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Part Two of my posts on AI, recently published in Getting Smart.  (image from CC)

Teaching Students About AI

One of my professional goals this year was to learn more about artificial intelligence (AI). Over the course of the past year, there have been a lot of stories coming out about how schools are adding the concept of artificial intelligence into their curriculum or trying to weave it into different courses offered. The purpose is to help students better understand its capabilities and how it might impact the future of learning and the future of work. When I did some research earlier this year, I was amazed at some of the different uses of artificial intelligence that we interact with each day, and may not realize.

A quick Google search of the term “artificial intelligence” turns up 518 million results in .17 seconds. Compare this with the methods for conducting research years ago, where we had to brainstorm topics as we searched the card catalog, and then had to understand the Dewey Decimal system, in order to find the books on the shelf.  Advancements in technology led to the creation of online databases which made it easier to find articles and journals electronically, however it still required us to think of what terms to use in the search and may still have required you to locate the resource from a shelf or borrow it from another library. Today, the capability of technology for finding answers to the questions we have is tremendous. Now through tools like artificial intelligence and virtual assistants we have access to millions of resources in our hands instantly.

What are some everyday uses of AI?

Some common uses of artificial intelligence that many people likely use every day and may not know it are:

  • Smartphones:  The use of artificial intelligence is used with the photo editor on smartphones. When you want to take a picture, artificial intelligence helps by selecting the appropriate settings and suggesting different modes to you.
  • Music and Media: Whether you use something like Spotify or enjoy watching Netflix or even YouTube, artificial intelligence is helping you find the music and media that you want. Over time, it learns based on your selections and then provides recommendations for you to add to your playlist.
  • Smart Home Devices: Artificial intelligence is used in smart home devices to adjust the temperature and even lighting based on our preferences.
  • Online services: From travel to banking, shopping, and entertainment, these industries rely heavily on artificial intelligence for using chatbots or through algorithms that enable it to track spending, suggest purchases, prevent fraud and complete other transactions much faster.

Because artificial intelligence is used so much in our everyday lives, we need to make sure that our students understand its impact and potential for the future of work and learning.

How can we teach students about artificial intelligence?

One of the best ways we could teach our students is by making sure we keep challenging ourselves. I recently enrolled in the course offered by ISTE U, Artificial Intelligence Explorations and Their Practical Use in the School Environment.  The course was made available through a collaboration with ISTE and General Motors Corporate Giving and focused on K-12 STEM education. My interest in the course is to learn more so I am able to share with my 8th grade STEAM course and in my foreign language classes. Having taught about artificial intelligence last year, it is a high area of interest that I want to grow in professionally.

Throughout the course, participants work through ten different modules focused on topics related to artificial intelligence and machine learning. Each module contains activities that enable you to interact with different forms of artificial intelligence, engage in discussions, view videos and to even create things such as chatbots and virtual facilitators. Part of the course includes an IBM Developer course on “Chatbots for Good,” in which you work through activities and learn about design thinking and empathy, and other activities related to the IBM Watson program. The culmination of the course has participants design a Capstone project, which will ideally be used with students through PBL or as a student-directed exploration of AI.

There are many uses of AI for education and one school in Pittsburgh is offering the nation’s first AI course to prepare students. Pittsburgh is where AI began and developed starting back in the 1950s which makes this an exciting event. Students enrolled in the Montour School District, a district known for its innovation and “student-centered, future-focused” mission, are learning about AI through a program that launched this fall. Students will have access to resources from Carnegie Mellon University, which became the first university to offer an undergraduate degree in AI. The goal of the program is to help students learn about AI by exploring the uses of virtual assistants, engage in inquiry-based learning and build their skills in STEM-related fields.

How can we provide the opportunity for all students to learn more about AI?

Simply explaining the concept of artificial intelligence and identifying some examples of what it might look like, does not really enable you to understand it at a deeper level. The best way that I have found to understand it better myself has been by first learning how it functions by trying some of the different tools and interacting with the AI. By trying some the AI experiments and creating chatbots, you and your students can think about how the tasks are being completed, which leads to a better understanding of artificial intelligence.

While schools may not be able to offer a full course to students, there are enough resources available online that teachers can implement in the classroom.

To learn more about AI and Virtual Assistants, have students explore these:

  1. Google AI Experiments: Through Google experiments, there are hundreds of different experiments available to explore based on AI, Augmented and Virtual Reality. Students can select experiments to try and decide what makes it “artificial intelligence.”  The favorites are Quick Draw and Semantris.
  2. Botsify: Teachers can teach students online by using artificial intelligence through Botsify. By creating chatbots, teachers provide an innovative learning experience for students, where they can interact with the chatbot, ask and answer questions and even submit quizzes through the chatbot.
  3. Avatars: It can be fun to have students create their own talking avatars, and use them even as evidence of learning or to create a lesson or instruct on a topic to share with peers or even younger students. Some tools to check out are VokiTellagami and My talking avatar.
  4. Akinator: A “web genius” that tries to guess the famous real or fictional character you are thinking about. It is fun to see the questions that it asks based on your responses and see how many tries it takes for it to guess.  It is also available on Google Play and iOS
  5. Learning tools: There are different apps available that through artificial intelligence, provide students with opportunities to have additional practice and amplify their learning potential. Elementary students can learn about geography through Oddizzi, or math through Splashmath. All students can practice vocabulary by trying Knowji, which uses characters to “bring vocabulary to life” in flashcards. If students have questions, they can try Brainly, which is a tool for students to ask and answer homework questions in a collaborative, community type platform.

Looking to the future with AI

The use of artificial intelligence in the world and specifically in education will continue to grow as more people explore the topic and develop new ways to incorporate it into daily life. The potential for learning through artificial intelligence means that students have access to virtual tutors, can enroll in an online course taught by AI, and have access to the resources they need at the exact moment they need them.

8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

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8 Things I Learned My First Year Of Teaching With Project-Based Learning

by Rachelle Dene Poth

My first year of teaching with project-based learning provided as much learning for me as it did my students.

Each year when I head back to my classroom in the fall, I have many ideas of new methods, new tools, and some changes that I want to make in my classes. These changes and ideas are the result of attending summer conferences, reading new books, and maybe the most helpful, student feedback that I review over the summer.

The biggest change I wanted to make this year was to have my students really engage in Project-Based Learning.

Interested in PBL support? Contact TeachThought Professional Development today! 

1. It’s not ‘doing projects.”

My students have completed many projects over the years, and I honestly thought they were doing “PBL”, but after the summer I finally realized that it was not authentic PBL. I was simply having students learn by completing projects. Coming to this realization allowed me to find resources to learn how to implement authentic PBL into my classroom.

If you are feeling the same as I did, don’t worry. There are the resources, tools, and shifts in thinking that can help you on your way.

See also: The Difference Between Projects And Project-Based Learning

2. Students–and parents–need to understand the process.

To get started, I sought out resources that I had learned about over the summer.

I learned that there are several different methods of doing PBL. The theme can be something created by the teacher, independently chosen by the students, or a combination of something in between. Because I had decided to implement PBL with my Spanish 3 and 4, I decided to follow an independent method, enabling students to pursue something of personal interest. The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience, a few of the great benefits of PBL.

The opportunity for students to have choices through more independent learning, leads to a more meaningful experience,  a few of the great benefits of PBL. This is difficult without students–and parents!–understanding how PBL works so they can buy-in, support, and believe in this ‘long-tail’ approach to learning.

3. The right technology can make all the difference.

I started by explaining the purpose of doing PBL, what I hoped would be the benefits of doing this in Spanish 3 and 4, and using the resources I found, shared the PBL elements with the students. I wanted to make sure they understood the process, as much as possible, from the start. I knew it would be a learning experience for all of us, requiring ongoing reflection and feedback.

In our classes, we use a few digital tools which help open up opportunities for communication and collaboration. We use Edmodo for our classroom website, messaging apps (Celly and Voxer), and have also used tools such as Kidblog for blogging and writing reflections, and Recap and Flipgrid for video responses.

4. Developing quality Essential Questions takes practice.

I did my best to explain how to create an Essential Question (what TeachThought Professional Development calls ‘Driving Questions’), referring to resources I had found, as well as some books and educators for advice. I had struggled with crafting my own “Essential questions” in the past during curriculum writing and I knew this was an area that I also needed to work on.

What I learned is that Essential Questions are not answered with a yes or no, and answers are not easily found through a Google search. Essential questions will help students to become more curious, to seek more information, and in the process, develop their skills for problem-solving and critical thinking.

Essential questions drive the learning.

Last summer, I had read the book Pure Genius, by Don Wettrick, and had the opportunity to meet him during the Summer Spark Conference in Milwaukee. I also read a few other PBL books including  Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide, by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss, and Dive Into Inquiry by Trevor MacKenzie.

Once we started, the students had many questions, and I answered as best as I could. However, because this was a new experience for me as well, I sought additional help.  Don Wettrick spoke to my students through a Skype call and later in the fall, Ross Cooper spoke with my students about crafting their Essential questions. Another great resource I consulted over was  Hacking Project-Based Learning book by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy.

See also: Using The QFT To Drive Inquiry In Project-Based Learning

5. Project-based learning is a team-effort.

We have gone through this twice so far this year, and are now focused on one final PBL theme. It has been a tremendous learning experience for my students and I have learned so much from them. We have covered many new topics related to culture, language, sports, family and traditions.

The students enjoy having the chance to be in the lead, to drive their own learning, and have become more reflective on their work and on this PBL process. I did make mistakes and continue to work on improving each time we do this. The availability of these PBL resources to guide teachers and students and other educators who offer support along the way has made all of the difference.

The most powerful part of this has been the feedback from my students. I asked for the positives, the negatives, what could be different, how could I help more, and they were honest and offered such great information.

6. Project-based learning empowers students.

What I have learned is that it really does benefit students and the teachers to offer these project-based learning experiences for students, to find out about their passions and interests. We learn more about them and from them through their PBL. Having students take over the classroom and present their information opened up so many new learning opportunities for everyone. This is truly a great way to see students empowered in their learning.

Overall, the students are pleased about the work they have done, the progress they have taken and are excited about this next phase. We reviewed the feedback, did a little bit more research, and had some planning conversations.

7. Project-based learning forces students to see learning differently.

We need to create opportunities for students to pursue their interests when they learn. In order to prepare them for the real world, we should provide learning opportunities which connect them with other people, perspectives, and experiences.

The most difficult part for my students at the start of this was thinking about how they were going to present their information, and I kept telling them to work through the research part, gather their information first. I reminded them often to focus on the “what and why” part, and that the final product form would become more apparent as they progressed.

8. Patience is key.

I am pleased with having started PBL this year and I encourage other educators to consider implementing PBL in their classrooms. Yes, there can implementation dip. And without communication with students and parents and even our own colleagues, progress can be slow.

PBL is, however, a different approach to learning. It acknowledges that the school year is a marathon, not a series of sprints. It allows students to design and create and publish and reflect on and revise ideas, and this all takes time. Patience, then, is a critical characteristic of any successful–and sane!–project-based learning teacher! Given time, you’ll eventually help the students see the impact it has had on their learning.