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Scholar Education unleashes AI dogs for classroom training

David Krakow

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BaxterBot in use at Dayspring Academy, a New Port Richey charter school. Photos: Scholar.

In one Pasco County middle school, AI-fueled education technology is going to the dogs.

The dogs are mascots BaxterBot and Professor Bruce. And since the beginning of the 2023-24 school year, they’ve been the face of a new technology that, according to Scholar Education of Tampa, will help students and teachers alike.

This week, Scholar will have the opportunity to showcase its product for a much wider audience than the 200 6th and 7th graders using it at Dayspring Academy, a New Port Richey charter school.

On Wednesday (Jan. 24), the company will exhibit at Orlando’s National Future of Education Conference at Pitchfest 24, the nation’s largest educational technology conference, where advancements in the EdTech space are exhibited for education leaders, teachers, parents, investors and industry experts.

“Well, of course we want to win, but we really want to show how AI will change education for the better,” said Scholar’s co-founder and Head of Education Marlee Strawn. “It’s really about exposure.” Scholar is one of five finalists in the EdTech category at Pitchfest.

“We are making AI kid-friendly and safe with BaxterBot, which has been a huge hit with students,” Strawn added. “It’s like having a smart, furry friend right in the classroom. The kids love learning with him.”

Scholar Co-Founder and Chairman Ed Buckley, left, with Baxter, Bruce and Co-Founder and Head of Education Marlee Strawn.

Scholar was founded in March of 2023, four months before Strawn started with the company full-time. The avatars for BaxterBot and Professor Bruce were inspired by the real-life pets of Scholar Chairman Ed Buckley, who lives in Tampa. The company plans to eventually roll out tools for parents and administrators.

For the record, both BaxterBot and Professor Bruce are Berna doodles.

Scholar’s two-prong approach is designed, Strawn said, to make learning more comfortable for students and teaching less burdensome for instructors.

For students, that covers anyone from a child that is too shy to ask a question to those that have special needs or for whom English is not their native language. For teachers, Strawn said the goal is to help eliminate burnout.

“AI helps with the teaching and the learning, reducing the teachers’ administrative burden,” Strawn explained. “They are used to having to use a lot of tools to do their job.”

Scholar’s tool uses data analytics, allowing Dayspring’s teachers to help children at their level. Once the teacher logs into the portal, the analytics have already laid out their day’s lesson plans. Things like test scores are automatically fed into the program to further assist the customization.

“Baxter knows the lesson,” Strawn explained of the pup, who will pop up on a student’s screen to chat, offer recommendations and support. “He is therefore available to the students at the teacher’s discretion.” There are approximately 25 students per classroom and two teachers currently using the tool at Dayspring. Strawn explained that the program will vet chats for anything inappropriate and shut down as needed. Full chats are available for the teacher’s review.

Baxter can also signal an instructor when it senses social-emotional assistance is needed.

Strawn said the company has commitments for the 2024-25 school year from 12 other schools in Pasco and Hillsborough counties, and in Clearwater. They would like to replicate the program elsewhere in Florida and the U.S., she added, hoping to be in around 10 states in the next two years. “We will collect the data and see where we are on the academic progress after 2024-25,” she said.

The immediate concern is Wednesday’s pitch. “It’s about giving the teachers the background of how we’re different,” Strawn said.  

Calling herself a lifelong educator, Strawn said this is her first time in an entrepreneurial role. “I’ve always been a tech nerd,” she explained, adding that she thinks AI will be the next game changer in education, after the calculator and the internet. “And I’ve always been passionate about how we can be as innovative as possible.”  

 

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    Barbie

    January 25, 2024at8:12 am

    Give the reader, so excited about this future teaching method just one complete example of how this particular AI tool works. I read on and on about the method but was hoping for just one teaching event example that I could grasp how it works for say a non English speaking middle school kiddo.
    How can a parent keep in touch with your methods and/or the other competitors methods. Very intriguing catalyst article!
    Well there be a follow up? Can this method be used for home schooled students?

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