Challenge

Create a learning tool to address this NGSS standard:

Construct an argument that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some can't survive at all.

Solution

ADAPT-1 tests and augments students' understanding of animal adaptations. It creates questions from a near-unlimited pool of options, provides instant feedback, and adapts to student proficiency.

IXL Learning is an ed tech company whose products are used by 1 in 9 school students in the U.S. My team shipped one of its flagship products, IXL Science, which now has over 100,000 users.

1. The problem space

I reduced the vague language of the learning standard into tangible learning goals for each student.

Observation

Observe and interpret the traits of organisms.

Comparison

Apply the principles of comparative anatomy.

Inference

Construct an argument using evidence.

2. Our concept

We created an algorithm that would generate novel, high-quality questions every time. No student should see the same question twice.

Each student sees at least 10 questions. Routes 1 & 2 continue on, and Route 3 shows a completed progression.

Here's a breakdown of the different components of a question.

3. The micro-interactions

To reduce unnecessary cognitive load on students, I advocated for employing with the simplest, most familiar interactions.

Multiple Choice

Out of a number of options, only one answer is correct.

Multiple Select

Out of a number of options, one or more may be correct.

Tech in the classroom

Technology cannot replace teachers, but it can augment their capabilities.

It is difficult for teachers to teach at the level of every student in the classroom, to provide instant feedback to every student, and to monitor students' learning when the students are not in school. These are opportunities where technology might step in to augment a teacher's effectiveness.

4. Mapping the student journey

Students learn best when they receive immediate feedback and incremental challenges.

correct answer

When a student gets a question right, they progress to a harder question.

wrong answer

When a student gets a question wrong, they receive immediate and specific feedback.

Here are examples of easy, intermediate, and hard questions.

easy

Easy questions have two answer choices and involve direct anatomical comparison.

intermediate

Intermediate questions have three answer choices and involve direct anatomical comparison.

hard

Hard questions have three answer choices and involve making inferences based on a sound understanding of anatomy.

During my time at IXL, I designed over 30 such learning tools for elementary school students.

Children using IXL in schools. 1 in 9 schoolchildren in the U.S. now use IXL Learning products. Photo credit: Elk Lake Elementary School, Pennsylvania.

If I had more time...

During my time at IXL Learning, the company did not conduct user tests in a systematic manner. If I had my way, I would have tested our products with real users, i.e., students using IXL at home and in school. Observing users in context provides valuable insight into a product's capabilities and potential evolution over time.

The ADAPT-1 team also included J. Murphy, F. Chang, M. Ritterhoff, K. Matisson, and I. Malave.