IBM Watson and Sesame Workshop Introduce Intelligent Play and Learning Platform on IBM Cloud

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Unveil Watson-powered cognitive vocabulary learning app designed to enhance early childhood education experiences; first pilot at Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools 

New York, NY and Armonk, NY – June 6, 2017:  IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Sesame Workshop today announced that Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, one of the nation’s top urban school districts, has completed an initial pilot of the industry’s first cognitive vocabulary learning app, built on the IBM and Sesame intelligent play and learning platform.  The new platform, powered by IBM Cloud, enables an ecosystem of software developers, researchers, educational toy companies, and educators to tap IBM Watson cognitive capabilities and Sesame Workshop’s early childhood expertise to build engaging experiences to help advance children’s education and learning. The cognitive vocabulary app is one of the first of many cognitive apps, games, and educational toys that will be built over time on this new platform, as a result of the two companies’ collaboration announced last year.

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The Gwinnett pilot program marks the first time that Sesame Workshop expertise and Watson technology have been introduced into classrooms to be tested by students and educators. In the initial phase, Gwinnett kindergartners and teachers in six classrooms engaged with a tablet-based, cognitive vocabulary app built on the Watson-powered intelligent play and learning platform to enhance vocabulary development of students. Fueled by Sesame learning design, this adaptive app features beloved Sesame Street characters alongside educational videos and word games.

“Sesame and IBM share a belief that cognitive computing can enhance and spark excitement for learning in children everywhere,” said Harriet Green, General Manager, IBM Watson IoT, Customer Engagement and Education. ” Together, we are combining Watson capabilities and Sesame’s rich educational knowledge to give teachers new insights about their students’ vocabulary development and ultimately, create a unique learning experience personalized to each child.”

Based on the initial Gwinnett pilot, with an expanded pilot currently being planned for this Fall, IBM and Sesame collected 18,000 feedback points from 120 students that helped determine a more accurate progression of words they were exposed to over a two-week period. In the pilot, students learned words that are deemed challenging for kindergarteners, including “arachnid,” “amplify,” “camouflage,” and “applause,” with initial observations showing that many students appeared to acquire new vocabulary as a result of the app. In fact, one teacher noted: “We are studying animals, and children were able to notice various forms of ‘camouflage’ among animal skin patterns.”  Another teacher said: “When we found a spider in the classroom, a student yelled, ‘an arachnid’!”  Participating teachers overwhelmingly agreed that the app was a valuable addition to their class.

Watson’s augmented intelligence capabilities are designed to enable the app to provide digital assistance in the classroom.  Teachers can monitor children’s vocabulary development in real-time through a secure dashboard and adjust lessons, pacing, and curriculum to each child’s needs. The app will use adaptive assessments to determine a child’s current vocabulary range, and then deliver vocabulary learning experiences that focus on specific words. Continuously learning as a child engages with the app, words and areas that require additional focus are refined to deliver content and experiences that are engaging, fun and inspiring.

“Sesame Workshop is committed to reaching and teaching children in the critical years between ages 0-5, meeting them wherever they are and adapting to the ways they learn best,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, CEO of Sesame Workshop. “Educational technology like the platform we’ve created with IBM Watson is a promising new channel for learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom, and we’re excited to explore it further.”

This app is still in early stages of development and it is being used as a vehicle to establish evidence of learning at scale. The current pilot is the first phase of a process to understand whether multi-modal learning experiences can improve vocabulary and literary. This app and others like it will soon be available on the IBM Cloud for wide adoption in schools globally. These and other educational experiences being developed on the new Platform will be modular and easy to customize, built with the needs of educators and administrators in mind. A key partner in this unique co-design process, Gwinnett County Public Schools has offered insights and feedback as joint research and development teams from IBM and Sesame Workshop evolve the app.

Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks was excited about the opportunity to participate in this pilot with Sesame and longtime strategic technology partner IBM. He explained: “This vocabulary learning app complements our efforts to transform the classroom, actively engaging students in a fun and interactive way. Technology is a basic tool for today’s learner; and with this app, our very youngest learners had the opportunity to learn new words and expand their vocabulary.”

Gwinnett’s pilot of the cognitive vocabulary learning app is only the beginning of what’s possible with this technology. IBM and Sesame are customizing Watson for early childhood as well as developing new capabilities for it. Educational toys, apps, and games enabled with Watson’s speech- and image-recognition capabilities are expected to take the platform’s personalized learning beyond the classroom. These products will be designed to engage directly with children and caregivers to deliver context-rich play experiences around literacy, emotional learning, and school preparedness, all adapted to each child’s preferences and learning patterns.

“We know that each child has unique educational needs that are difficult to address fully in a classroom, even with the kinds of differentiation strategies available to teachers today,” said Dr. Todd Rose, one of the project’s advisors and Director of Mind, Brain, and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Sesame Workshop and IBM Watson are developing a technology platform that has the potential to help teachers meet their students’ individual needs in entirely new ways — using data from playful learning activities that adapt to each student’s knowledge of a topic, interests, and approaches to learning. I am encouraged by the program’s progress in just one year, and their attention to learning both in and out of schools. By including students, teachers, and administrators in the design of the platform, this pilot program can move quickly towards becoming a resource that will be available to many more children who will benefit from it.”

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About Sesame Workshop:
Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit media and educational organization behind Sesame Street, the pioneering television show that has been reaching and teaching children since 1969. Today, Sesame Workshop is an innovative force for change, with a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. We’re active in more than 150 countries, serving vulnerable children through a wide range of media, formal education, and philanthropically-funded social impact programs, each grounded in rigorous research and tailored to the needs and cultures of the communities we serve. For more information, please visit

About IBM:
For more information, please visit and follow @IBMWatson and @IBMEducation on Twitter.

About Gwinnett County Public Schools:
Located in the metro Atlanta area, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) is the largest school system in Georgia and the 13th largest in the nation. This growing school system serves more than 178,000 students and employs more than 22,000 employees. The finest teachers, involved parents, and a supportive community are key elements in the district’s quest to become a system of world-class schools. GCPS is a three-time finalist (2009, 2010, and 2014) and two-time winner (2010 and 2014) of The Broad Prize for Urban Education, designating GCPS as one of the nation’s top urban school districts. In addition, this year it earned recognition as the national AP District of the Year by College Board and an “Outstanding Great District for Great Teachers” by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Press Contacts

Hanna Smigala, IBM

Kaveri Camire, IBM

Beatrice Chow, Sesame Workshop