Dave Touretzky is a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University who is focused on cognitive robotics and computer science education. He’s on a quest to overhaul AI education in schools and spearheaded the “AI for K-12” initiative as well as Calypso, an intelligent robot programming framework. He can be found on Twitter @DaveTouretzky, and on his professional website here.
To this point, AI has remained largely absent from K through 12 education. After developing Calypso, a tool that lets kids as young as eight program AI-powered robots, Dave realized there was nowhere for AI learning to fit into the standard curriculum.
Dave set out to change this with the ““AI for K-12” initiative. He’s working to define a set of national guidelines for what students, starting in kindergarten all the way through 12th grade, should know about AI.
The five big ideas are: 1) Perception, that computers perceive the world using sensors; 2) Representation and reasoning, that agents maintain representations of the world and use them for reasoning; 3)Learning, the idea that computers can learn from data; 4) Natural interaction, that intelligent agents require lots of data to interact naturally with humans; and 5) Societal impact, that AI can impact society in both positive and negative ways.
In younger grades where there isn’t room for an AI elective, like K through 6, educators can introduce these concepts in other classes—like science, math, social studies and language.
To educate students on AI, teachers must first be well versed in the technology themselves. But there’s a long way to go before every teacher is equipped to educate their students on AI. The very first questions Dave and his team face from K-12 teachers are: “What is AI? How do you define it?”
Dave isn’t focused on building resources for teachers, but frequently points educators in the direction of helpful tools. For example, educational platforms like Google’s Teachable Machine or TensorFlow Playground are emerging to help both teachers and students understand how AI functions from their own homes. Familiarity with these platforms will help teachers gain confidence in AI concepts and applications.
As AI becomes integrated into grade school curriculum, it’s important to incorporate discussions around the social impact and value of AI. When teachers introduce a topic like self-driving cars, for instance, they should discuss how different groups will be impacted by the innovation. People who can’t currently drive may benefit, while those who make a living off of driving may be harmed.
Blakeley Payne, a research assistant at MIT’s Personal Robot Lab, has already created a curriculum centered around AI and ethics education for middle schoolers. The goal of her course is to provide students with the framework they need to be conscientious developers and users of AI.
Right now, there’s tremendous interest in AI education across the globe. In fact, Dave’s five big ideas have been widely adopted by curriculum developers and his posters have been translated into multiple languages, including Chinese, Korean, Turkish, and Hebrew. Further, in China, there’s a mandate that all K-12 students receive instruction in AI, and educators are actively developing curriculum and guidelines.
Dave emphasized that he doesn’t believe people are questioning the need to educate our younger generation about AI. The question is what’s the best way to do it.