Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Children learn faster when the robots make mistakes

Study: Stupid robots can make kids smarter reports on some interesting research:

A story in New Scientist explains that Japanese children are learning to speak English faster than before thanks to a new robot that tries to teach them, but gets things wrong. The discovery comes after Shizuko Matsuzoe and Fumihide Tanaka, two scientists at the University of Tsukuba, studied nineteen children aged between four and eight years old interacted with a humanoid robot known as Nao as it tried to teach them simple English words for shapes such as “circle,” “square” or “heart.”

The key discovery, according to the report, was finding out that the kids became more engaged with the robot as it made mistakes that they could recognize and try to correct. “When the robot got a shape wrong, the child could teach the robot how to draw it correctly by guiding its hand. The robot then either ‘learned’ the English word for that shape or continued to make mistakes,” the report explains, adding that “Matsuzoe and Tanaka found that the children did best when the robot appeared to learn from them.”

Later the article explains:

The basic idea behind the robot theory is a simple one, and not an uncommon one in educational theory; by allowing the child to feel more in control of the situation and responsible for teaching the robot, it’s empowering the child and reinforcing the value of the lesson that they are now passing on, but in such a way that it doesn’t feel like a learning experience.

Kind of cool.


chili pepper said...

Well, my kids sure enjoy showing me errors they find in various books or magazines etc... Doesn't it stimulate them to keep more actively listening?

Luke said...

This fits well, in my mind at least, with the "read to a dog" programs: The dog doesn't try to correct you or judge you, it simply lets you do what you're doing. I wonder if the "my robot makes mistakes" takes some pressure off as well. It's not a flashcard that is always right, it's an opportunity, rather, to engage with the content... just a thought that zinged through my head.


Tunya Audain said...

Monitorial or Lancastrian System

My vet has a notice from the school board requesting volunteers of dogs for a Teach a Dog program. Intuitively it makes sense when it’s part of a repertoire of approaches to help in learning a skill or subject — especially in the earlier years.

This story about the error-laden robot reminds me of the Monitorial or Lancastrian System http://www.constitution.org/lanc/monitorial.htm

Qui docet, discit — He who teaches, learns

“ . . . advanced students taught less advanced ones, enabling a small number of adult masters to educate large numbers of students at low cost in basic and often advanced skills.”

Unfortunately, the “modern” progressive system now groups students into age units with a teacher using the lecture method — a method being challenged on grounds of pedagogical weakness and on economic grounds as it seems like a make-work program to provide more jobs for the “industry” of public education.

These three examples — robots, dogs, monitors — illustrate some of the principles being applied in the family setting. Besides, home education not only educates the child but also the parents as they participate.

In fact, two-generational education is another strong reason why home education should be more encouraged. Perhaps poverty and integration of immigrant groups could be addressed through more home ed programs.

Henry Cate said...

Chili pepper - great point.

Luke - yes, there are some similarities with "reading to a dog" and correcting the robot.

Tunya - I always thought we really missed out in now having older children involved in the process of teaching younger children. It allows a good teacher to leverage their skills and for the older students to really master the subject.