The best way to teach a growing mind is to stimulate with something that they can respond to whether it be cartoons, games, and even puppets. When you take a pre-kindergarten child and just talk at them with new words and definitions they tune out almost immediately.

Sesame Street has no doubt been a part of everyone’s childhood at some point. Some remember them for their quirky characters and some remember them for their fun learning techniques. Now, it seems that Sesame Street and IBM’s Watson have joined forced to produce a teaching A.I.

Watson is a revolutionary A.I. being developed by IBM and has made successful appearances on Jeopardy. This past tax season, Watson even did people’s taxes through H&R Block. That’s right, Watson can hold a job so why not let him teach the children?

Last year, Sesame Workshop and IBM joined forces to begin developing a kid friendly A.I. whose main goal was to teach pre-K and kindergarten students vocabulary. The two companies have now come out with a pilot trial version of their learning app.

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The findings

They tested this early version of their app on 150 students in Georgia’s Gwinnett county public schools. Gwinnett county schools are among the top in the country as well as the 13th largest district in America. This county is also a two-time winner of the Broad Prize for Education.

The initial test was conducted in a classroom environment on tablet computer. The app itself implements Sesame Street characters such as Elmo to test and challenge kids with vocabulary words. With a dashboard feature, their teacher can monitor and change settings in real time.

As the child uses the app, it will also adjust itself if it notices that words are either too simple or too difficult; that’s Watson’s cognitive ability. The app conducted 18,000 assessments over a two-week period with astonishing results.

Not only did the children learn new words, but their teachers found that they were applying what they learned which is the goal. Instead of pointing at an eight-legged bug and saying “spider,” they instead would say “arachnid.”

Another significant word that was applied to their thinking was the word “camouflage.” Watson taught the kids the word and its meaning, then children not only said the word in the field but noticed when something was camouflaged such as a bug or leaf. This is amazing because it’s actually branded the word into the kids’ thinking ability.

What the future may hold

So far this is only being tested on children around 4 and 5 years of age. This could mean that the final product will only be used for children of that age in the beginning. However, that is still a wondrous app to have, especially for working parents with only enough time for hugs and little spare time for teaching basic words.

Their plans at this point are to release this as an app to the public as well as on the IBM Cloud for distribution to schools all over the United States. If all is successful and shows continued results will positive feedback, then it is entirely possible that more advanced versions will release.

It will be interesting to see how this pilot app performs in less stellar schools or schools with a diverse level of intelligence such as California. California excercises “common core” and tends to mix advanced students with those that struggle with their grade level. It will also be interesting to see how the app works in crowded classrooms.

If all is successful, this app could grow into middle-school level education and perhaps one day teach more than words and definitions. Math is a huge learning handicap for a lot of students and it would be great if the teacher had an A.I. assistant to help them with the thirty plus students struggling with long division.

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