Smarter Than A Fourth Grader?

For those of you unfamiliar with Amazon’s Echo and our friend, Alexa, here is a description put out by Amazon…
Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon, made popular by the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot devices developed by Amazon Lab126. … Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system. 

Essentially, Echo is a smart speaker and Alexa is the voice you hear providing you with answers to most any question you might have. She’s basically a know it all that you can’t see.

With that as a backdrop, I was teaching a fourth grade class the other day and we were just beginning our math period by reviewing the previous night’s homework. Individual students would give an answer and if everyone was in agreement we’d move on. If not, we’d work out the problem on the board so everyone understood.
After James gave his answer, a couple of students sold him out and began laughing, saying he cheated because he asked Alexa for the answer. I looked over at James and his eyes were looking down and his face was red.
I was trying not to laugh because i never considered Alexa as a resource for homework but then again, I’m not a clever nine-year old with easy options available to him. So the very brief conversation went like this…

Me (smiling): James, did you use Alexa to do your math homework last night?

James (looking at his “friends”): You don’t how I did my homework!

Me: James, I’m not upset if you did, I’m just curious if Alexa helped you with your homework.

James: (looking at me with his face still red): Yeah, but after she gave me the answer, I did the problem myself. I wanted to check her to make sure she was right.

Me (trying not to laugh out loud): So you checked Alexa to make sure she didn’t make a mistake?

James: Yeah.

The class became quiet and looked at me to see what I would say but I don’t sell out clever nine-year olds who can think on their feet in front of their peers. So I simply said, “that was smart,” and we moved on.

I’m not sure what kind of lesson James learned that day, if any, or if he understood he was scamming the system a bit and might try doing it another way in the future. It’s possible.
All I know is that when I glanced back up at him a few seconds later he was smiling and his face wasn’t red anymore. I’m guessing he was feeling pretty good about himself.

And that was good enough for me.

 

54 thoughts on “Smarter Than A Fourth Grader?

    1. George Post author

      Thank you. I’m actually a substitute teacher but you’re right about valuing our children. We can learn so much from them if we just listen..:)

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  1. Retirementallychallenged.com

    I wonder how complicated a math problem Alexa could do? Maybe you could have James bring in an answer he got from “her” and prove or disprove it on the board in front of the class. Tools (like calculators) are helpful, but it’s important to have enough understanding of the problem to recognize if the “answer” is correct out not. Kind of like using a thesaurus to find a synonym but not understanding if the alternate word is really correct for that particular usage.

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    1. George Post author

      Alexa is pretty quick with fairly complicated problems but I’m not a mathematician so I won’t even go to algebraic or geometric questions. But she is pretty smart😊

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  2. Hugh's Views and News

    Delightful. I’ve been tempted to get Alexa, but have been put off by hearing that Apple are bringing out a version of her. She sounds a lot of fun, though. I’d never have thought to ask her a maths question. I remember being told at school we could not bring a calculator into class. That’s showing my age, but they were all the rage back then and every kid wanted one.

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    1. George Post author

      I never thought of using Alexa for that purpose either, Hugh but leave it to kids to find a side road to the address..:)
      Alexa is a lot of fun and I know Google has something out that’s similar and Apple will not be outdone..:) I just love telling Alexa what I need to get at the supermarket and she puts it in my phone immediately.
      Technology can be lots of fun😊

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      1. Hugh's Views and News

        The reviews I’ve read about Google’s smart home hub are not as good as the reviews that Alexa has. However, Apple is working on their version of the smart home hub so it’ll be interesting to see how it compares. I don’t use Siri, so I hope they come up with something that is unique. I’m sure it will be a winner given that Apple always has a queue around the block whenever they launch something new.

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      2. George Post author

        I’m a big apple fan and I’m sure they’ll come up with something different and competitive. Maybe down the road I can give them a side by side quiz and see who does better..:)

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  3. Lynn

    I wonder if the Apple Version Siri is as smart as Alexa. I love that you didn’t call this young lad out! Well done George, the world could use a few more teachers with your common sense!

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    1. George Post author

      I’ve wondered the same thing. Google has a version of Echo also. I’ve often though about doing a side by side test😊
      I only do substitute teaching but I’m guessing classroom teachers may have heard something like this before…:)

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  4. thechickengrandma

    Great response in that situation!! It made me laugh to read that story. It also makes me wonder what my grandkids will haul off in school! I am just now hearing more stories of my own sons and their school years…..sometimes ignorance is bliss.

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  5. blondieaka

    What a marvellous story George and I bet you have gained some kudos as well as the young lad probably has…I think it is lovely I wish all teachers were like that 🙂 Me… I don’t know if I want to go that far with technology…too old..although it might be fun to try and fool it.mmmmmm

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    1. George Post author

      Technology has certainly created a new set of problems in different areas of our lives, but it does have its rewards, and this young man took advantage of them😊

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you. He certainly is a creative young man who can think on his feet😊 Now it’s a matter of how he uses his creativity in the future..:)

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  6. Ann Coleman

    You are a teacher who is both wise and kind, George!
    Personally, I sometimes worry if we will, as a society, become too dependent on our artificial intelligence. What’s the point in learning to do research, or even learning anything at all, if we can get all our questions answered, instantly? But I have to think that we will get past this, because humans do seem to have an innate desire to learn. And maybe I should look at it this way: that boy may have got the math answer from Alexa, but he still had to use his own brain to think of a way to explain it to the teacher! That has to be a good thing, especially since your response was so perfect.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Ann…:) I agree about becoming too dependent on AI but I went back to what you said, he still had to find a way to justify what he did and he did that very well. Let’s hope future generations never lose that ability because of technology.

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  7. Gabe Burkhardt

    I’ve clearly been out of the system too long. Until I read this, I never would have considered using Alexa (or Siri) to “help” with homework. But seeing it now, it is almost intuitive. Isn’t that the way genius is often viewed in retrospect? (“I can’t believe I didn’t think of that earlier.”) Not saying its right, but still…

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    1. George Post author

      I had the same thoughts, Gabe. On one hand I felt he took the easy way out but then I understood he utilized the resources he had in front of him to his advantage and I had a difficult time faulting him for his opportunities and being so quick to justify his actions and choices. You’re right, it was intuitive.

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  8. roughwighting

    I love this story and hate it at the same time. I LOVE the way you teach (substitute or not, you were teaching those kids, and teaching them to be kind to each other and teaching them how to help another save face). I hate the story because the same way students now ‘research’ through Goggle instead of figuring things out for themselves, they now can have a computer do their math problems with the sound of their voice. Boy, do I sound old-fashioned. And math is not my strong suit and I would have gladly asked Alexa for help when I was a 10th grader (I could handle it at 4th). BUT, will kids start writing their essays with the help from Alexa? (ALEXA, WRITE ME A 100 WORD ESSAY ON DEMOCRACY.) You can see where I’m going!
    Oh well, don’t get me started. The real lesson here is that you helped a student not feel denigrated or bad. Great post that got us all thinking.

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    1. George Post author

      I understand completely. Like you, I sometimes wonder what’s next. I have subbed quite a bit in the library also and to your point about research, kids only take out fiction books. One whole side of he library relating to non fiction or research books is rarely touched. Google handles that for them.
      We live in a different world which children understand and utilize better than we do sometimes. I think we, and they, lose as much as they gain at times. But it’s all they know. We see what was and is. They only see what’s in front of them…:)

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  9. reocochran

    I had to read your comments to see if everyone understood how you blessed that boy by saving him a bit, George. As a middle school teacher and preschool special needs teacher, I had a few years of subbing between location moves with my family. I always gave the student the benefit of the doubt. There are so many ways society and peers tear each other down.
    A short example, in my sixth grade teaching fresh out of college, Christopher was a smart aleck. Instead of going haywire, I let him crack jokes and nodded my head without smiling. I would say, “Now, if we would like to learn something. . .”
    When I saw him doodling, I came up with a plan. I asked Chris if he would like to either stay after school or stay in from recess to be the Bulletin Board director? He jumped at chance to stay in that very day and I told him every month he could decorate it as long as it followed the weather and seasonal holiday schedule. There was a moment of clarity when parents came in for conferences. If their son did anything wrong “he’ll get beat twicefold at home.” At age 22, I was appalled. We still had a principal who paddled kids. I like to hope Chris didn’t rob banks nor become a bully. . . I saw a real improvement in him as the year went along and seemed like he might become a kind leader or like you, a gentle man. 🙂

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    1. George Post author

      That’s very nice of you to say and I love the story about Chris. I wonder how he turned out. Environment plays such an important for children. I didn’t realize, until I began subbing a few years ago, how difficult home life is for so many children. It makes learning difficult.

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      1. reocochran

        Home life does make learning difficult. Hope if you run into James sometime outside of the classroom, he may say Thank you. His smile did seem to give you his appreciation. I moved at the end of my teaching Chris, so don’t know how he turned out. We can hold hope. . .

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  10. Nancy

    Learning how to think and solve problems is the most important thing kids learn. I’d say that fourth grader was “using all his resources!” 😊

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  11. momentumofjoy

    I’m skeptical of his double checking the work, but we have personally confirmed that Alexa (or Echo as it is known in our house because the know-it-all woman position was already filled) is not always correct. I’m sure it’s based on our inability to request the info in the required format, but we still laugh whenever it hoses up something obvious. Usually our interaction with echo is something more cerebral like “Echo – tell me a bad pun” and then our ears are assaulted with something so painful that the whole room has to groan in unified response. I love that you supported that kid though. Being sly when necessary is a vital skill, and I adore that you let him have the moment.

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    1. George Post author

      Oh I’m more than skeptical that he checked his work but I admired his ability to quickly come up with a response and I wasn’t about to embarrass him or sell him out to his peers.😊
      I love your line about the know-it-all woman’s position already being filled. Wonder who you were referring to😊

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