MagicSchool believes that AI is indispensable in the classroom, so it aims to help teachers and students use it properly.

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These days, when you hear about students and creative AI, chances are you're savoring the debate over the adoption of tools like ChatGPT. Are they helpful? (Yay! Great for research! Fast!) Or are they harmful? (Smell! Misinformation! Fraud!) But some startups are taking the arrival of creative AI in the school environment as a positive, and a foregone conclusion. And they're developing products that they think will be a niche market opportunity.

Now one of them has raised some money to fulfill this wish.

MagicSchool AI, which is building creative AI tools for educational environments, has closed a $15 million Series A round led by Bain Capital Ventures. Denver-based Magic School got its start with tools for teachers, and founder and CEO Adeel Khan said in an interview that it now has about 4,000 teachers and schools that use the app to plan lessons, write tests and Others are using its products to develop learning materials.

More recently, it has also begun developing tools for students, provided by their schools. MagicSchool will use the funds to continue building on both of these tracks, as well as signing more customers, hiring talent and more.

This latest round also includes backing from some very notable investors. These include Adobe Ventures (whose parent Adobe is doing a lot of work on AI on its platform) and Common Sense Media (a specialist in age-based tech reviews that partnered with OpenAI on AI guidelines and ratings of chatbots). (converting to generative AI with binding) are included. ). Among the participants in the round are Amjad Massad, founder of Replit, Tyler Bosmini and Rafael Garcia, co-founders of Clever, and Aamir Nathu, co-founder of OutSchool. (Some of them were also seed investors in the company: it previously raised some $2.4 million.)

Khan did not disclose MagicSchool's valuation in this round, but investors believe such applications bet in AI startups after millions plowed into infrastructure companies like OpenAI, Anthropic, and Mistral. Backing up is the natural next step.

“There is an AI moment for education, a huge opportunity to create an assistant for both teachers and students,” Cristina Milas Cariazzi, a partner at Bain Capital Ventures, said in an interview. “They have the opportunity to help teachers with lesson planning and other work that takes them away from their students.”

From teacher to AI preacher

MagicSchool, despite its name, did not come out of thin air.

Khan got his start as an educator, initially working for Teach for America when he first left university. (And his interest in public service and education roles may have started even earlier: At Virginia Tech, he was student body president at the time of the Virginia Tech shooting, so sad to see the ravages of gun violence. had a front row seat for .).

As a teacher, he showed early signs of tapping into both entrepreneurial and leadership interests when he moved to Denver with the idea of ​​starting a school of his own.

Working first in various administrative roles in local schools, he eventually founded his own charter high school, DSST: Conservatory Green High School, which saw its first graduates receive 100% acceptance into four-year colleges. Available.

Taking a career break from this frenzy of activism, Khan came up with the idea of ​​a magic school.

“It was around November 2022 when ChatGPT dominated the headlines and creative AI came into the ether for the majority of the country,” he recalled. “When I was thinking about what I would do next, I started messing around with it, and right away I knew how useful this new technology was for teachers.”

He workshopped an early version of using generative AI to build tools for teachers, visited schools where he had taught and exposed the possibilities to his former colleagues. But it wasn't clicking.

“The interface was complicated for them and it wasn't sticky,” he said. Khan's demo inspired them with the desired “wow”, but left to their own devices, teachers would use it once and never again.

“He would tell me, 'I spent so much time trying to do it right away that it didn't save me time for what I wanted to do, it wasted my time.'”

The solution was to come up with more specific customizations.

“Behind the scenes, we were just doing some really sophisticated pointers, and also making sure the results were what an educator would expect,” he said.

Some examples of what teachers are creating with MagicSchool include lesson plans, quizzes and tests, course materials, and content rearrangements designed for less challenging learning levels. MagicSchool continues to tinker with them all. Khan said it works a lot with OpenAI's APIs, but also with Anthropic and others. Behind the scenes, he said, the company conducts AB tests to determine which one works best in which scenario.

Still, convincing teachers (who weren't paying to use the product) and then schools (who did) to sign on to MagicSchool wasn't exactly straightforward.

“When we launched the product, I couldn't meet with any of the schools or districts I worked in. There was a lot of fear about it all,” he said. “A negative headline about the use of AI in schools … about how AI will take over the world and robots” to end any discussion.

This gradually began to change as society and industry adopted AI more widely and more advanced models were introduced. Saving time was the most obvious reason for using it, he said, but he also found it good for brainstorming ideas and even providing an appendix for teaching himself. Is.

“I think educators didn't quite know or anticipate what AI could do for them and the audience,” he said.

Plus, he has another argument for why it makes sense to bring more AI into the classroom: It's going to be part of how everything is done, so it's the school's job to make that happen. Make sure your students are ready for it.

AI is smart but it's not “human smart”.

That said, there are limits to how AI can be used in any scenario, including the classroom.

“AI has a very different kind of intelligence than human intelligence. Humans have developed emergent intelligence that is somehow the result of millions of years of pruning by natural selection. It's very comprehensive. It's very flexible, cognitive. As such,” said Mutlu Kokorwa, professor of education and AI at University College, London, which has a year-long research lab looking at different variations of AI and learning. (A very realistic conclusion from a recent paper: a hybrid approach involving both AI and humans is needed.)

“AI has designed intelligence, not emergent intelligence. That means it's designed for a very specific goal, or set of goals. AIs excel at that specific goal, and intelligence. , but it is a different kind of intelligence.”

This may be particularly relevant to students and how they will learn in an AI world, or to teachers who may not be experienced enough to know that an AI version of learning materials such as quizzes is not good enough.

Automating certain tasks can be a valuable use case, but “where it becomes a problem is when teachers … don't have enough experience before learning how to do these types of tasks themselves,” Kokurova said.

Khan said the Magic School aims to keep this in mind, especially with regard to students. Schools control what facilities are provided to students on the platform, and it is clear when they have used MagicSchool for an assignment, he said.

This all sounds great in theory, but ultimately these cracks may only show up in a stress test.

For example, will a cash-strapped school district look to rely more on input from AI systems during class time with teachers? Or how will schools be able to identify when students are using AI tools outside the classroom in ways not approved by their teachers?

This will take a different kind of AI learning, Kokurova says. “This is an important piece of the puzzle: How do we educate and train AI to be used effectively and ethically?”

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