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How Artificial Intelligence Can Take Personalized Math Tutoring to Scale

December 12, 2023
Carnegie Mellon's PLUS framework helps tutors provide more personalized learning for students in underserved communities

Last summer, Maerah Mahmood, a 19-year-old sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University and a tutor with PLUS, was working at a school in California.

Via PLUS’ human tutoring framework and AI-powered dashboard, the class was split into breakout rooms on Zoom, giving the tutors 1:1 time to check in on each student. Mahmood noticed that her designated student was struggling after asking about her progress with the assignment.

“I was dealing with a student who was having trouble understanding what surface area meant,” said Mahmood. “I broke down the process. She was taking notes, asking follow-up questions,” she explained the remote tutoring process.

“We got to a point where she was able to solve the problem independently. The next week, she ended up passing the level quiz, which had a surface area component.”

Carnegie Plus 1
Maerah Mahmood

Mahmood’s experience is a testament to the power of PLUS, or “Personalized Learning Squared,” an AI tutoring dashboard that enables human tutors to engage with students based on their academic and personal concerns.

Using its PLUS Toolkit software, the dashboard collects student data from real-time responses, past assessments, and tutor feedback. The dashboard can then offer suggestions tailored to each student.

PLUS was recently selected by the Learning Engineering Virtual Institute (LEVI) as one of seven teams harnessing the potential of AI and machine learning to enhance middle school math education. LEVI is supported by the Walton Family Foundation.

Beyond connecting with students on their concerns, PLUS tutors are also encouraged to connect with students on a personal level.

“We ask them how their weekend was, things they’re interested in, try to relate it to math they’re doing,” said Mahmood. “When we were there in person, we talked about what they want to do when they grow up.”

We don’t want AI to replace tutors, but supplement tutors to excel.
Shivang Gupta, head of product at PLUS

Seeing that teachers are struggling, especially in underserved communities, PLUS facilitates personalized learning in communities that need it most. In the first year, over 90% of its current student network came from low-income families.

So far, the tool has been used by more than 250 tutors and reached more than 3,000 students with over 2,000 hours of tutoring per week.

Carnegie Plus 2
Shivang Gupta

LIFE Male STEAM Academy, an all-male Black charter school in Pittsburgh, Pa., the School District of Lancaster in Eastern, Pa., and the Central Unified School District in Fresno, California, have seen the most benefit. Ultimately, PLUS aims to “double math learning for 10,000 middle school students by 2026” with a laser focus on equity. It is steadily moving toward that goal.

Testing has shown that tutors using PLUS resulted in significant tutor improvement in 15 minutes of scenario-based interactive learning.

Mahmood said the tech support helps her identify which students are struggling so she can “take initiative” rather than wait for the student to alert her, which can be daunting for those hesitant to admit they’re having a hard time.

“We don’t want AI to replace tutors, but supplement tutors to excel,” said Shivang Gupta, head of product at PLUS. “Our primary objective is to scale up our existing program.”

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