K-12 technology integration specialists like Jill Hill and Kim Logie-Bates are always on the lookout for new and compelling ways to integrate tech into learning for the thousands of students in their diverse Metro Detroit area school district. For them, signing up for AI Explorations and Their Practical Use in School Environments—a professional learning course by ISTE and General Motors—was a no-brainer.
“It was just a great chance to learn more about artificial intelligence and machine learning and how to encourage K-12 teachers to use more AI tools in their classrooms,” said Hill, the technology integration specialist at her middle school. “And since Kim and I are connected to all of these great tech integrators and the hundreds of K-12 teachers they work with in our county, it seemed like a great way to scale up and introduce these ideas into our area.”
Hill had previously taken an ISTE AI course that she enjoyed. So, when this small-group, cohort-based AI program became available, she jumped at the chance. She and Logie-Bates recruited their fellow Oakland Schools tech education enthusiasts to take advantage of the opportunity: 3rd grade teacher Jeremy Letkiewicz and two other K-12 technology integration specialists, Priscila Fojan and Stefanie Hebden.
We spoke with this dynamic group of educators about how the AI Explorations course helped reshape and expand their efforts to integrate AI tools and teaching into K-12 classrooms.
EdSurge: How has your experience with AI Explorations impacted your practice?
Letkiewicz: As an elementary school teacher, I’m really interested in how we can use AI in classrooms and the tools we can give teachers to make learning more engaging for students, especially this year for the schools that are going all online. Going through this course really gave me concrete and compelling ways to use AI with my students. Even the yoga and machine learning capstone project we created for the program—it’s something fun. When you tell people about it, they get excited and want to know more. I’m looking forward to integrating more fun AI activities like that in my classroom in the fall.
Hill: I have a makers club that I’ve been running for five or six years at the middle school that has anywhere between 30 and 50 kids in it every year. There is a lot of focus on coding, and just creation and working with all kinds of textiles, everything from 3-D printing to artificial intelligence. Introducing that group of kids to AI is another way to help bring it into the school because they bring those conversations into the classroom and share with their friends and teachers.
I’ve talked a lot with math teachers about computational thinking and pulling those terms into their classrooms, but the program has helped me think about how to apply that across the board with other subjects. Just getting those conversations started and bringing that terminology—whether it’s design thinking, machine learning or computational thinking—to teachers who may not have heard it before or think it doesn’t relate to them. The more we use it, the more it becomes part of their language and what they can incorporate into their classes.
Hebden: As tech integration specialists, the program really gave us a lot of ways to support teachers in their practice. The resources that were provided are so helpful, especially now with remote learning because I have so many teachers asking, “How am I going to do my multiple choice tests now online because students can Google all the answers?” Well, we shouldn’t be doing that now. Have your students do projects and collaborate online, that’s the most important thing. The course gave us a ton of resources for what that can look like and how we can bring it back to teachers.
Logie-Bates: In my role, I work with teachers, so I’m really looking forward to developing these projects and lessons with them. In several of the schools I work with, STEM, design thinking and project-based learning are really starting to take hold, and it’s exciting because there are people genuinely interested in incorporating these ideas into their classes.
How did the course help you integrate Project-Based Learning (PBL) into your practice? Why is it important for students to learn how to collaboratively solve real-world problems?
Hill: Most of what we do in our professional world—no matter what job you have—you need to be able to work in teams with people who have different interests and skills. In the U.S., our schools emphasize creativity and big picture thinking, and we thrive when we take into consideration each person’s strengths and what they can bring to the team. Teaching kids how to do that is really valuable because they need to know that not every person can do every thing, but we can accomplish a lot together. They need to know how to take a problem apart and figure out a solution together.
Fojan: I remember growing up and being the kid that got assigned into a group and ending up doing the majority of the work, oftentimes because the assignments were not as robust and could essentially be completed by one person. With project-based learning, there’s so much that has to be done, and everyone has an important role in the project. When you’re working on a complex problem, there’s a lot that gets built into solving it. You have to communicate and learn how to work together, and every person plays a critical part. PBL goes beyond just a school assignment—it prepares kids for the real world that we live in.
Logie-Bates: One of the things this course gave me was validity when speaking to other educators. I could say, “Look, here’s an ISTE course that is all about AI for K-12 and how to incorporate student voice and choice in your project-based lessons.” It’s not just me talking—I have actual research and data backing me up that confirms this is a better way to do it, and this is really what we need to be teaching our kids to do.
What was the inspiration for your group’s AI Explorations capstone project? How and why did you develop this particular lesson?
Logie-Bates: We chose a project where students work with Google’s Teachable Machine site to learn yoga because it was fun and creative and could cross over the multiple grades we represent, all kids K-12. We targeted 3rd-5th grade for Jeremy as something that he could use right away as a classroom teacher, but also wanted something that could be modified for any age.
Fojan: We originally looked at social-emotional learning and using the Teachable Machine to recognize facial expressions, but when Jill tested it with her kids, it really wasn’t working so we iterated and transformed it into yoga.
Hill: Yeah, it just wouldn’t recognize the different facial expressions, so we shifted to machine learning yoga, which is another way for them to learn self awareness and managing emotions and stress. The kids liked yoga to help calm down and take deep breaths. The machine actually learned to recognize their poses. It was fun for them to teach a machine, but it was also great to have them practicing to get the poses right and just talking to each other about how movement and mindfulness helps calm them down.
Letkiewicz: I think it’s pretty cool. I’ve been looking at our project again. I’m personally excited about it, especially being at home and kids being at home—this is something that kids any age can do.
How did your students respond?
Hill: My kids loved it. I was the only one who was able to run the lesson with actual students this year because of COVID-19, but they loved the yoga and loved learning about technology and how it all works. They’re a whole different generation that’s grown up with touchscreens, and everything tech to them is supposed to be reactive and interactive. But talking about how you teach a machine to be reactive, what part of it is recognizing what you’re doing, and how you can teach it to recognize what you’re doing was kind of a mind-blowing experience for them. They felt very empowered in wanting to learn more.
How has being a part of ISTE’s professional learning network impacted you?
Fojan: The Facebook group, Twitter and using hashtags and social media to get and share information has been really helpful for us. There were countless times I found resources in my news feed that I grabbed and shared out. Just one person communicating with one other tech integrator reaches multiple other districts and hundreds of other educators. Having that network to quickly get and share information is really useful for all of us.
Hebden: We have access to the ISTE website now, so I’ve joined a few different forums on there too. I get the Daily Digest email and click on those remote learning links every single day because it helps me so much right now. I’ve created a resource list that I constantly add to, so if a teacher says, “Hey, I need something for music,” or “I’m a reading specialist, do you have anything?,” I can easily find and share what I’ve collected. Those resources have been especially helpful during this time. I was part of the ISTE community for the past year, but I’ve used it the most in the past three months.
Hill: I absolutely agree. I have my digest that comes through on six different forums, so I feel like we learn a lot through just the ISTE community in general. I even got a chance to meet with one of the instructors and course creators from GM who is actually in Sterling Heights, which is right next to our town, within 10 miles of our school.
What stood out to you most from participating in this program?
Logie-Bates: One of the things that I was really thankful for is that I was able to work with a group of people that I don’t normally work with. As technology integration specialists in our districts, I work with Stefanie and Priscila, but we essentially work on islands most of the time, even more so now than before. We see each other on Zoom meetings or chat on our WebEx channel, but this was an opportunity to get a group working together that was really diverse. We all service completely different kinds of districts, have different jobs, and impact different groups of students. ISTE allowing this diverse cohort that wasn’t just all of the same teachers from the same school or all people from the same grades was really forward-thinking. I appreciate they recognized the strength of that.
Letkiewicz: That’s exactly what I was going to say. It was amazing being able to interact with all these different perspectives because it really got me thinking about how to add artificial intelligence into my classroom in creative ways. Doing this course gave me a better understanding of how to make learning really fun for kids who have that tech brain that maybe don’t click with just reading a regular book in front of them. They need something more interactive. I kept going to online forums and reading things about artificial intelligence, which I would not have done if not for this course. I’m really thankful for working with everyone and doing this. It really got the wheels turning in my head.
Fojan: The biggest thing that I took away, other than our strong collaboration is that when I used to think of AI, it was way up there, outside of my realm of understanding. Yes, I could introduce a few examples with my students, but the program filled in such a big void I had when it came to the history of AI and getting a deeper understanding of what it is and isn’t. The topic can be vast, but it can also be understood by an elementary student when you bring it down to its basic level. It isn’t like we all need to have engineering degrees to understand and teach the fundamentals.