This REESE Pathways project aims to develop and evaluate a novel procedural and methodological approach for assessing cognitive and fine-motor skills in children through sensor-embedded geometric blocks. Cognitive problem-solving, fine-motor control, and working memory skills are closely linked to fundamental STEM reasoning and learning abilities. Employing a set of sensor-integrated geometric blocks and an interactive graphical user interface, the blocks will function as an automated, objective, and multimodal assessment and educational tool for researchers, clinicians, educators, and parents, while also being engaging for children.
Three types of blocks will be developed: assembly, shape matching, and shape memory. The three types address children's abilities of conceptual reasoning, problem-solving, and working memory, in addition to fine-motor control and visual-motor integration. Initial evaluation will focus on testing safety, durability, and usability of the developed technology. Reliability and validity evaluation will later be conducted on young children, aged 4 to 6.
This project will provide advanced instrumentation for related research areas by enabling collection from multiple real-time data sources that are objective, simultaneous, and cumulative in a variety of different environmental settings. It will bring a direct impact on early education for preschoolers and school-aged children by providing a tangible interface for learning fundamental STEM content in various formal and informal educational settings. Furthermore, it can be easily transformed into various tests for measuring intelligence, achievement, learning capability, motor proficiency, spatial memory, and attention, while addressing individual differences and special needs, particularly for underrepresented groups. The blocks may also be extended to interventional and therapeutic applications for persons with cognitive or motor disabilities.
We developed a novel technology-embedded tool, called SIG-Blocks, for assessing childrenâ€™s cognitive problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, and working memory skills (Figure 1 & 2). SIG-Blocks with embedded sensors and wireless communication module serves as a tangible game platform that can interface with computerized games, i.e. TAG-Games. A variety of TAG-Games can be designed at a software level for a broad range of education, assessment, and research purposes. We also have investigated computational measures of play complexity associated with geometric reasoning, problem solving and manipulation, so that the game difficulty can be adjusted for each individual or target population. The developed SIG-Blocks and TAG-Games technology was evaluated in two phases: 1) preliminary technology evaluation on university students and 2) usability and functionality evaluation on young children aged between 4 and 8. The evaluation focused on determining: a. accuracy and reliability of automated measurements by SIG-Blocks; b. preliminary validity of proposed computational measures of play complexity; c. preliminary validity of TAG-Games on assessing target cognitive skills by comparing the performance on TAG-Games with standardized measures. For the evaluation studies, we designed three types of TAG-Games, TAG-GameA for assembly, TAG-GameS for shape-matching, and TAG-GameM for memory games. Two versions with different difficulty for each type were designed, one targeting adults and the other for children. The proposed play complexity measures were strongly correlated with performance on TAG-Games demonstrating the great potential to be used for customizing the test difficulty and further developing a dynamic test protocol where the difficulty of the test items will be automatically adjusted based on the testeeâ€™s performance. The TAG-Game scores were also correlated with selected standardized measures indicating its potential applications as an alternative or supplemental cognitive assessment tool to existing standardized methods. The SIG-Blocks and TAG-Games technology provides advanced instrumentation for related research areas, such as clinical psychology, early-childhood education, and cognitive and motor skill assessments by enabling multiple, objective, simultaneous, cumulative and real-time data collection in different environmental settings. The developed technology and evaluation outcomes have a direct impact on early education for preschoolers and school-aged children by providing a tangible interface for learning fundamental STEM contents in various formal and informal educational settings. TAG-Games can be easily transformed into various tests for measuring intelligence, achievement, learning capability, motor proficiency, special memory and attention, while addressing individual differences and special needs, particularly for underrepresented groups. We believe the results of this project will create a breakthrough in play-based assessments and early education by automating data collection and enabling 'learn-through-play' activities.