Block Magic

Overall architecture

The Block Magic platform is composed of five different parts:
1) Logical blocks (plastic blocks of various colors, shapes, sizes, and thicknesses) equipped with passive RFIDs.
2) Special blocks equipped with passive RFIDs.
3) A RFID reader (the "Magic Tablet"), able to transmit the value of passive RFIDS to a computer, via Bluetooth or USB.
4) A set of “scripts”, each implementing a different scenario, corresponding to the learning exercises specified by WP3. Each script defines a set of rules that control the relationship between user inputs and software answers.
5) A Client software, designed as a “Finite State Machine”, that receives inputs from the RFID reader and generates the correct answer, based on the current script and the previous inputs. The client software includes an Authoring System, with which it can be possible to create different scenarios.

Points 1, 2 and 3 correspond to the Hardware part of Block Magic Technology, whereas points 4 and 5 correspond to the Software part.

Logical blocks

The logical blocks (created in an extended version by L.S. Vygotsky and later reduced to the current quantity from Z.P. Dienes) are a structured material composed of 48 pieces organized in 4 categories:
a) color, (red, yellow, blue);
b) shape (square, circle, triangle, rectangle);
c) thickness, (thick, thin)
d) size (small, big).

With them it is possible to arrange various educational activities, to provide the basics and the operative procedures of the “naïve” set theory. More in detail:
1. Color and shape discrimination
2. Color and shape denomination
3. Classification based on one quality (ex: take the red ones)
4. Classification based on two qualities (ex: take the squares (and) the red ones)
5. Classification based on three qualities (ex: take the squares (and) the red (and) thick ones)
6. Classification based on four qualities (ex: take the squares (and) the red (and) thick (and) small ones)
7. Use of the connectives AND, OR, IF-THEN, (ex: if it’s not red or yellow it’s…)
8. Seriation (ex: classify by…)
9. Denial (ex: give me a block which should not be "not blue").
10. Complex sequences… etc.

It follows a classical example: Some logic blocks are placed in front of the child. When the child selects one of these blocks, the teacher provides an instruction to accomplish the task, as an example : “this is a red circle: find all the other red blocks”. The rest of the blocks are placed randomly on the desk. When the child selects a red block, the teacher provides a feedback: “great! continue”, whereas when he makes a mistake he receives a feedback such as “careful please, try again”. When he selects the last red block, the teacher says “Excellent, you are finished! Very good. Now touch another block and find out what will happen.” For the needs of Block Magic project, the logical blocks have to be provided with RFID tags, labels attached to the objects to be identified by a RFID reader. RFID tags could be attached to normal blocks, by using stickers, or they could be integrated by customized blocks.

Special blocks

The teaching kit should contain also special blocks that can be used by children in place of the mouse or the keyboard to interact with the computer. Indeed, during the learning activities children may need, sometime, to interact with the computer: to start/stop the learning activity, to repeat the last message, to select the next game, and so on. For such activities, it is better to keep using the same "interface" with the software, that is the RFID devices and tags. In this way, the computer serves simply as an output of children activities (texts and audio messages, images) that could be replaced, in the future, by other kinds of devices. Thus, the only activity of children during the use of Block Magic platform remains the manipulation of blocks. On the other hand, the interaction with the Client software in the traditional way (i.e. by mouse and/or keyboard) is only for teachers. Special blocks have to be equipped with RFID tags, as logical blocks, the only difference being the way they are managed by the Client software.

Magic Tablet

The Magic Tablet are RFID readers, devices that are used to interrogate an RFID tag, sending a signal to the tag and reading its response. RFID readers generally transmit their observations to a computer system running RFID software or RFID middleware, via Bluetooth, WiFi or USB. The Magic Tablet is a RFID reader working at a closing distance with RFID tags and sending its signals to a computer (via USB or Bluetooth). However, with the Magic Tablet the children manipulate the logical blocks, moving them toward the device instead than the opposite case. Indeed, the Magic tablet is designed as a small table on which the child can place one or more logical blocks. Thus, not only the child can manipulate the objects instead than the device, but it is also possible to play games in which more than one object is recognized at the same time. The Magic Tablet doesn't contain any button. The logical block is recognized as soon as it is placed on the tablet, without the need to press any button.

Client software

The Client software allows users to play the scripts specified above. Installed on a computer, it receives inputs from the Magic Tablet via Bluetooth or USB and generates the appropriate answer (texts, sounds, images, video, and so on) based on the current script and the previous user's decisions.

An important feature of the Client Software is the possibility to play the scenarios in Simulation Mode, i.e. in absence of the hardware part (Logic Blocks and Magic devices). This is very useful to rapidly test the software, or when the hardware is unavailable or not working properly. Another important feature is the ability to record the children activities, to help teachers analyzing the results and provide some quantitative data. The Client should also allow to re-play recorded sessions, to easily review children activities.

The Client Software should also works with more devices connected at the same time. Thus it will be possible to play group scenarios in which each child uses a different device. With the Magic Tablet, however, social scenarios are also possible with a single device, as different children can all place logical blocks on the device. Finally, an important feature of Client Software is the possibility for teachers to create customized learning scenarios. In other words, the Client software should contain an authoring system.

When a session starts, that is when a new child is going to use the software, the teacher should decide his/her "receipt":
1. Which skills needs to improve?
2. What is his/her level?
3. How many blocks should he/she use?
4. Does the child have special needs?
5. With a simple interface, the teacher should be able to decide all these aspects for each child, so providing a customized experience to each of them.

As an example, the receipt for a given child could be something like the following:
- Username: Paul
- Number of blocks to use: 48
- Mathematical skills: Frequency: 20% Level: 60%
- Logical skills: Frequency: 50% Level: 100% .... (other skills)
- Has special needs? NO


Different scripts have to be implemented, corresponding to learning exercises specified in WP3. Each script should include three levels of difficulty (easy, medium, hard), can be played with 12, 24 or 48 blocks, and can be played by individual children or by groups.

Finally, special scripts should be created for people with special needs. Scripts are created by developers and so are ready-to-use for teachers. Teachers can decide which scripts to use, in which number, with which difficult level and so on, using the authoring system provided by the Client software.

Technical Requirements

Check that your system meets the minimum technical requirements:
1. Operating system: Windows Vista or later
2. Cpu: 1,5 GHz. 3. Ram 512 MB.
4. 3D video card: >=128 MB video memo

For a perfect use we recommend the following configuration:
1. Operating system: Windows 7
2. Cpu: 2,4 GHz
3. RAM: 2048 MB.
4. 3D video card: 256 MB video memory.