Explorations of AI and their practical use in schools is an ISTE initiative funded by General Motors. The program provides professional learning opportunities for educators, with the goal of preparing all students for careers in AI.
Recently, we spoke with three other participants of the AI Explorations program to learn more about its continued impact in K-12 classrooms. Here, they share how the program is helping their districts implement the AI curriculum with classroom equity in mind.
Monica Rodriguez is a kindergarten teacher with the Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, Texas. She was a 4 year participant of ISTE-GM AI Explorations and implemented projects and presented to her district.
ISTE: How did you teach AI in class?
Rodríguez: I put AI activities on Seesaw for my kindergartens, for example, the “Senses vs. Sensors” project of the Practical AI Projects for the Classroom: A Guide for Elementary Teachers. One of the learning objectives is to know how humans and animals use their senses to interact with their environment. Another objective is to describe how the sensors of AI robots mimic these.
There was an activity where my students watched a video clip of an animal and a video clip of a robot. Then my students recorded themselves discussing how these two were similar and how they were different. And I asked, “If you were an AI robot, what functions and senses would you use to imitate animals or humans?” One of them decided to make an insect robot, explaining how the spider’s legs can climb walls. I led an inventive discussion asking, “What if technology moves in this direction, where the robot could scale the walls?”
Then I found a robot that you could build with the climbing feature, using suction cups. I gave one to my CM2 students. One of them built it, then he brought it to me. He then came over and talked to my kindergartners about how he built it and why he built it that way. My youngest children were so excited. The robot blew them away! And they thought my fifth grade student was a wizard.
What motivates you to teach AI?
We all know that technology is driving our future. Will I be here in the next 20 to 30 years? Who knows? But my babies will be there, and they need to have technical knowledge and also an understanding of what it’s capable of and how effective it can be.
They need a good base. AI is not just a technology for TikTok or for taking selfies. It can be used for so much more. It can be a learning tool.
For example, I had a Chinese student with very limited knowledge of the English language. Since I was ESL certified, she joined my class. I wanted to help him communicate with others, so I put a translator on all of my students’ iPads. Whenever we noticed a gap in communication, we could turn to the translator. So not only were we able to express ourselves to her, but she was able to express herself to us in this way. We have bridged this communication and learning gap with AI.
Many of my students started remembering certain words she said. So she didn’t feel like it was just her tongue; it is our language. There was a cross-cultural connection. It was amazing! I built a conversation about it, explaining that with AI we can communicate properly with our friends. We have learned to accept who we are and how we can share ourselves with AI. It is so beautiful.
What are the benefits for parents, colleagues, and districts when implementing AI lessons and projects?
Our district organized a technology evening. I spent time helping some of my fifth graders with coding activities. Many parents were present, not only face to face, but also virtually. We have had great feedback from parents. They loved it and wanted to see more.
With our community incorporating these tech nights and parents seeing what students are exposed to and what new technologies are available, it has given them a better understanding of what our students are facing now. I hope that we as a district will adopt these ISTE standards and set aside time to focus on what these standards mean and how they impact students. Their future is technology driven.
Renee Sanchez is an instructional leadership support specialist with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Education Technology Initiative. She was a 4 year ISTE-GM AI Explorations participant, implemented projects and presented to her district and built capacity by inviting and mentoring other LAUSD educators in the AI Explorations program.
ISTE: Why did you join the ISTE-GM AI Explorations professional development (PD) program?
Sanchez: I wanted to learn more about IT when I started as an instructional technology coach. Then I became even more interested because AI is part of our daily lives. I wanted to understand the concept of AI and how algorithms work.
The AI Explorations PD program is self-paced. And it teaches how AI relates to classrooms, not just in high school, but also in elementary school. So I signed up for the program.
How have you applied what you learned about AI in your district?
There are many good shared resources in the ISTE-GM AI Explorations program, such as the practical guides. We use the project called “Laws for AI” from the Practical AI Projects for the Classroom: A Guide for High School Teachers. The guides were very beneficial in my learning and helped me see what teaching AI in the classroom looks like. Our team used this resource when we created our AI Professional Development for audiences across the district.
LA Unified is committed to providing computer science (CS) education to all students by 2025, ensuring that all:
- students in grades 9 to 12 have access to a CS pathway.
- students in grades 6-8 take at least one rigorous and relevant computer science course.
- PK-5 students receive 20 hours of computer instruction each year.
To help our district accomplish this mission, we have created the AI PD series for our educators. This year we are going to expand it. Previously, there were three professional learning modules. Now we add a fourth. At first, we focused on understanding artificial intelligence and how it could be implemented in the classroom. This fourth session focuses on the implications of emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things, virtual reality and NFTs.
There are many educators who want to take these professional learning courses. We have 80 registered educators. Last time I checked the list, 127 educators were waiting to be accepted.
Tasha Burke-Peart is a Technology Curriculum Specialist with the Palm Beach County School District in West Palm Beach, Florida. She was a 5 year participant of ISTE-GM AI Explorations and plans to lead an AI PD for teachers and staff.
ISTE: How will you share what you have learned during the AI Explorations PD program with educators in your district?
Burke Peart: We just held our 23rd annual technology conference. It’s like a mini ISTE Conference with instructional best practices and strategies that teachers can use immediately to integrate technology into their instructional practice. One of the questions we always ask attendees is, “What kind of PD, technology, or tools would you like to learn more about?” »
This year, several teachers asked questions about AI. They’ve heard of the term, but they don’t quite understand how it fits into what they teach every day. This is a great opportunity for us as we plan for next year’s technology conference. We will include sessions on AI for teachers and share resources for them to use in the classroom.
What is your district’s plan for ensuring equity and diversity in AI education?
We have a very diverse population of students in our district. We serve over 189,000 students who speak 150 languages and dialects. Our goal is to support and encourage all students equally. For us, fairness means that every student – regardless of race, ethnicity, poverty, disability, language status, undocumented status, religious affiliation, gender identity or sexual orientation – will have access to the opportunities, resources and support they need to imagine, nurture and succeed.
That being said, all of our students need to understand how the principles of AI and computational thinking relate to their lives. The future PD in AI will be designed to show teachers how to incorporate these principles into lessons for all students.
How does your district “put students in the driver’s seat” when learning about AI?
As an educator, I don’t need to know everything about AI before bringing it to teachers and students. Students have an enormous ability to troubleshoot and solve problems, as long as we affirm that ability in them. Students should accept troubleshooting in learning AI, think about why something failed and what changes they can make before trying again.
The more we put students in the driver’s seat, the more we can empower them to create in the future. Here are some great tools I discovered in the ISTE-GM course that can empower both teachers and students: