Online tutoring site using artificial intelligence to fight 'summer slide'

NEW YORK, New York - A few months ago, 10-year-old Ty Parker and his mom would have regular battles over math homework.

"That was the subject he tried to avoid any way possible," Lakisha Parker said.

Ty says he felt rush during normal classes, and "trick" questions would confuse him.

He was below his grade level in math.

That was last fall. Fast-forward to July and Ty can't put his math problems down. He's heading into sixth grade this fall, but is currently doing seventh grade math.

Lakisha attributes the new fascination and success to an online tutoring program Ty began in October called GiftedAndTalented.com.

"I used to have to fight with him to practice math over the summer," Lakisha said. "I do not have to do that now."

Before doing the interview for this story, Lakisha had to pry her son away from the laptop where he was working on yet another lesson.

"Now he looks forward to it," she said.

"You're not really rushed," Ty said. "You can go back on certain things."

GiftedAndTalented.com is the culmination of decades of research by Stanford University and Matthew Mugo Fields, who created the website, on how technology and artificial intelligence can help students catch up on certain subjects, and often times get ahead.

"It's constantly assessing and detecting what should be presented to a student next so you can help them learn at accelerated rates," Fields said.

He says that's especially important during summer vacation when kids often aren't focused on learning more, or remembering what they've already learned.

"It can be frustrating," Fields said. "A lot of educators will tell you they spend the beginning months of school going over things that students should know. The problem I want to create is I want a bunch of educators having all these kids come to school who are a grade level ahead."

Ty has a tutor he can email any time and chats with face to face a few times per week.

His mom grins when she talks about his progress.

"He would be a sixth grade student, but he just finished sixth grade math," she said.

Fields says that's not an uncommon result. He says technology has made it easier for tutors to reach more students at even a reduced cost.

"In the 21st century we need more students to be excellent," Fields said. "We need more innovators, more problem solvers. We need more students who are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. We want this technology and this program in the hands of as many people as we possibly can."

In Ty's case, it's hard to get the program out of his hands.

Fields says programs start as low as $20 per month. And three months of individual tutoring is around $400.

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