As a math coach for a New Jersey school district with several elementary schools, I have a working perspective on teachers’ needs across all grade levels. I also have unique insight into the changing landscape of elementary school math instruction. Success in math carries across all subjects, so quality math instruction at the elementary school level is critical. Unfortunately, many elementary school teachers have not been trained in math specifically. That’s why it’s important that they receive support to help them better understand elementary math in-depth, and develop lessons and instructional practices that enable them to reach a wide variety of students more effectively.
Because of my expertise, the IBM Foundation asked me to help evaluate Teacher Advisor With Watson, and to contribute to its development in January. When I first heard about the tool, I wasn’t sure what to expect. While the earliest developmental version of Teacher Advisor showed tremendous potential – and the idea that the power of IBM Watson augmented intelligence (AI) could be focused on supporting educators directly was truly innovative – the first prototype was a little clunky. Maybe “unfriendly” is a better word. It worked, but it needed to be easier to use and more visually appealing if IBM expected busy teachers to get comfortable with it and use it every day.
I wasn’t shy about voicing my criticisms. I also wasn’t prepared to be truly heard. But as soon as I saw the revised version of Teacher Advisor months later, my eyes blew up! The IBM team had really listened to me along with a diverse group of fellow teachers, working with us every step of the way to incorporate all of our suggestions into the tool.
What gets me really excited about this tool – on top of the fact that it’s so desperately needed by our profession – is IBM’s demonstrated commitment to giving us something that teachers need and want. In addition, Teacher Advisor is completely free and confidential. It’s not an evaluation protocol designed to somehow “grade” teachers. Teacher Advisor is here to help, and they mean it!
For starters, the content of the tool meets diverse student needs. For example, there are activities with heavy visualization that could help English language learners, along with activities incorporating more complex language for more advanced students. The resources are stratified by grade level, but they’re also flexible enough to help teachers reach students whose skills may not be up to grade standard. The Watson capability in the tool recommends targeted resources to help save you time to plan and implement highly effective strategies, and all of the information is in one place. You don’t have to go spending hours of your time hunting around the internet.
Speaking of which, Teacher Advisor isn’t just a wiki for teachers. The resources on Teacher Advisor are vetted, qualified and credible. These are best of breed resources that teachers at all experience levels can trust – whether you’re a veteran, a beginner or an experienced teacher who’s teaching a new grade level for the first time. And the math lessons, teaching strategies, and videos are blended. They don’t just rely on a single text or series of materials.
By the time you read this, teachers all over the country will be using Teacher Advisor With Watson to help them learn new material, brush up in areas they’re already expert at, and develop targeted lesson plans that can be customized for any Kindergarten through fifth-grade class. And because Teacher Advisor is cognitive, the tool can get “smarter” and more sophisticated as it gets more use throughout the school year, in addition to ongoing training from elementary math experts and IBM technologists.
I’m looking forward to integrating Teacher Advisor into our school curriculum to assist teachers in my district, and to hearing about progress from other districts. I think it’s one of the most exciting developments in teaching that I’ve seen in my 11 years in the profession. And it’s a tool that has meaningful and long-range potential to help strengthen the quality of instruction in our schools.
Christine Manna is a math coach for the Waterford Township School District in Atco, New Jersey. She was one of more than 1,000 beta testers of Teacher Advisor With Watson during its year-long development period with input from educators and education experts.
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