Gaming the digital curriculum with augmented reality

MiniDevs2 copy.jpg
Last month we co-hosted an event, Gaming the Digital Curriculum, with Marianne Malmstrom and the MiniDevs of Newlands Intermediate School. Held at PROJECTR in Wellington, the event brought together educators, developers, AR enthusiasts and learners to hear about a project that has been designing learning opportunities based on real world challenges, using augmented reality technologies.

The back story

This project kicked off when Theta’s Jim Taylor met Newlands Intermediate School’s Marianne Malmstrom at the Future Realities Hackathon, part of Techweek in Wellington this year. They formed a team around Jim's idea to create a pop-up museum for the HoloLens and Marianne’s idea to build a sandbox platform that would inspire schools to focus on the process of learning rather than teaching content. 

Their team went on to win the hackathon with a game that that could be played on HoloLens, with potential applications for museums and educators.

Theta’s innovation lab continued working on the idea developed at the hackathon, and jumped at the chance to get back in the classroom with the HoloLens and a group of students – the MiniDevs – from Newlands Intermediate School to develop their ideas further.

The MiniDevs of Newlands Intermediate School

Meet the MiniDevs: Akira, Sam, Naomi, Heena, Mahera, Oliver, Alex

The collaboration

Jim Taylor and Tim King, from Theta’s innovation lab, had regular sessions in the classroom with the group of seven MiniDevs. These seven were selected from a much larger pool of interested students based on their written proposals.

This group then had an initial session to play with the HoloLens technology and explore what might be possible. From there, they narrowed down the ideas to those that were most realistic and interesting. Gamification was a theme from the outset, and in the next session MiniDevs pitched their game ideas. Interestingly, narrative emerged as an important detail, and in subsequent sessions the MiniDevs worked with Jim, Tim and their teacher Marianne on balancing story narrative with what is possible with the HoloLens.

The MiniDevs also got 3D scanned courtesy of 3Dfy.me, so they could appear, in augmented reality, in the game they had developed – pretty cool technology!

getting scanned at 3DFY.ME

Getting scanned at 3DFY.me

From pitching themselves to pitching their ideas, brainstorming, paper prototyping and coding in Unity, the tools and methods of the collaboration were much like those used in the modern workplace and particularly the tech sector.

Also notable was the equal standing of students and developers:

“I thought they would come with a set storyline and ask you to playtest … but we got to help them create an app/game.” Heena

What the participants got out of the collaboration

As well as the satisfaction of building and appearing in their own game on a pretty cool platform, there were a number of other benefits. Here’s some of the feedback we had from the various participants in the project 


“[We learned] How to come up with really good ideas by collaborating. You can come up with idea easier with people around you. Working in the digital world isn’t as hard as it seems.” Akira
“I got more experience in story writing and being able to identify the best ideas, and more experience in the creation of puzzles.” Oliver
“There are so many computer games targeted at 13 year olds. Even though there are tons of games targeted at us we are never asked to help develop them.” Sam



Malmstrom has worked with several developers over the years. Each of those experiences were exciting for students, but they were all about play testing what someone else had already developed. What made this collaboration unique was Theta’s commitment to develop a new platform with their clients, the students.

Like Theta, Newlands Intermediate is committed to working and learning with, and from, their community. The school is looking beyond traditional teaching methods for students to engage in authentic, real-life challenges that require them to practice the skills of the Key Competencies as outlined in The New Zealand Curriculum.

These skills are:

  • Thinking
  • Relating to others
  • Using language, symbols, and texts
  • Managing self
  • Participating and contributing


For us, it was great to step outside of the office environment and collaborate on new ground, sharing our enthusiasm for tech with the next generation, and hopefully inspiring them to go further with it. Says Jim:

“The MiniDevs had so many fresh ideas, ideas that we would never have thought of. They really helped shape the development of the project and take it in new directions. And they were a lot of fun to work with!”

What’s next?

We’re now working on an idea that emerged from one of the sessions, when Sam (one of the MiniDevs) said “I want to be able to edit the code, not just block programming - the real stuff”. We are now working on making that a reality not just with HoloLens but also the new Mixed Reality headsets and AR capable phones. The idea is to create a platform that enables people to write their own AR experiences within the platform we've created. We have some innovation lab budget set aside to help but we'd like to do so much more so if anyone is interested in working with us please get in touch.

Jim brainstorming with the MiniDevs