AI in the Classroom – Educators Share Personal Challenges and Successes
AI Explorations and Their Practical Use in School Environments is an ISTE initiative funded by General Motors. Through professional learning opportunities for educators, the program is designed to prepare today’s students for the careers of tomorrow in AI.
Recently, we spoke with three participants of the AI Explorations program to learn more about its impact in K-12 classrooms. These innovative educators discussed the challenges of program completion and their experiences in planning and implementing the AI learning program in their classrooms.
Coral Zayas is the new Primary Science Education Support Specialist in Crowley ISD’s iNetwork of Schools. She participated in the ISTE-GM AI Explorations program in second year and has since implemented Hands-On AI Projects for the Classroom guides in her bilingual classes in Leander, Texas.
ISTE: What motivated you to join AI Explorations’ continuing education program?
Zayas: I knew this was a perfect opportunity to learn from other educators and experts in the field. All ISTE groups have phenomenal educators. So I was motivated to use industry and peer knowledge and then bring it to my classroom.
We tend to call emerging AI technology K-12 or higher education. But I know these technologies have been around for much longer outside of the educational space. And I can bring this industry information to my students and help them make those connections in the real world.
That’s why we created an AI unit last year, to show students this new and exploding field of technology and computing in the classroom and help them see those connections. The more I can get them interested in emerging areas like artificial intelligence, the more exposure they can get. Then, they can develop their interest in taking other STEM courses while continuing their college and high school education. I think it’s important to bring what we see outside of education into the classroom.
When did you start implementing your own AI projects based on what you learned in the AI Explorations program?
I taught a brand new course in our district last year. We were piloting and exploring a STEM course for sixth graders. We had an IT unit integrated into the course. So, I told my sixth grade teammates about my interest in artificial intelligence and asked them, “Do you mind if I add a mini-unit that we can tie into the computer class, which focuses on on artificial intelligence? They were very excited about it and they said, “Yes! Let’s try! “
Using a variety of resources, I created about four weeks of AI class with different activities. My class had an interesting discussion based on “How I combat bias in algorithms”. The ISTE-GM AI Explorations network also allowed me to connect to other resources outside of the course. One of the things the Facebook group shared was MIT’s new AI and CS community for educators. I was able to access many lessons on artificial intelligence and implement those lessons in the mini-unit as well. I used quite a bit of MIT resources like Dancing with AI and Zhuori, as well as ISTE resources.
What were the ISTE resources that you included?
We used some of the lessons from the Free Elective Teachers Guide and the Guide for High School Teachers. I also combined some resources to match what we were working on in school, for example, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which we have worked on in other projects of the STEM course. We have combined these lessons to reiterate other learning experiences, linking them to artificial intelligence.
Amanda Bailey is an African American Team Leader for the ISTE-GM AI Explorations program and the District Technology Coordinator for Crescent Academy in Southfield, MI. Crescent Academy is a Title 1 school that welcomes 90-99% African American students. Amanda’s team has developed a synthesis project for elementary school students: AI and machine learning for fifth graders.
ISTE: You started the AI Explorations program during the pandemic. Can you discuss some of the challenges you encountered? How did you overcome them?
Bailey: At first, looking at what was expected of us, I thought to myself, “I can’t finish this. And then I said, “No, you’re not going to give up, you can do it, you work from home…” So, I just took the time, even though it was 30 minutes here and there.
I have established a schedule of virtual meetings with my teammates, Matthew Blacker and Rasahn McCombs. And we all collaborated through Google Docs or Slides before and during meetings. Then we got together and met before the due dates. Once we did it the first week and got it all figured out, it was much better.
My team supported me a lot. Having this support from the whole group on the ISTE platform, connecting with other groups and team leaders, and especially having Steven Jones as a coach has helped me a lot. Steven was very supportive and made himself available whenever we had questions.
Now that you have completed the AI Explorations continuing education program, are you going to implement an AI learning project?
I have plans for a maker space that will be launched in January. I want to integrate tools and resources from Google Earth, Tinkercad, Code.org, ScratchJr and others for use with Chromebooks and iPads. This space will be for pre-K levels until the first year.
I’m sorting through the tools I learned from the ISTE-GM AI Explorations program and trying to figure out how to help teachers use them with their students. I would like this to be an inquiry-based, challenge-based design as an instructional guideline – using tools and resources that I find in these AI Explorations course modules that fit the line director.
Would you like to share your experience supporting a district with a high proportion of students of color?
In the past, materials were limited and supplies were limited. The teachers did not have enough knowledge. And, just as I was about to train my teachers, the pandemic happened. So now I hope to use what we have to help teachers in my district support our students.
When I graduated in Educational Technology, I learned to always consider what you have first and what can be done to change it. Not all schools have a Mac or iPad for every student. It is important to use what you have to make it work. I am able to do this with the content of the AI Explorations course. I’m excited to help teachers teach coding while telling a story, thinking about how we can combine literacy and STEM. For example, ScratchJr is something I want to do in the maker space. We don’t need to build a robot. Let’s just use what we have to get the students to think, craft, play, and test their ideas. Gambling is the highest form of research. I want to take practical experience from the course and apply these STEM concepts.
Eamon Marchant is a forward-thinking high school teacher, trainer, site technical coordinator, and chair of the science department at Gretchen Whitney High School in California. He participated in the second year of the ISTE-GM AI Explorations program and has since been teaching AI topics in his AP CSP class. Their site also offers an advanced high school course focused on developing and programming AI applications.
ISTE: What kinds of challenges have you encountered when implementing AI courses and projects with your students?
Trader : There are a few difficult things. One of them is that a lot of AI lessons are accessible, but they are a long way from the code itself, far from the actual work it would take to create something. The children notice it. When I show kids something simple like the Machine Learning for Kids site and Google tools like Teachable Machine, they understand it and they like the ideas behind it. But, there is a lack of satisfaction when they cannot build something on their own.
To find ways to get students thinking, not just “Can I use this tool?” “But” I can build tools myself “, there is always a shortage of resources. And it is no one’s fault. It’s just a tough leap with all the math and code lurking behind it. And I’m still trying to find ways to bridge that gap.
How do you help students meet these challenges?
Our strategy is a two-pronged approach. We use Machine Learning for Kids to get them familiar with the concepts first. Then when they move on to our AI focused course, they start from the absolute fundamentals of programming. So, they start by organizing lists and learning Python syntax. From there, they can work their way up to writing a neural network.
We want to see if they can connect the dots at the end of the course. I hope I can say that they have put together all the things they have learned and understood this year, but it is conceptual.
Where do you most often see students having difficulty learning AI?
I think the biggest hurdle for many students is that when they first start using AI as a tool, especially from the code approach, a lot of ‘between them are not used to a computer not doing what they want. Most of the computer programs they use are either super intuitive or super forgiving. But writing code is not like that. So when they have an idea written down but it doesn’t work, it’s a whole new kind of frustration for a lot of them.
It is something new that they have to face. If it was a math class and they have the wrong problem, that’s okay. They can always hand in their homework the next day with this bad solution. They might not even know it’s wrong. However, this is a different case. If the program doesn’t run, it just doesn’t run. Often times, students feel like they can’t do something that doesn’t work. I have to convince them that they can, knowing that I will at least give them some credit for their efforts.
Any AI learning resources you would like to recommend to teachers?
Some of my personal favorites are Experiments with Google, Blob Opera, and Magenta.