Siri – The Classroom Digital Assistant

Siri Icon

Rip! Crinkle! Burp! I can see my daughter’s head buried in my iPhone watching another YouTube video. For months, she was obsessed with watching videos on “unwrapping surprise eggs.” Yeah, it’s those foil-wrapped, hollow chocolate eggs that have toys inside them. Intrigued? You can check them out on YouTube yourself…Disney Princess eggs are her fave.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, for a long time, we were constantly searching for videos for her to watch by furiously typing in long descriptions such as “surprise toy eggs Peppa Pig” or “Barbie Ken toy play house.” My daughter was in preschool at the time and couldn’t spell…what’s a girl to do?

This got old very quickly as we were called back to assist her after she watched the next short video. And then, it happened! One day, she saw her mother use Siri to call people and to do internet searches. Something clicked inside her head and the next thing you know, she has Siri do all of the legwork for her. She now activates Siri, tells Siri “find a video on (insert latest viral video for pre-schoolers)” and BAM! Siri responds and finds a YouTube video for her. It’s like having her own private digital assistant! Well, that’s what Siri really is, right?

Siri is outstanding to use in our private lives, but does it have educational uses? I have struggled with this question and wonder if it is a useful tool, just a substitution for typing, or a real game changer in the classroom. I have come to a general agreement and believe that it is all of the above! I can envision that students could use Siri for any or all of the following:

  • Learning how to spell a word – remember when you would ask your teacher or parent how to spell a word? The answer I always got was “Look it up in the dictionary.” And of course, my thought was always “how do you look up a word in the dictionary that you don’t know how to spell!” Yes, you are probably nodding your head right now. Yes, Siri can help you spell “psychic” or “phonics” …neither of which would I have thought to look under the letter “P” in the dictionary. Siri can find synonyms and antonyms too!
  • Check your math homework – Have Siri “do” your homework? No, of course not. But there is lots of value in having students check their homework before they arrive for class. Envision this…a student finishes his/her homework and then asks Siri, “How many cups are in a gallon?” “What is 15% of $44?” “What is 2x-4=28?” Having Siri “grade” the assignment gives the child the chance to learn on his/her own before showing up for class.
  • Internet searches – Speech to text is so easy with Siri…besides, who likes typing on an iPad? Not me!
  • Real, Localized Data – Ask Siri, “What planes are above me?’ and Siri will tell you the airline, flight number, altitude, and other information of planes flying overhead. How cool would that be to use at LaGuardia! How about “Hey, Siri, how long would it take to walk to Mammoth Cave?” or “What is the United States’ national debt?”

Planes Overhead

Of course, Siri is new on the scene as an assistant to help with our special needs students. Check out the NY Times article To Siri, With Love about a young autistic teen who relies on Siri to answer numerous questions during his typical day.

So, why Siri? Why not Google Now or Microsoft’s Cortana? Well, any of the big 3 digital assistants could be used, but with the popularity of the iPhone (Apple users now dominate more than half the market) and with the availability of iPads in our schools, I thought Siri would be a good start. Siri works on iPhones 4S and better, 3rd generation iPads and better, and all iPad minis. You have iPads in your school? Got some kids who could use some extra help? See what they can do with Siri.

Oh, BTW…before we go, be sure to ask Siri some of the questions below and get a taste of Siri’s funny, sassy side!

“Hey, Siri, why did the chicken cross the road?”

“Hey, Siri, what is zero divided by zero?”

“Hey, Siri, what does the fox say?”

And, of course, if you don’t like her first response, then ask the same question again and she may give you a better answer.

About Jerry Broyles

District Technology Resource Teacher, @JerryBroyles1

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