you through how to get playing … and learning! My 9yr and 7yr old kids figured it out in minutes.

Integrating Learning Into Play

I’ve blogged before about the principals of game based learning, however that was mostly in a Minecraft:Education Edition context. When I saw the Play Impossible Game Ball in action I really wanted to get hands on to see for myself how this works and Brian Monnin and the team at Play Impossible kindly shipped me a few demo units for some upcoming events I’m presenting at.  As soon as I got hands on, it became apparent to me that deep learning could be achieved alongside the obvious element of fun through playing. Principal #10 from James Paul Gee’s 16 Principals For Game Based Learning is:

Situated Meanings: Students learn new vocabulary words by experiencing them within game situations. Research suggests learners do not acquire new vocabulary when the word is learnt purely in the context of other words. By contrast, retention is highest when words are learnt in association with an action, event, or image. Gaming provides the perfect vehicle for this.

With data outputs from the Game Ball including measurements like speed (in kph), acceleration, g-force, newtons, rotational spin and air time there are a lot of vocabulary words that are no longer abstract, but directly linked and associated with actions and activities the students are participating in through situated meanings.

With a Play Impossible Game Ball, students (and educators!) immediately get caught up in the fun of competing and the kinesthetic learning opportunities are boundless. However, for me the integration of Excel’s Data Streamer and Hacking STEM templates is where this goes next level in terms of learning pathways.

Excel Data Streamer & Hacking STEM

The Microsoft Education team have put considerable resources into creating STEM lessons for educators to quickly and easily build engaging projects for students to learn the fundamentals of STEM concepts. At the heart of this is Data Streamer, a plugin for Microsoft Excel for O365 subscribers:

Data Streamer provides students with a simple way to bring data from the physical world in and out of Excel’s powerful digital canvas. With a sensor connected to a microcontroller that is  attached to Excel, begin introducing students to the emerging worlds of data science and the internet of things.

Data Streamer is available for free to all O365 subscribers.

With Data Streamer, the at times abstract concepts of IoT devices and the data generated by them can be brought to life through real time visualizations inside of custom built Excel spreadsheets.  Here is an example Excel using Data Streamer to take the output data from a Microbit recording the impact of knock to a helmet:


You can easily activate Data Streamer in your O365 version of Excel by following the instructions here or watching this animated GIF:

DataStreamer Activate.gif

There is an entire library of Hacking STEM projects that you can access here, and to support the Play Impossible Game Ball there is a custom Excel workbook you can download here. Some of my favourite Hacking STEM lessons include:

What Does It Look Like?

I recorded a quick video (using the Meet Now feature in Microsoft Teams – a great way to deliver Flipped Learning) to show you just how easy it is to get up and running with the Play Impossible Game Ball app and the Hacking STEM Microsoft Excel workbook and Data Streamer plugin for live data feeds:

The Data Streamer and Excel Hacking STEM workbook are only available on Windows 10 and this adds a unique value proposition here when using the Play Impossible Game Ball. To maximise the value beyond the included app from Play Impossible, Windows 10 and Excel O365 prove again why it is the most versatile STEM platform unlocking the widest range of learning pathways with STEM and IoT devices. By combining the flexible canvas of Excel you can easily add other data streams to the workbook and create your own custom visualizations of this data, providing students hands on experience with the tools that many data scientists use on a daily basis.

Final Thoughts:

What I like about the Play Impossible Game Ball is the wide range of learning opportunities available through this technology. It’s getting kids active and physically moving around and being hands on, but also introducing elements of IoT, data streams and STEM in a fun and comprehensible way.

The included Play Impossible app provides a “fast start” for students from a young age, however the addition of the Hacking STEM Excel workbook with the Data Streamer plugin really increases the use case scenarios, in particular in subjects such as more senior subjects like Physics, Maths with Statistics, along with Physical Education learning about range of motions. The sheer volume of data generated by the Game Ball, and collected and recorded in Excel via Data Streamer, allows for an almost limitless range of extended learning ideas where teachers can bring their own ideas to the tools.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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