Watson-powered cognitive vocabulary learning app to enhance early childhood education experiences
Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, one of the nation’s top urban school districts, has completed an initial pilot of the industry’s first cognitive vocabulary learning app, built on the IBM and Sesame intelligent play and learning platform. The new platform, powered by IBM Cloud, enables an ecosystem of software developers, researchers, educational toy companies, and educators to tap IBM Watson cognitive capabilities and Sesame Workshop’s early childhood expertise to build engaging experiences to help advance children’s education and learning. The cognitive vocabulary app is one of the first of many cognitive apps, games, and educational toys that will be built over time on this new platform, as a result of the two companies’ collaboration announced last year. The Gwinnett pilot program marks the first time that Sesame Workshop expertise and Watson technology have been introduced into classrooms to be tested by students and educators. In the initial phase, Gwinnett kindergartners and teachers in six classrooms engaged with a tablet-based, cognitive vocabulary app built on the Watson-powered intelligent play and learning platform to enhance vocabulary development of students. Fueled by Sesame learning design, this adaptive app features beloved Sesame Street characters alongside educational videos and word games.
Based on the initial Gwinnett pilot, with an expanded pilot currently being planned for this Fall, IBM and Sesame collected 18,000 feedback points from 120 students that helped determine a more accurate progression of words they were exposed to over a two-week period. In the pilot, students learned words that are deemed challenging for kindergarteners, including “arachnid,” “amplify,” “camouflage,” and “applause,” with initial observations showing that many students appeared to acquire new vocabulary as a result of the app. In fact, one teacher noted: “We are studying animals, and children were able to notice various forms of ‘camouflage’ among animal skin patterns.” Another teacher said: “When we found a spider in the classroom, a student yelled, 'an arachnid’!" Participating teachers overwhelmingly agreed that the app was a valuable addition to their class.
Watson’s augmented intelligence capabilities are designed to enable the app to provide digital assistance in the classroom. Teachers can monitor children’s vocabulary development in real-time through a secure dashboard and adjust lessons, pacing, and curriculum to each child’s needs. The app will use adaptive assessments to determine a child's current vocabulary range, and then deliver vocabulary learning experiences that focus on specific words. Continuously learning as a child engages with the app, words and areas that require additional focus are refined to deliver content and experiences that are engaging, fun and inspiring. This app is still in early stages of development and it is being used as a vehicle to establish evidence of learning at scale. The current pilot is the first phase of a process to understand whether multi-modal learning experiences can improve vocabulary and literary. This app and others like it will soon be available on the IBM Cloud for wide adoption in schools globally. These and other educational experiences being developed on the new Platform will be modular and easy to customize, built with the needs of educators and administrators in mind. A key partner in this unique co-design process, Gwinnett County Public Schools has offered insights and feedback as joint research and development teams from IBM and Sesame Workshop evolve the app.
Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks was excited about the opportunity to participate in this pilot with Sesame and longtime strategic technology partner IBM. He explained: “This vocabulary learning app complements our efforts to transform the classroom, actively engaging students in a fun and interactive way. Technology is a basic tool for today’s learner; and with this app, our very youngest learners had the opportunity to learn new words and expand their vocabulary.” Gwinnett’s pilot of the cognitive vocabulary learning app is only the beginning of what’s possible with this technology. IBM and Sesame are customizing Watson for early childhood as well as developing new capabilities for it. Educational toys, apps, and games enabled with Watson’s speech- and image-recognition capabilities are expected to take the platform’s personalized learning beyond the classroom. These products will be designed to engage directly with children and caregivers to deliver context-rich play experiences around literacy, emotional learning, and school preparedness, all adapted to each child’s preferences and learning patterns.
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