Artificial Intelligence

'Jeopardy' Computer, IBM's Watson, Takes on Third Grade Math

The same computer platform that defeated the most accomplished “Jeopardy!” champions is being used to help teachers with third grade math.

IBM’s Watson platform — which beat “Jeopardy!” winners Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in 2011 — has been adapted and expanded to incorporate Common Core standards for third grade math, according to the New York Times. 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, the Times said. 

By the end of this year, Teacher Advisor should be available free to third grade math teachers across the country and will add subject areas and grade levels over time.

“The idea was to build a personal adviser, so a teacher would be able to find the best lesson and then customize the lesson based upon their classroom needs,” Stanley Litow, president of the IBM Foundation, told the Times.

So far, about 200 teachers across the country have been part of a pilot program using Teacher Advisor. According to the teachers, the program has saved a lot of time because the information, compiled by other teachers who are math experts, has already been vetted.

Teacher Advisor can help design lessons for classrooms where students are performing at many different levels, the Times said, which is a constant challenge for teachers.

While the program is expected to roll out into classrooms later this year, it is far from finished. IBM expects to add more content areas and new features, and importantly, the more teachers use Watson, the more the system will learn from them.

Watson and Teacher Advisor will never be used to evaluate teachers, Litow said. It will only be used to assist them and develop lesson plans.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at rchang@1105media.com.

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