Thomas County Middle School Teacher Develops AI Curriculum For GaDOE

·4 min read

Sep. 22—THOMASVILLE- Thomas County schools lead the way when it comes to their extensive computer science programs. Now, the Georgia Department of Education Computer Science Program is reaching out to them for help in an untapped curriculum field: Artificial Intelligence.

The project to begin working on a curriculum for Artificial Intelligence was funded through the National Science Foundation and is a collaborative effort through University of Florida, Carnegie Mellon University and the Georgia Department of Education.

"They wanted to develop an AI (Artificial Intelligence) curriculum," said Thomas County Schools Science Coordinator Scott Sweeting. "So, they needed some computer science folks and we were one of four systems they reached out to."

Other school systems participating include Atlanta Public, Douglas County Schools and Fayette County Schools.

The school systems selected were tasked with learning how to best deliver engaging instruction on Artificial Intelligence to Georgia middle school students, while still sparking the interest in AI and robotics careers.

Through the four school systems, the GaDOE was hoping to get feedback on what middle school students thought of AI, as a result of participating in one 9-week class.

"What I like about it is that our middle-schoolers are learning how this works," Sweeting said. "Knowledge is power, and they are increasingly confronted with AI in their lives and now they have a base knowledge of how it actually works and it protects them too."

Sweeting has only been able to see small increments of the class at work, as he often at the Central Board Office. However, leading the AI class is Computer Science teacher William Hanna.

Hanna said he was originally tasked with taking college-level material and breaking it down into smaller increments that could be geared toward middle school students.

In addition to breaking down the material, Hanna, along with Douglas County teacher Amber Jones and Fayette County teacher Betia Bently will create the standards that each class must follow, when the material becomes widespread across Georgia classrooms.

"We had a rough draft on our first attempt," Hanna admitted. "Now, we are refining and polishing it, so we can teach it to new teachers."

Hanna explained one of the struggles with AI has been finding a way to connect it to every child.

"A lot of what we are learning is how they are interacting with AI design in their every day life," he said. "We talk a lot about Snapchat and how that works, and how computers make meaning of sentences, but there are kids who are interested in agriculture or training hunting dogs and don't believe they will have a need for a computer."

Because of this, Hanna said they tailor the curriculum to each group of students they have.

"Students who take this in Urban Atlanta won't focus so much on the agriculture aspect of it and how it can be used with agriculture," he said. "Each teacher can put their own touch on it to fit their population."

Hanna shared some of the ways they have connected AI back to agriculture has included teaching the kids how different machines know a crop is ready by showing the machines computer pictures of the crop at different levels, developing the machine's artificial intelligence.

While it can at times be daunting to figure out a way to connect to every child, Hanna emphasized how appreciative he is of this opportunity to work with professionals in the AI field and other professors.

"I'm sitting here on a first name basis with professors and experts in AI and I cannot say that I've ever had a time where I had so much access to this level of expertise," Hanna said.

Not only did Hanna have access to these professors, but his students got to present what they learned to the professors and give them feedback on how they thought the class was going.

"The idea that they were helping shape the curriculum for the state of Georgia really made some of my students excited," Hanna said.

After working with the researchers and hearing feedback from the students, Hanna said he would sometimes realize there was a better way to explain a concept, and include that in his polished curriculum.

Hanna concluded by saying that is awesome to be a part of this opportunity and create something new for students to come.

Once Hanna completes the standards and finalizes the curriculum, the GaDoe will approve the course, which will be titled AI4GA.