Recently, we spoke with three participants of the A-Exploration Program to learn its impact in K-12 classrooms. These innovative teachers discussed the challenges of completing the program and their experiences with planning and implementing an AI curriculum in their classroom.
Coral Jays is a new primary instruction support expert for science in the iNetwork of Crowley ISD schools. She participated in the ISTE-GM AI Exploration Program Year 2 and has since run projects from hands-on AI projects to class guides in her bilingual classes in Leander, Texas.
ISTE: What inspired you to join the AI Exploration PD program?
Zeus: I knew this was a great opportunity to learn from other teachers and experts in the field. All ISTE groups have unprecedented teachers. So, I was motivated to take industry and peer knowledge and then bring it to my class.
Our trend is towards K-12 or higher version AI emerging technology. But I know that this technology has existed for a long time outside the field of education. And I bring my industry information to that industry and help them connect with that real world.
That’s why we did the AI unit last year – to show students this new and explosive area of technology and computer science in the classroom and help them see that connection. In an emerging field like artificial intelligence, the younger I can bring them, the more they can interact with them. Then, they can build their interest in taking other STEM courses as they continue in high school and high school. I think it makes sense to bring to the class what we see outside of education.
When did you start implementing your own AI projects based on what you learned in the AI Exploration Program?
I got to teach a new course in our district last school year. We were running and looking for STEM courses for sixth graders. We had a computer science unit that was built into the course. So, I told my sixth graders about my interest in artificial intelligence and asked, “Do you mind if I add a mini-unit that can be added to a computer science course that focuses on artificial intelligence?” He was so excited about it, and he said, “Yeah! Let’s try!”
Using a variety of resources, I created about four weeks of AI lessons with a variety of activities. There was an interesting discussion based on my class. “How am I fighting bias in algorithms. The ISTE-GM AI Exploration Network helped me connect with other resources outside the course. One of the things shared by the Facebook group MIT’s new AI and CS community for teachers. I was able to access many of the artificial intelligence lessons and implement those lessons in mini-units. I used some resources like MIT Dance with AI And Zuori, As well as ISTE resources.
Amanda Bailey is the African-American team leader for the ISTE-GM AI Exploration Program and is the District Technology Coordinator for Crescent Academy in Southfield, MI. Crescent Academy is a Title 1 school that serves 90-99 percent of African-American students. Amanda’s team developed the Capstone project for elementary students: AI and machine learning for 5th grade.
ISTE: You started the AI Exploration Program during the Cold War. Can you discuss some of the challenges you have experienced? How did you get through them?
Bailey: At first, seeing what was expected of us, I thought, “I can’t do this.” And then I said, “No, you won’t give up, you can do it, you’re working from home …” So, I just took my time, even if it’s 30 minutes here and there.
I set up a virtual meeting schedule with my teammates, Matthew Blacker and Russhan McCombs. And we all collaborated before and during the meeting via Google Docs or Slides. After that, we came back together and met before the scheduled dates. Once we did it the first week and everything hung up, it was pretty good.
My team was very supportive. Having that whole group support on the ISTE platform, connecting with other groups and team leaders and especially Steven Jones as our coach helped me a lot. Steven was really reassuring and made himself available when we had questions.
Now that you have completed the AI Exploration PD program, are you going to run an AI learning project?
I have plans for Maker Space which will launch in January. I want to add tools and resources from Google Earth, Tinkercad, Code.org, ScratchJr and others for use with Chromebooks and iPads. This space will be up to first class level for pre-K.
I am sorting through the tools I have learned from the ISTE-GM AI Exploration Program and trying to teach teachers how to use them with their students. I want this as a query-based design and challenge-based instructional guide मला I match the guidelines using the tools and resources found in that AI Exploration Course module.
Would you please share your experience supporting a district with a large number of students of color?
In the past materials were limited and supply was limited. The teachers did not have enough knowledge. And, just as I was getting ready to train my teachers, the epidemic happened. So now, I hope teachers in my district will use what we have available to support our students.
When I was taking my degree in educational technology, I learned that you always think about what you already have and what you can do to improve it. Not every school has a Mac or iPad for every student. It’s important to use what you want to do. I am able to do that with the content of the AI Exploration course. I am excited to help teachers teach coding while telling stories, thinking about how I can thrive in literacy and STEM. For example ScratchJenner I want to do one thing in the maker space. We don’t have to build robots. Let’s use what we have available only to test students’ thoughts, ideas, games and their ideas. Sports is the highest form of research. I want to take pieces of experience from the curriculum and apply those STEM concepts.
Eamonn Merchant is a forward-thinking high school teacher, trainer, site tech coordinator, and president of the science department at Gretchen Whitney High School in California. He participated in the ISTE-GM AI Exploration Program Year 2 and has been teaching AI subjects in his AP CSP class ever since. Its site also offers an advanced high school course focused on developing AI applications and programming.
ISTE: What kind of challenges have you faced while conducting AI lessons and projects with your students?
Merchant: There are some difficult little things. One of them is that there are many AI lessons available, but they are far from actual code – far from the actual work required to create something. The kids pick up on it. When I show kids something simple – for example, Machine learning for children Sites and Google tools like Learning machineThey understand it and they like the idea behind it. But, when they can’t create something on their own, there is a lack of satisfaction.
To find a way to get students to think, “Can I use this tool?” But “I can build the tools myself,” there is still a lack of resources. And it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just a challenging jump with all the math and code behind it. And I’m still trying to find a way to bridge that gap.
How do you help students cope with those challenges?
Our strategy is a dual approach. We use machine learning for kids so that they can relax with the concepts first. Then, when it comes to our AI-focused class, they start with the whole basics of programming. So, they start by organizing lists and learning Python syntax. From there, they can work their way up the nerve net writing.
We want to see if they can add dots at the end of the course. Hopefully, I can say that they put together everything they learned and understood this year, but it’s ideological.
Where do you see the struggle of students while learning AI?
I think the biggest hurdle for many students is that, when they first use AI as a tool, especially from a code point of view, many of them are not doing what the computer wants them to. Most of the computer programs they use are either very intuitive or very forgiving. But code writing is not like that. So, when they have an idea written, but it doesn’t work, it’s a new kind of frustration for many of them.
This is something new that they have to deal with. If it was a math class and they got it wrong, that’s fine. They can still resume their homework the next day with that wrong solution. They may not even know it is wrong. However, this is a different matter. If the program does not run, it does not run. Too often, students feel like they can’t turn into something that doesn’t work. I have to convince them that they can, knowing that I will at least give them credit for their efforts.
Any AI learning resources you would like to recommend to teachers?