5 things teachers should know about teaching AI to their students

by Ginni Beam | November 2019

While it used to seem like a far-off future technology that could only be found in sci-fi stories, artificial intelligence (AI) is now an integral part of modern life. Your smartphone, favorite music and video streaming apps and smart home devices all use artificial intelligence to make your life easier, more convenient and more enjoyable.

It’s no surprise, then, that many educators have begun to bring AI concepts into the classroom. Although today’s students are the first generation to grow up in a world powered by artificial intelligence, they often don’t even realize that AI is all around them. Teaching students — even as young as elementary school-age — about AI’s applications can have a huge impact on how they see the world.

If you’re interested in introducing the next generation to AI concepts, here are the top-five facts you need to know.

  1. Students’ futures depend on AI fluency.

As AI-based technology becomes ubiquitous in nearly every professional setting, all students — not just those pursuing tech careers — need a basic understanding of AI principles and functionality in order to be successful.

According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, between 20 to 50 million jobs will be created to develop and deploy new technologies by 2030. Another Burning Glass Technologies study conducted for Capital One said eight out of 10 ‘middle-skill’ jobs will require digital skills.

“Over the past decade, technology has been moving at a relentless pace — reshaping our society and defining the future of how we live and work,” says Arjun Dugal, Capital One’s CTO of Financial Services. “The demand for qualified applicants in AI-related jobs continues to grow.”

Arelthia Phillips, a teacher at Dallas’ Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurship Academy (IDEA), helps her students understand how AI is used in non-coding careers.

“Whether we’re talking about marketing or the medical field, technology is everywhere,” she says. “All careers are connected to it.”

  1. New AI instruction resources are available.

The AI field is advancing so rapidly that teaching curricula quickly become irrelevant, and teachers often lack proper guidance and resources for their AI instruction. It was this education gap that led Capital One, in partnership with Major League Hacking, to create the Basic TrAIning: Bot Camp, a cutting-edge, all-in-one curriculum that teaches AI, software development and problem solving. Teachers can teach the lessons without a technology background.

The free, three-module Bot Camp curriculum teaches students the basic building blocks of the Python coding language through peer-led instruction and project-based learning. It also offers relatable real-world use cases of AI and machine learning, such as virtual assistants and suggested searches.

Phillips has used the Bot Camp program with her students and loves its structure and comprehensiveness.

“It’s already laid out for you. The scaffolding is there,” Phillips says. “It doesn’t start (the students) out with a huge program in the beginning — it builds on itself. It goes over the vocabulary, provides students an opportunity to practice and then apply it to the big idea they started out with.”

New tools and teaching apps are constantly being developed, and many of those resources are right here in North Texas. Capital One also provides coding training to students through its Coders Program.

  1. Kids are already surrounded by AI.

Whether they realize it or not, today’s students are intimately familiar with artificial intelligence-driven technology. Connecting the theory behind AI and machine learning to real-world use cases is key.

“Students spend a lot of time on their phones, but they don’t really think about what goes into creating the user experience,” Phillips says. “As we walk through the Bot Camp material and do little things like discussing how Facebook automatically tags you and your friends in photos, we’re helping them make that connection.”

“I honestly didn’t know anything about [AI] before I participated in the Bot Camp program,” says Cesar Montoya, a senior at Sunset High School. “I didn’t even know what AI stood for.”

The more Montoya learned about AI, the more he realized its importance — and how much he already interacts with it.

“When I finished watching Dexter, Netflix would show me more shows like it,” he says. “I didn’t know that was AI. And on Google when I’m trying to look up information, they can predict what I’m going to type.”

By connecting AI concepts to products students already know and use, like a smartphone’s predictive typing and a robot vacuum’s space-learning, you can help students recognize and appreciate technology’s applications.

“It has been incredibly rewarding seeing how excited the students get about their newfound skills,” says Jon Gottfried, co-founder and CMO of Major League Hacking. “One moment, they’re consuming technology through social media and apps and the next, they’re creating their own technology and entering a magical world where anything is possible if they work at it. Seeing that first spark, when they realize what they’re capable of, makes it all worth it.”

  1. Programming is just the beginning.

Teaching kids how to code is the obvious baseline of AI instruction. However, without a clear understanding of what AI is, how it functions and its real-world applications, coding will remain merely a classroom exercise. Inspire your students to keep the big picture in mind. Coding is not the goal but the ever-evolving tool.

Students learn best from projects that allow them to build and create. In Capital One’s Bot Camp, for example, students start by learning the basics of the Python coding language. By the end of training, they’re creating a Markov Chain Chatbot that communicates like their favorite celebrity.

“We do a lot of project-based learning,” explains Phillips. “It’s all about getting them to see: ‘Where are we trying to go? What’s the big idea? Why are we doing all of these little things?’ It lets them see the end before we even start.”

  1. It’s never too early to start.

The younger children are when they are exposed to a concept, the more reliably they will grasp it. Early instruction of basic AI concepts and skills encourages fluency and comprehension. Mastering new skills boosts student confidence — something the instructors at Capital One’s Bot Camp love seeing firsthand.

Perhaps most importantly, early exposure to machine learning broadens a student’s perspective of the world and their place in it, introducing them to opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) fields. How many kindergarteners would dream of building robots if they knew it was a possibility?

“Our goal is to reach 10,000 students in three years through this initiative,” Dugal says. “Our hope is that this training will ignite an interest in AI in the minds of students and inspire them to explore the technology fields as a future career path.”

Rather than introducing AI curriculum at an arbitrary grade, try adapting the instruction to whatever age you teach. A first-grader may not be able to code with the same sophistication as a high school student, but they can certainly appreciate a simplified lesson on how machines make decisions.

Learn more online about bringing your students to the next Capital One Bot Camp.

 

The event set a Guinness World Records title for the largest Artificial Intelligence programming lesson. Arjun Dugal (center), CTO for Financial Services at Capital One, holds the official certificate.

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