Share this story!
In Warp Institute's Project Centaur School, we develop AI solutions for schools. As a reader, you get to follow the work behind the scenes.
Towards the centaur school – part 1
There's a classic mistake: Sitting in your office, developing something you think is brilliant, which when tested by users turns out not to be needed at all.
To avoid this, we first talk to teachers and school staff. I have now been on my second school visit.
For me, it's extra fun because I once worked as a teacher and had planned to choose that as my path in life. But then I veered off course and became a politician...
On my first visit, I focused on the work of teachers and other school staff. This time, I also attended a class, to understand more about the students' situation.
Since my son is not yet in school, I haven't seen much of how school life has evolved over the last 20 years. Some aspects are almost frighteningly similar. The schedule, the premises, the classrooms, a few students who come in late and, of course, don't have what ever books or other material they need with them.
Other things are new. All students have a laptop (well, except those who "forgot" it at home). I attended a Spanish class where a paper textbook was combined with computers. They read together in the book about a Mexican holiday and then watched a video (via educational material available on YouTube) about the same thing. Afterwards, they opened their laptops and found and answered a task via Google Classroom. The teacher can then check how each student performed the task and give feedback..
Like during my first visit, it's apparent that the need for AI assistance with formative comments is great. If this Spanish teacher has to read through, correct, and give comments to 25 students, it takes a lot of time. The task might not even be for grading, but it still needs to be done thoroughly. An AI could be of great help here.
An AI could, for example, quickly check through all other tasks the student has submitted and see patterns. Perhaps they often or always make the same mistake. Then the teacher can tell the student about it and help them fix the problem. It's practically impossible for the teacher to do the same thing each time they correct a task, but for an AI, it's simple.
Developing AI services for students has been assessed as difficult. We really want to get there, but we start with the low-hanging fruits. It's easier to build services to help school staff perform administrative tasks, like filling in documents. An AI tutor teaching a student mathematics is much more advanced. Just look at what Khan Academy has developed.
But I still had an aha moment at the Spanish lesson.
The teacher pointed out the need for students to practice speaking Spanish a lot. Reading and hearing Spanish is one thing, but if you don't practice speaking, it's hard to learn. It's something that's difficult to do in class. If students talk to each other, they don't know when they make mistakes, and it's hard for the teacher to find time to go around and help everyone.
"Could they speak Spanish with an AI?" the teacher asked me. And that might not be so difficult to achieve. ChatGPT speaks a variety of languages. Building a service where a student can have simpler conversations shouldn't be too hard.
Our first AI soon ready
These days, our first AI service is ready to start being tested. It has taken a bit longer than expected, but we have not wanted to rush forward without first checking what is needed. Also, as always at the start of something new, we needed to find the forms for how we work. Now I think the latter is starting to fall into place, and the pace can be increased.
If you're reading this and work at a school or with education and want me to visit, give a talk, or just chat about AI and school over a cup of coffee, please get in touch.
The Angry Optimist