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Australian Researcher Uses RFID to Track Preschoolers' Activity Levels

The project's goal is to learn how teachers can influence their students' behavior, with the premise being that greater physical activity improves a child's health and well-being.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 21, 2015

Karen Tonge, a researcher with the University of Wollongong's Early Start Research Institute (ESRI), is using an RFID-based solution to track the movements and proximity of students and educators in preschool playgrounds, thereby providing insight regarding how much teacher engagement influences the level of activity in children. The study will aim to provide educators and other interested parties with information regarding the extent to which teachers can influence how active children are during their early education years. The premise is that the more physically active a child is, the better that individual's health and well-being will become.

To track the locations and movements of students and teachers, Tonge is employing battery-powered RFID tags and fixed readers provided by Convergence Systems Ltd. (CSL). The students and teachers also wear ActiGraph battery-powered devices that contain accelerometers for measuring the quantity and intensity of a person's movements. The collected movement data is then manually compared against the RFID-based location data to determine where an individual was, and with whom. However, Tonge says, she is currently working with other researchers to develop a software program that would integrate the ActiGraph accelerometer data with the RFID real-time location system (RTLS) data, in order to create an automatic link between location and movement intensity.

At each participating school, Tonge installs several CSL RTLS RFID anchor readers, each plugged into a power source.
Tonge is working with the Early Start Research Institute to earn her doctorate in education. She began the three-year study in early 2014 after discussing her research project with Tony Okley, ESRI's research head, who was familiar with CSL's RFID technology. Simply observing children's activity would not provide the detail of activity data that the study would require, she explains, so she launched the project using the RFID wristbands and readers.

By the time the project is finished, it will have involved up to 600 preschoolers (ages two to five) at 15 preschools located in New South Wales, as well as up to 100 educators who work with those children. To date, Tonge has installed the technology at six preschools in the Wollongong area, for about one week at each site.

Tonge opted to conduct the study only during outdoor playtime, when children are expected to be most active.

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