Voice Technology is Here: How it Could Reinforce Your Teaching

June 12, 2019 / by Ian Freed & Irina Fine

Let’s face it, children these days are often more technologically savvy than their parents. Sometimes, the students actually become their parents’ teachers, especially where devices are concerned. So perhaps teachers could use that passion to their advantage, and utilize some of the new voice-enabled devices — which some believe could be the next trend in EdTech — to enhance the lessons that they are giving their students in the classroom. Bamboo Learning would like to share some of the latest developments in this area with you…

Voice Technology is Here: How it Could Reinforce Your Teaching

Many K-5 teachers have noted the recent popularity of voice devices and services like Echo/Alexa from Amazon, Google Home/Assistant, and Apple’s Siri. Indeed, a Canalys analyst report in April 2019 predicted an installed base of over 200 million smart speakers by the end of 2019.  In large part because of the ubiquity of smart speakers and voice capabilities on smart phones, children from age 4 to 12 have quickly learned how to interact with devices using their voice. Indeed, many children expect all devices they encounter (even toasters!) to respond to voice commands.  While children are quick to use Alexa, Siri, or Google to sate their curiosity (“Why is the sky blue?”) or to look up a fact (“How far away is the moon?”), few voice applications are available that help students reinforce what they are learning in school through pedagogically sound, interactive experiences.

Supporting Children’s Enthusiasm for Voice Devices

We see an opportunity to expand children’s enthusiasm for voice interaction with devices, and have created fun learning experiences that also have the ability to help parents and teachers keep track of how students are progressing.  Bamboo Learning’s EdTech voice applications (Amazon calls them Alexa skills) include Bamboo Math to reinforce arithmetic including word problems, Bamboo Music to introduce/reinforce music and music theory, and Bamboo Books to offer narrated selections and listening exercises from classic stories and books ranging from Little Red Riding Hood to Peter Pan to Alice in Wonderland

Incorporating Trusted Pedagogy into New Technology

Working together with Highlights for Children, publisher of Highlights, High Five, and Hello magazines, Bamboo Learning just introduced our fourth Alexa skill called Highlights Storybooks from Bamboo.  It features professionally narrated stories accompanied by listening exercises that encourage students to:

  • Fill in the blank
  • Identify True or False
  • Unscramble the sentence
  • Select a correct definition
  • Answer open-ended content questions

These exercises are designed to help children build a range of important cognitive and literacy skills (vocabulary, listening comprehension, pronunciation, etc.) and strengthen their reading abilities.  Being an audio first or (using the industry term) “voice-first” experience, active listening is critical to success and further advances comprehension. Studies prove that kids who are confident readers are more successful in school, and reading more makes kids happier, healthier, and more empathetic.

Here’s a video demo of three girls, ages 4, 7, and 8, using Highlights Storybooks Alexa skill:

two girls using alexa

Teachers can also view a focus group of children working on an early release of Highlights Storybooks.

focus group bamboo

Getting Started with Voice Applications / Alexa skills

Highlights Storybooks and our other Alexa skills are available for free using any Alexa device, including Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Fire tablets, and Fire TV.  On Alexa devices with screens, synchronized visuals are available to reinforce audible learning.

If you have an Alexa device, you can try out the skills by simply saying one of the following commands to your Alexa device:

  • Bamboo Math – “Alexa, open Bamboo Math.” (recommended for ages 5 to 10)
  • Bamboo Music – “Alexa, open Bamboo Music.” (recommended for ages 4 to adult)
  • Bamboo Books – “Alexa, open Bamboo Books.” (recommended for ages 4 to 12)
  • Highlights Storybooks from Bamboo – “Alexa, open Highlights Storybooks.” (recommended for ages 4 to 10)
bamboo math

Screenshot of Bamboo Math lesson

bamboo books

Screenshot of Bamboo Books lesson

Voice Technology and Your Students

How might you incorporate use of education-focused Alexa skills in the classroom?  Consider having breakout time for groups of 2 to 3 students covering one of the subject areas (Math, Music, Reading), and ask them to take turns participating in a session (children seem to naturally like to use voice applications in small groups).  Another option is to offer children and families the opportunity to reinforce learning by recommending specific levels and exercises for children to try at home if they have an Alexa device.  For example, you might ask students to work on Multiplication level 1 for a few days, or until Bamboo Math advances them to level 2 or even level 3.  Alternatively, you might ask students to try Peter Pan on level 2 Bamboo Books at home, along with selecting another level 2 book of their choice. 

Because parents have the option to sign up for Bamboo Grove to monitor how their children are progressing on math problems or listening and reading exercises, you, as a teacher, can connect in-classroom lessons with exercises at home that parents can track.

bamboo grove

Screenshot of Bamboo Grove Progress Report for Bamboo Math

More information (including more demonstration videos) for all four Bamboo Alexa skills, as well as Bamboo Grove, is available at Bamboo Learning.

Topics: Lesson Planning, Engagement, Technology in the Classroom

Ian Freed & Irina Fine

Written by Ian Freed & Irina Fine

Ian Freed is Co-Founder and CEO of Bamboo Learning, Inc., and co-creator of the Teacher Scientist Partnership (TSP) program for TAF@Saghalie School, an innovative 6th - 12th grade public school based in Greater Seattle. Through TSP, technology industry experts join with teachers in the classroom to help teach product development, design, and coding to students from diverse ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds. Throughout the course of his twenty-five year technology business career, including twelve years at, Ian Freed has always found time to advise and consult to businesses and nonprofits focused on technology and innovation. At Amazon from 2004 through 2017, Ian was a Vice President of several device businesses including Amazon Echo, Alexa and Amazon Kindle. He also served as Technology Adviser to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Irina Fine is Co-Founder, COO and SVP of Content for Bamboo Learning, Inc. Irina is a thirty-year veteran of curriculum development and teaching, having worked in public and private sector education in New York, Washington, DC, London, and Moscow. Irina has been integral to multiple curriculum development projects in child literacy, music theory and performance, and linguistics, including a multi-year McGraw-Hill project linking assessment and instruction. She has extensive expertise in organizational and business strategy, having advised multiple clients in the field of technology as part of McKinsey & Company’s teams in London and New York.

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