Robot helpers

Speech pathologist Shelly Kuhn and her desktop robot Aisoy work through a lesson with CES fifth graders Kooper Ysusi, lower right, and John Shields, far right.


USD 413 public relations

Chanute Elementary teachers who witnessed a desktop robot leading a multi-stepped math lesson say they can envision several ways a social robot could benefit student learning. 

The smart robots designed by Van Robotics are being developed as a “study buddy or tutor” that will guide students through a lesson, adapt lessons to a student’s ability, respond to a child’s performance with words of encouragement or notice a lack of focus and redirect the student, or ask if the child needs to take a break.

“The demo was great in guiding the students through a step-by-step process in completing multistep problems,” said CES Title reading teacher Patty Small. “As long as the technology holds the students’ attention, it could benefit them by teaching them to become automatic and fluent in this process and any other problem-solving activities that it may address.”

“I would really enjoy trying this out in my classroom with kids that need some one-on-one time,” said second grade teacher Nikki Jacobs, especially for those occasions when teachers feel they have tried everything they know to help a child, but it’s not working.

“As far as helping students with Autism,  the possibilities would be endless,” said fifth grade teacher Madison Mitchell. “I could see it being used for social group, speech pathology, reading and writing individualize lessons, and really lending itself to the child’s brain ability.” 

Shelly Kuhn, a speech pathologist who works with children at CES and Humboldt, has seen the results of using her robot Aisoy as part of her speech and language sessions.

“With my students I have seen increased attention to task, a reduction of off-task behaviors, improved social interaction, and working for longer amounts of time before scheduled breaks,” Kuhn said.

With the support of administration at the ANW Education Cooperative and a USD 413 Foundation grant, Aisoy joined Kuhn’s speech-language program two years ago.

“Research has shown that children on the Autism Spectrum have difficulty understanding social language.  When we speak, students must focus not only on the content of the messages but also try to understand the nuances which accompany our speech, such as pitch changes, volume, inflection, gestures, eye contact and many facial expressions,” Kuhn explained. “That can be very overwhelming for them. With the robot, students can focus on the content of the message first and gradually learn the social factors of communication in a non-threatening approach.” 

Jacobs said that children with ASD don’t always know how to relate to people and that may be why they act out or have a difficult time learning. With her daughter Raylin, it takes much more time for her to learn simple tasks. 

“I know that it is human nature for us to get frustrated going over the same teaching material day after day. Robots could simplify this by taking out the feeling and emotion that we sometimes give off to our kids,” she said. “Robots could also help all children with social stories and manners.  Based on all that I witnessed during the Van Robotics meeting, I feel that the Van Robot would be beneficial for most kids.”

With the trend towards robotics and students living in a technology-rich world, Kuhn says she’s found that other students want to work with Aisoy.   

“Students from other resource rooms as well as general education students in my program began asking me about the robot. ‘Does he talk? Does he move? What does he say? Can we listen to him?’” Kuhn said. “I started using Aisoy with more and more students because the interest was so strong. (And) because scripts addressing any area of communication can be written, Aisoy can benefit many.”

The Van Robotics prototype, along with a web application that can be used from any device that connects to Wi-Fi, gives students step by step guided instruction that leads to independent practice and assessment. The robot will adapt the lessons to a child’s performance, and document attention, focus and stress state.

Founders Laura Boccanfuso, Marilena Mademtzi, and Quan Wang, have drawn on their 30 years of combined research and expertise in robotics, stress/emotion detection, biological signal analysis, computational vision and head/gaze tracking, machine learning, behavioral and cognitive science research, gamification and embedded technology to develop Abii in order to help children, who for one reason or another, have trouble learning math and science.

By piloting the robot in several communities next spring, they hope to collect valuable feedback regarding its efficacy, ability to engage and adapt, ease of use, and potential for future use. Chanute Elementary is one possible site for the week-long pilot study with third through fifth graders learning math. 

“All the data collected will tell us how to better train the model,” Boccanfuso said.

“I thought it was amazing, kid-friendly, animated and interesting to watch, especially with its ability to move,” Kuhn said about the prototype Abii. “It also has the capability to provide immediate feedback for students, which is extremely beneficial in their learning.”


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