June 6, 2017 | Written by: Miles Ludwig and Satya Nitta
Categorized: Cognitive Computing
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Since 1969, Sesame Street has been a part of our lives in the U.S. and around the world. We watched it as children, and we’re now watching it with our children and even grandchildren. We’ve seen our lives reflected on the street and through the compassion of the loveable Sesame Street Muppets. For almost 50 years, Sesame has known precisely when to introduce new friends to the neighborhood to ensure we reflect the lives of all children.
Students at Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools play with a new cognitive vocabulary learning app from IBM and Sesame Workshop.
This generational impact began on the new technology of the day – the television. Today, we want to continue that tradition, connecting more individually with children, parents, and teachers. To do this, IBM and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, are introducing another new friend: Watson.
For about a year now, our two organizations have been collaborating to find the “just-right fit” between IBM Watson’s cognitive computing technology and Sesame’s whole-child curriculum in order to help each child become smarter, stronger, and kinder – Sesame’s expressed mission.
We’re thrilled to share that the result of our collaboration is an intelligent play and learning platform. The platform, which is currently under development, will be hosted on the IBM Cloud and enable software developers, researchers, publishers, educational toy companies, and educators to create individualized learning experiences.
The need for tailored solutions is critical, as it allows educators to present content that is specific to each student, including the educational challenges they face and the content style that resonates with them most.
Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, one of the nation’s top urban school districts and the largest school district in the state, has recently experienced the benefits of this collaboration by piloting a new adaptive cognitive vocabulary app that’s enabled by this new platform. During the pilot, kindergarten students and their teachers had the opportunity to engage with the app, which is focused on enhancing students’ vocabulary development.
Imagined as a teacher’s assistant, the app features learning design methods from Sesame Workshop’s established practices, as well as Sesame Street’s beloved characters in research-based videos and interactive learning games. The Gwinnett pilot focused on teaching words, specifically words that would otherwise be challenging for kindergarteners, such as “arachnid,” “amplify,” “camouflage,” and “applause.”
Over the course of the pilot, teachers observed the engagement and learning that we had hoped for: students acquired new vocabulary and incorporated the new words into their everyday language and interactions.
For example, during recess, teachers found students referring to spiders on the playground as “arachnids” and noting the camouflage on bugs’ bodies. Acting as a virtual teacher’s assistant, this app makes it easy to monitor children’s vocabulary development through a secured dashboard in real-time. Teachers can also adjust lessons, pacing, and the curriculum, all based on each student’s needs.
Gwinnett County Public Schools’ pilot of the cognitive vocabulary app is only the beginning. Looking ahead, IBM and Sesame expect the platform to support educational toys, apps, and games that will feature Watson’s speech- and image-recognition capabilities.
These offerings will engage directly with children, delivering context-rich play experiences in areas like literacy, emotional learning, and school preparedness, all adapted to each child’s preferences and learning patterns. Best of all, they’ll be useable anytime, anywhere, giving parents and caregivers the opportunity to experience cognitive learning technology and understand how it can impact the kids’ development at home.
Sesame Workshop and IBM share a belief that providing children with the best education possible is imperative, and that cognitive computing solutions like Watson will enhance and personalize learning in ways that we have never seen before.