Abii Meets Teachers in Kansas

Abii Meets Teachers in Kansas

From the Chanute Tribune:

Chanute Elementary School may host a one-week robotics pilot in the spring.

The school’s third to fifth grade students are being considered as possible participants in a pilot study for an educational robot in development by Vän Robotics. Founder Laura Boccanfuso and co-founder Marilena Mademtzi gave a presentation Wednesday in Chanute to teachers and school administrators.

Both Boccanfuso and Mademtzi did research at Yale University where, in different fields, both were working with technology and students with autism. Boccanfuso’s focus is more on the robotics and technology side, and Mademtzi’s focus is more on the educational side.

Boccanfuso said the pace of academia prevented helpful technologies from reaching public use, so they founded Vän Robotics to develop an affordable robotic learning system.

The system they demonstrated includes a prototype small humanoid robot that can stand on a desk and a web application that can be used from any device that can connect to WiFi.

The robot is designed to interact socially with students in a personalized way, talking to students during lessons and reacting with expressive voice and motion-to-student input as they work through lessons via the app.

“Social robotics are, we believe, a really exceptional tool for helping kids learn new skills,” Boccanfuso said. Robots are more effective than educational apps because they provide a social component and interaction, which research shows improves learning, she said.

The robot is designed to track students’ gazes and determine where their attention is during the lesson, and bring attention back if it wanders too much. The research that has been done already indicates that attention usually tracks with performance, on parts of the material where attention wavers.

Part of the purpose of the spring pilot, which will include week-long sessions in schools in California, Kansas, Alabama and South Carolina, is to determine how well the system works with many different students and whether children enjoy interacting with the robot.

For this pilot, they are focusing on math at the third, fourth and fifth grade levels and on students, who for whatever reason, are having issues with math.

Boccanfuso presented part of an actual lesson using a basic word problem. The demonstration focused only on the tutorial part of the lesson, where the robot will guide students through every step of the process. Later stages include a guided practice and independent practice with reduced hints from the robot. Finally, the assessment will determine how well the students have learned the material.

During the lesson, the robot tracks a student’s attention and back-end software compares that to their performance. This is a part where the robot is also able to recognize when students are attentive during the lesson.

After the demonstration, Boccanfuso and Mademtzi asked questions to learn more about the specific needs of Chanute Elementary, and teachers and administrators gave feedback on the demonstration, which will help Vän improve on future prototypes.

USD 413 will continue to communicate with Vän Robotics to determine if the school will host a robot in the spring. Mademtzi and Boccanfuso will also be touring Chanute Elementary School today.

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