IBM’s Supercomputer Lends its Skills to Teachers

(Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, is advising third-grade math teachers on personalized lesson plans for free.

Expert math teachers have trained Watson, using cognitive computing technology to support teachers with lessons and teaching strategies that are tailored to an individual classroom’s needs. Watson uses language processing and machine learning to understand large amounts of unstructured data. Watson, which was first used for scientific purposes, is now helping teachers.

Teachers can use IBM’s Teacher Advisor, which is in beta form, by typing in a specific question to get feedback from Watson. Watson could also ask additional questions to better understand the teacher’s requirements. Watson will understand the meaning behind the teacher’s words through cognitive computing capabilities and will increase its knowledge and effectiveness the more it interacts with the teacher.

Stanley S. Litow, president of the IBM Foundation and vice president of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, said the company plans to make Teacher Advisor available to all elementary school teachers before the end of next year.

“Our hope is to one day equip all teachers with the support they need to do what they do best–unlock a child’s passion for learning and build up the next generation of leaders,” Litlow said.

IBM worked with teacher associations, Federal officials, state school chiefs, deans of schools, and school board leaders to make Teacher Advisor accessible to teachers.

“This builds on our work to provide educators with relevant, quality, authentic resources created by teachers themselves and other curricula experts,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). “It fills a void that the education industry has left—a dearth of quality resources and assistance on which teachers can rely, rather than doing everything themselves.”

IBM and AFT worked together to build on AFT’s professional development tools for teachers. AFT’s Share My Lesson platform allows teachers to share and download lesson plans and other materials. Teacher Advisor is available to teachers at no cost.

“It’s great that the IBM Foundation is giving Watson, developed for medical diagnoses and other purposes, to teachers for free. That’s really cool,” Weingarten said.

Cara Madison, teacher at Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Pawtucket, R.I., said that planning her lessons is particularly challenging because she teachers first-, second-, and third-grade students.

“I need something that is ready to go in my back pocket,” Madison said. “Being able to quickly plan and effectively plan in a decent amount of time is priceless.”

Madison said that Teacher Advisor has helped her find lessons that would be a good fit for her students.

“It’s full of quality lesson plans that you know, once you’re in there poking around, that whatever you choose for whatever standard you’re working on–it’s going to be effective.”

Morgan Lynch
About Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.
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