IBM Watson, Sesame Workshop partner to create cognitive learning app for kids

The app uses gamified, adaptive assessment to teach each student at their own pace.
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It’s not every day kindergarteners throw around words like “arachnid,” “amplify” and “camouflage,” but a new cognitive vocabulary learning application from IBM Watson Education may make advanced word choices a lot more common among young children.

In partnership with Sesame Workshop, IBM developed the tablet-based app on its new learning platform, powered by the IBM Cloud. The app combines IBM’s cognitive capabilities of understanding learners and the learning progression with Sesame Workshop’s engaging approach to content and characters that have captured children’s attention for generations, said Chalapathy Neti, vice president of development and offering management for IBM Watson Education.

The app — the first to come from IBM’s partnership with Sesame Workshop to create educational tools using machine learning and artificial intelligence — introduces children to rare, difficult words as they interact with Sesame Street characters in educational videos and word games.

Then, based on gamified, adaptive assessment, the app determines the pace each child is able to advance.


“It’s intended to provide a very individualized instruction,” said Kim Holland, director of early learning at Gwinnett County Public Schools, which participated in the first pilot of the app just before summer break. “If a child masters a vocabulary word, it moves on to other words. That’s very appealing — it teaches each child at their level.”

Gwinnett introduced the app to about 120 students across six classrooms over a two-and-a-half-week period and is planning an expanded pilot for the fall now. At this point, the results are mostly anecdotal, but Holland said teachers noticed their students using the learned vocabulary words in their daily language.

For example, students came to associate “amplify” with the sound of a guitar strum growing louder. “That was a word they latched onto,” Holland told EdScoop. Or when one student saw a spider in the classroom, he used the word “arachnid” to alert his classmates instead of simply calling it a spider.

“It’s great when it’s generalized,” Holland said. “That’s the key, is to learn it and use it in a real-life situation.”

In addition to the advances in technology and personalized learning the app brings, IBM and Sesame Workshop are excited about the potential for student outcomes, said Akimi Gibson, vice president and education publisher for Sesame Workshop.


Between the ages of 4 and 6, children’s brains are developing rapidly — and language is a large part of that, Gibson said. “Kids are making sense of the world, so [we want to] give them exposure to the words they will encounter later.”

After all, the more refined your vocabulary, the better equipped you are “to express yourself,” she said. “You would use the word ‘frustrated’ when you feel frustrated, instead of relying on the word ‘mad.’”

“Language and vocabulary are fundamental to the intelligence of the child,” Chalapathy added.

With the trial run at Gwinnett behind them, IBM and Sesame Workshop plan to expand to several hundred or even a thousand students in the second phase of the pilot. They also want to try the technology out at new sites, Chalapathy said.

“Our goal is to start expanding,” he said. “[But] we’re not just interested in putting something out there. We want to see, is this going to make a difference in the baseline outcomes of a child? Are they learning faster, are they learning more words, are they understanding the words better?”

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