RFID tags used to teach English

Two students from Purdue University got a brilliant idea and are using the RFID technology to teach English to non-English-speaking children. Their Merlin's Magic Castle (MMC) software is currently compatible with several games including Trivia Game and the students plan to sell licenses to big game companies. Read more...

When you see the acronym RFID (radio frequency identification) in a paper, you immediately think about how Wal-Mart and other big retailers plan to replace bar codes. But two students from Purdue University got a brilliant idea and are using this technology to teach English to non-English-speaking children. Their Merlin's Magic Castle (MMC) software uses RFID tags technology that the students embedded in toys. For example, when a child holds a toy firetruck with an embedded tag, MMC computer screen displays "fire*ruck" and asks the child to supply the missing letter. The MMC software is currently compatible with several games including Trivia Game or Scavenger Hunt. And now the two students plan to sell licenses to big game companies. Read more...

For example, here is a picture of little kids touching a fire truck with a RFID tag and trying to find the correct answer (Credit: Purdue University).

Teaching English using RFID tags

Here is how -- and why -- MMC works according to "Learning with Merlin" (Purdue University Insights, Fall/winter 2005).

Merlin's Magic Castle runs on a computer and uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology that the students embedded in toys. When a toy is run over the computer's scanner, the program registers that RFID, and as Merlin says the toy's name, it also appears on the screen. "These multiple levels of stimulation (audio, video, and haptic [touch]) influence better comprehension and information retention," said project leader Alexei Czeskis, a junior double majoring in computer science and math, and minoring in Russian.

Below is a picture of Amicia Elliott and Alexei Czeskis, the two students who developed Merlin's Magic Castle (Credit: Purdue University).

Amicia Elliott and Alexei Czeskis

As you can guess, MMC has not been widely covered yet. Anyway, here is a link to a presentation of MMC which gives some more details (PDF format, 5 pages, 41 KB).

Merlin’s Magical Castle (MMC) is designed to be a fun way to supplement classroom education. Whether in school or at home, children can find learning exciting with this tool. A friendly wizard greets the children at the start of the computer game and gives them various options of what they can do. There is an assortment of games a player can choose from, such as: Trivia Game, Scavenger Hunt, Fill in the Blanks, Category Quest, etc.
These games involve interaction between the toys of interest and the computer, which can identify the scanned toy and give the children feedback as they play. For example, in the Trivia game, Merlin gives the player a hint about the toy that he is looking for. If the player scans the correct toy, Merlin cheers, if the toy that was brought to Merlin was incorrect, he'll offer another hint. Category Quest, presents the player with a toy and asks them to find other toys that are similar. This game involves abstract thinking -- one has to be able to identify the similarity between a dog and a cat because both have four legs.
MMC comes equipped with computer software, a scanner, and electronic tags which are embedded into appropriate objects. In the current version of MMC, tags are implanted in toys. When this toy is brought near the antenna, the tag is scanned and its identification number is sent to the computer. The computer will then identify the toy.

Now the students plan to sell licenses to their software to established companies such as the Walt Disney Company or toy manufacturers like Mattel and Hasbro. Good luck to them!

Sources: Various web sites

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