IBM Watson in the Third Grade, Doing Math

October 5, 2016

The IBM Watson PR hyperbole machine seems to have been idling. Summer’s over. IBM Watson marketers are back at their work stations.

I read “Next Target for IBM’s Watson? Third-Grade Math.” Keep in mind that you may have to pay to read this bit of PR inspired content. That’s not my fault, gentle reader.

The write up reveals:

For the past two years, the IBM Foundation has worked with teachers and their union, the American Federation of Teachers, to build Teacher Advisor, a program that uses artificial-intelligence technology to answer questions from educators and help them build personalized lesson plans.

When I was a student, sleeping, talking, and day dreaming had a high priority. I didn’t have a mobile device to distract me.

The idea is that IBM Watson is going to make the students of the 21st century drop their mobile phones and learn mathematics.

How will IBM Watson pull off this trick? I learned:

For teachers, one thing Watson will do is help them digest the Common Core standards and incorporate them into daily lessons. The standards are learning goals, a map of what students should be able to do at a given level. Third graders should be able to measure area, for example, by counting out units, like square centimeters or square inches. But rather than just listing a group of skills, Watson serves up the prerequisites those skills are built upon and a set of exercises to break down the standard.

Sounds darned good. I am confident that IBM Watson will make learning today a really fun experience. Great assumption. However, I think schools may find that IBM Watson could end up with a dunce cap or texting with friends. IBM may be sitting next to the innovator who predicted that Apple iPads would energize Los Angeles’ classrooms. How did that work out? Oh, I remember. Not too well.

Stephen E Arnold, October 5, 2015


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