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Code in the Classroom: a look into our AI workshops

Hey Google— Are there any artificial intelligence workshops catered to classroom settings?

Sharmin Alam
19 February 2020

Today’s kids will be the first generation ever to grow up in a world manipulated by artificial intelligence. With or without our knowledge, we all use many forms of AI every day. From using Siri, Alexa, or Google to answer our questions to finding new videos thanks to YouTube’s suggestions, interacting with AI technology is now a daily habit for most kids.

It is important to make sure that today’s kids are not just passive users of AI. Starting with educating kids about how AI works, the impact it has on our everyday lives, and the ethics surrounding it, kids can become active and responsible participants in today’s reality. By educating all kids in AI, we not only encourage diversity in those who build AI systems, but also in the data it uses.

“In today’s world, kids have to understand how to work with artificial intelligence and technology, not against it. It is our duty as parents, guardians and educators to support them in learning the digital skills they need to build a better future” - Kate Arthur, Founder and CEO at KCJ.

With this in mind, the KCJ team, along with leading AI researchers, developed the first AI curriculum to be delivered in classrooms across Canada. To address the opportunities, impact, and issues presented by AI, the workshops are designed to maintain a hands-on approach, in order to get kids to think more deeply about their own online behaviour. Ready to take a look into KCJ's AI classroom workshops? Let's go!

Think like a machine

Have you ever wondered “How does a computer think?”. It’s a good question! Before we can start our AI education, we have to be aware that computers process information very differently than you and I. To help us understand how computers think, the workshop starts off with a card game. Students pick a real-life object and use only colour, size, shape, and texture to describe it so another student (the “computer”) can guess. This prepares the students to think more like machines, which are only able to identify objects in terms of their abstract properties.

Girl playing the KCJ's Artificial Intelligence card game.

Students start the workshop by playing a card game to help them understand how a computer thinks.

What is AI?

Now it's time to dive into how AI actually processes information and how computers are trained. A large part of AI’s functionality comes from data. It can understand an object for what it is and what it’s not by using examples that an AI trainer provides. For example, computers don’t eat and have no idea what utensils are used for. If we want a computer to recognize a fork, we have to provide a data set of images of forks. We also have to show computer things that aren’t forks, so the AI can understand and recognize the difference in the future. The more examples we give, the more accurate the AI will be.

Becoming an AI trainer

There’s no better way to understand how AI is trained than by training it yourself! Using Google’s Teachable Machine, students train an AI model to recognize their gestures. With enough training, the model can learn to recognize a high five, a handshake, and even a few words in sign language.

Two children using a laptop. Girl interacting with Google's Teachable Machine.

Students train Google’s AI model, the Teachable Machine, to recognize their hand gestures.

The ethics of AI

We can’t discuss machine learning without recognizing the important ethical issues that surround AI. Students are encouraged to reflect on their digital habits and the influence AI and algorithms have on their own lives. Every time they access their favourite platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Netflix, these sites store their data in order to improve user experience and suggest content they may find interesting. With algorithms constantly feeding us content suggestions, it’s pretty easy to find ourselves stuck in a filter bubble: always looking at the same kind of content. The more we watch, the more specific (and sometimes extreme) the content suggested by the algorithm becomes. All of these tailored content suggestions can cause us to spend more time on websites or apps than we want. Luckily, we have the power to make our own decisions! Once students are aware of how their online behaviour affects these algorithms, they can take steps to monitor what data they’re feeding the algorithms, expand their bubble, and spend more meaningful time both on and offline.

Teachers, want to bring our AI workshop into your classroom? Thanks to CanCode funding, KCJ is able to offer free workshops and webinars to teachers and students across Canada. Register here.

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