IBM and Sesame bring cognitive education to the classroom

Being a parent is tough. We have to balance allowing our children to be children, while at the same time challenging them to learn as much as they can in order to become successful adults with fulfilling careers. I’m always looking for ways to expose my children to new technologies while hiding the fact that they are learning while we play. The secret is simply to make learning fun.

Transforming children’s education

This intersection of technology and education isn’t new to me. I’ve written two books that bring the two sides together. “A Robot Story: Learn to Count to Ten in Binary” and “The Internet of Mysterious Things.” But there’s much more work to be done, which is why I’m so excited about today’s news from IBM and Sesame Workshop. The partnership pairs IBM Watson’s cognitive computing technology with Sesame’s early childhood research and expertise. And it all comes together in IBM and Sesame’s intelligent play and learning platform. Every child has different needs when it comes to learning, and I believe that this technology has the opportunity to transform how all children learn, whether in school or out.

This cloud-based platform will enable developers, researchers, educational toy companies and educators to tap IBM Watson’s cognitive capabilities and Sesame Workshop’s early childhood expertise and create new solutions — apps, games, educational toys, and more – that support the IBM/Sesame vision of advancing children’s education and making learning fun.

For example, there is a new adaptive cognitive vocabulary app for school use. The app includes content and learning design methods for educational videos and word games from Sesame Workshop’s early childhood research, featuring Sesame Street characters like Grover and Elmo who we all know and love.

IBM Watson and Sesame Workshop Introduce Intelligent Play and Learning Platform on IBM Cloud

The app has already been put into the hands of some of the very people it was designed for: students and teachers. Classrooms in Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, one of the nation’s top urban school districts and the largest school district in the state, have been testing the app. Take a look at the image above of these kindergartners interacting with the app on tablets and you’ll notice one thing that’s immediately clear– the student is engaged. What’s perhaps more important, though, is that they’re also learning.

Enhancing vocabulary development

These children and their educators had the opportunity to engage with the app. The initial focus was enhancing their vocabulary development, with a specific emphasis on words that would otherwise be challenging for kindergartners such as “arachnid,” “amplify,” “camouflage,” and “applause.”

Those are tough words, but after the pilot, teachers reported that many students learned them. More than that, they’re even using them at recess. (I don’t know about you, but when I was young, recess was a time to escape from learning for a few minutes…but not these kids!) Teachers found their students calling spiders by a new name, “arachnids,” while others spent their free time observing the camouflage on bugs’ bodies.

Personalized learning experiences – that are fun

I have two sets of twins under the age of five, so no one is reading just yet. But as a technologist and mom, I am thrilled to see IBM and Sesame having such a critical impact on children’s education. Knowing both companies, this is just the beginning of this cognitive education journey. More apps will surely be introduced (including the one I want to develop right after I finish this article) that will educate kids while helping their teachers assess each student’s progress and create personalized learning experiences in areas where they’re most needed, all while making it fun.

It’s an exciting time for technologists like me, and especially for these kids, who could be working on my team before you know it.

Technology Strategist, IBM Incubation Lab

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