NPR News – William Huntsberry

The classroom of the future probably won’t be led by a robot with arms and legs, but it may be guided by a digital brain.

It may look like this: one room, about the size of a basketball court; more than 100 students, all plugged into a laptop; and 15 teachers and teaching assistants.

This isn’t just the future, it’s the sixth grade math class at David Boody Jr. High School in Brooklyn, near Coney Island. Beneath all the human buzz, something other than humans is running the show: algorithms.

The kind of complex computer calculations that drive our Google searches or select what we see on our Facebook pages.

Algorithms choose which students sit together. Algorithms measure what the children know and how well they know it. They choose what problems the children should work on and provide teachers with the next lesson to teach.

A student checks the assignment screen to find where she is sitting today.

A student checks the assignment screen to find where she is sitting today.

Courtesy of New Classrooms

This combination of human capital and technology is called “blended learning.” And regardless of whether it makes you uneasy, the program, Teach to One, seems to be serving Boody Jr. High well. A recent study of the 15 schools using Teach to One, had mixed results, but showed they are outperforming their peers nationally on average.

“It can be used as an effective tool, but so far it has had moderate and unstable effects on student performance,” said Justin Reich, a researcher at Harvard who has reviewed the study.

He believes Teach to One can mechanize some of the more mundane parts of teaching, like grading and assessing whether a student has mastered a topic. But, he added, it also ends up teaching to standardized tests and doesn’t work better than some non-digital interventions.

So, how does it work?

Read More