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Reasoning Mind Math

The non-profit Reasoning Mind offers “personalized” on-line math curriculum and a computer based “Genie” who is virtually a child’s best friend, and knows personal things about them, even confessions. As first noted in this RM document posted by a blogger known as Educray, Reasoning Mind math curriculum  places a large emphasis on teaching Soviet-style morals, collectivism, and the importance of labor (Tudge, 1991). [Updated post 10/21/2016: Per Reasoning Mind, see comment section: “This is a misquote of a 2012 Harvey Mudd dissertation by Maia Valcarce which makes that claim about “Soviet education,” not Reasoning Mind. Reasoning Mind’s mathematical content and curriculum bears similarities to the Russian mathematical curriculum, but that content is mathematical in nature. Reasoning Mind does not teach “Soviet-style” or any other kind of morals; we teach mathematics.”–RM]

Reasoning Mind has given some parents reason to worry.   So, let’s take a look at Reasoning Mind and see what could possibly cause concern.

“The Genie”, according to this Reasoning Mind report:

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that students are quite “attached” to Genie, who regularly receives (and answers) email on topics beyond the scope of the learning software, including jokes, requests for friendship, and  confessions about students’ home life.”

“Every day, Reasoning Mind elementary students send hundreds of messages to the Genie, a “friend and mentor” who guides students through their studies. Here’s our favorite student message from this week. And yes, the Genie does respond!”




Since Reasoning Mind offers “personalized” curriculum that knows and also remembers the student, a child can log into RM from home or school. And since it’s adaptive and personalized, RM and Genie will keep track of the child, will remember their profile. If RM and Genie can track a child into consecutive grades,  like an old friend,  Genie will be able to pick up the profile where the child left off last year.  While proponents would say keeping track of learners’ profiles is beneficial, this massive accumulation of student information also begs the question of data privacy, risk, and security.

With all that PERSONAL communication being directly and indirectly (ie: analyzing emotions) shared with RM’s Genie, we wondered what their data sharing agreements and Privacy Policy  look like. If a parent were curious what data was collected and shared on their child, this is what they would find if they went to Reasoning Mind’s website.  There is nothing posted about how RM uses and analyzes and shares the noncognitive and personal information that children are providing to RM and to Genie while logged onto their curriculum.  There is no mention of how RM complies with COPPA law.




Given the many Supporters  and In-Kind Contributors of Reasoning Mind, spanning the globe, parents wonder if organizations like Salesforce, Microsoft, Russian Petroleum, Google, Swagger Films, etc. are allowed access to their child’s profile or personal information.  We know that data is money.

Money and Moscow Connections

Non-profits must make public their tax returns (form 990).  Here are 990 returns available for Reasoning Mind. Looking at the 2014 return tells us a lot; for starters, Reasoning Mind is connected.


Connected to Russia:
pages 7 and 8 of 2014 form 990 tax return,  note the Russia Connections
Page 22 of RM 2014 return shows Moscow did the computer Programming and Testing of end product.  (remember GEF MAP)

Reasoning Mind is Connected to Bill Gates, with this $300k grant for a math pilot  as seen in Gates Foundation 2011 990 form (hint: take a look for other interesting awardees)

Reasoning Mind is AGAIN connected to Bill Gates with this $700+ grant awarded in 2011  for alternative human capital models and Common Core aligned math pilot targeting minority children.
Reasoning Mind is featured in this 2013 US Department of Education publication that focuses on “New technologies using educational data mining and “affective computing” 
Promoting Grit’s Executive Summary reads, “There is a growing movement to explore the potential of the “noncognitive” factors—attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, and intrapersonal resources, independent of intellectual ability—that high-achieving individuals draw upon to accomplish success… —it is the responsibility of the educational community to design learning environments that promote these factors so that students are prepared to meet 21st-century challenges.
Several private foundations have recently initiated programs to push the frontiers of theory, measurement, and practice around these and related factors, particularly for at-risk and vulnerable students. In national policy, there is increasing attention on 21st-century competencies (which encompass a range of noncognitive factors, including grit), and persistence is now part of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics….

Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance mentions Reasoning Mind as an example of  a system that customizes to a student’s cognitive profile and emotional state (e.g., frustration or boredom) using inputs from physiological indicators and facial expressions” and  they also mention experimenting with “animated, affective [digital] agents perceived as caring can increase the likelihood that students will persist through frustrating portions of instruction”

Reasoning Mind is connected to Rice University, an advisor to Reasoning Minds, Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian is also the Director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Additionally, Dr. Neal Lane, Professor Emeritus, Rice University; Former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Former Assistant to the President for Science and Technology; Former Director of the National Science Foundation–sits on the board of RM.
Reasoning Mind is connected to Columbia University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute who did a study on the “affect and behavior among students at three schools using Reasoning Mind, a game-based software system”.   This study was  paid for by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.   The researchers reporthigh student engagement with this learning system“.  The researchers attribute student engagement to the game-based nature and also because children were embracing the genie as a friend and confidant:
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that students are quite attached to Genie, who regularly receives (and answers) email on topics beyond the scope of the learning software, including jokes, requests for friendship, and confessions about students’ home life.  On the basis of these reports, it seems that the effect of Genie deserves more careful consideration, as the success of her design may contribute significantly to the high levels of engagement observed.  Finally, we should consider the many game-like elements in its design, including a point system that rewards students for speed drills and puzzles. Once sufficient points have been accumulated, students may furnish their own virtual space within RM City or buy virtual books. Particularly at a young age, this kind of autonomy is likely very appealing.”
Some have questioned whether RM’s Genie is gaining children’s trust and using a reward system to train children to  respond in much the same way that  the Russian researcher, Pavlov,  conditioned his dogs.  Speaking of experiments and research…

Is it any wonder that students are engaged in this video-gaming atmosphere?  They are in engaged because many like Dr. Kardaras, author of Glow Kids,  know: online games are addictive.


 Online Curriculum– or Spying on Children?

This 1984 quote by Dustin Heuston (Geuston), Utah’s World Institute for Computer-Assisted Teaching, seems  remarkably fitting if not foreboding:
We’ve been absolutely staggered by realizing that the computer has the capability to act as if it were 10 of the top psychologists working with one student … you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg. Won’t it be wonderful when the child in the smallest county in the most distant area or in the most confused urban setting can have the equivalent of the finest school in the world on that terminal and no one can get between that child and that curriculum?” -Dustin H. Heuston, “Discussion–Developing the Potential of an Amazing Tool,” Schooling and Technology, Vol.3, Planning for the Future: A Collaborative Model, published by Southeastern Regional Council for Educational Improvement, P.O. Box 12746, 200 Park, Suite 111, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709/ Grant from National Institute of Education, p. 8.
Even more fascinating and startling is this 2010 research on monitoring engagement [curriculum-usage compliance and Academic learning time (ALT)] of preschoolers while interacting with online curriculum, done by Edward B Heuston of Brigham Young UniversityHis conclusion:
“The ability to remotely and accurately quantify interaction with a computer-based curriculum and assessment in the home defines a new vista in ALT research.”
Should parents and teachers (and friends) and human social interactions be replaced by an online “affective” avatar agents, who profile childhood secrets, moods, emotions, failures, and flaws? Will artificial, virtual “friends” like Genie become the Oracle that children consult, confide in? … and take direction from? Will this feed into the National Commission that is currently looking at how to collect, rank, standardize student emotions?
Perhaps, parents are wise to question who the Great Oz is behind the curtain, who is receiving and profiling the hearts and minds of their connected children both at home and in classrooms. Perhaps parents and teachers and elected officials need to be asking questions.

Cheri Kiesecker