CMU’s PLUS: Personalized math tutoring at scale

This summer, Maerah Mahmood, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University and a tutor with PLUS, was working – virtually – 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 individually. Mahmood immediately noticed that her designated student was struggling, after sharing screens and asking about her progress with the assignment.

“I was dealing with a student who was having trouble conceptualizing what surface area meant,” said Mahmood, who’s 19 and from West Virginia. “I broke down the process. She was taking notes, asking follow-up questions,” she said, explaining 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.”

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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 individually based on their academic and personal concerns. Using its own PLUS toolkit software, the PLUS dashboard collects student data from real-time responses or lag time, past assessments, and tutor feedback. The dashboard can then offer suggestions tailored to each student specifically.
Beyond connecting with students on their academic concerns, PLUS tutors are also encouraged to connect with their 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 Mamhood. “When we were there in person, we talked about what they want to do when they grow up.”
Beyond connecting
Seeing that teachers are struggling, especially in underserved communities, PLUS facilitates personalized learning in communities that need a boost the most. So far, the tool has been used by more than 150 tutors to reach more than 700 students with over 10,000 hours of tutoring, predominantly at Life Male Steam Academy, an all male Black charter school in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Central Unified School District in Fresno, Calif. Ultimately, PLUS aims to “double math learning for 10,000 middle school students by 2026” with a laser focus on equity, and it is steadily moving toward that goal with over 90 percent of its current student network from low-income families.
Testing has shown that tutors using PLUS resulted in significant tutor improvement in approximately 15 minutes of scenario-based interactive learning. CMU has also shown in an early study that students using their platform combining human tutors and AI tutoring exhibit twice the amount of progress than students only receiving AI tutoring.
Testing has
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 students who are hesitant to admit they’re having a hard time.
“We don’t want AI to replace tutors, but supplement tutors to excel,” said Shiv Gupta, head of product at PLUS. “Our primary objective is to scale up our existing program.”
Mahmood said