Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Artificial Intelligence is all around us. From something as simple as auto-correct on any phone, that can help complete messages (sometimes hilariously!) to product recommendations, digital assistants, and self-driving cars, AI is now in the lives of our kids. In this blog post, we focus particularly on the younger kids and share our learnings from teaching thousands of kids, some as young as 6 or 7 years old and in first or second grade.
Why should kids learn about Artificial Intelligence?
AI is already all around them and it is very likely that the average child interacts with an AI at least once every week if they use any kind of connected electronic device (a phone, the internet on their computer, etc.). Many AIs also tend to have easy-to-use interfaces (like a digital assistant that can answer voice questions). Engaging with such a device comes very naturally to children. Understanding what AI is helps kids appreciate the difference between talking with devices and talking with other humans, and also helps them manage their interactions with these devices - for example in protecting their privacy.
What are examples of Artificial Intelligence?
In general, any computer program that is able to learn patterns from data and then put those learnings to use to answer questions, solve problems, make plans, etc. is an example of AI. Day to day AIs includes those that recommend movies or products, applications that help us find routes to work while taking traffic into consideration, apps that help doctors read X-Rays to detect diseases, apps used by banks to detect credit card fraud, and many more. One great way to tell the difference between an AI and a regular program - if you can describe a set of rules to follow to get the right answer every time, that is not an AI. If the program needs to find a pattern that is hard to describe in words, that is usually an AI.
Can children learn Artificial Intelligence? Can AI be taught?
Absolutely. While many people believe that only adults with PhDs and deep knowledge of math or programming can understand AI, that is no longer true. With modern tools, kids even as young as 6 years old can build their own AIs and interact with them, and through these interactions learn how AI works, how AI learns, and how AIs are different from humans. The key to teaching AI to kids of this age is to help them understand the key concepts through hands-on exploration and creation, without involving math or even coding. We have found that kids can easily grasp these key concepts and that it starts them on a journey of curiosity and exploration where they can use their imagination to envision future uses of this technology.
How do you explain AI to a child?
One very good way to explain AI to a child is to explain it as a computer program that is trying to do things that come very naturally to the human brain. Kids can then build AIs and see that AIs also need to learn and that there are some similarities between how AIs learn and how they themselves learn. They will notice that they are many differences too. Kids also enjoy learning how devices that they use every day, such as digital assistants and translation services, use AI concepts that they have learned.
What can elementary and primary school kids do with AI?
With today’s tools, elementary school and primary school kids can build AIs and interact with AIs. Some AIs that our elementary kids build include - AIs that can detect their mood from sentences that they type in, an AI that can be trained to detect different types of objects (like teddy bears vs other toys), AIs that can detect whether they are wearing a mask, chatbots that can answer questions and help kids with their homework, AIs that can translate languages, detect what they are drawing, and more.
We have also found that kids this age can build custom projects with AI. Popular choices include building a custom AI that knows all about an animal of their choice, or a planet of their choice. They teach these AIs by interacting with them, asking questions, and correcting the AI when it is wrong. Kids also greatly enjoy sharing their AIs with their friends and improving their AIs using feedback from their friends.
How do you integrate AI into education curriculums?
The teachers that we work with have found that you can add AI to science, technology, or even art curriculums by adding AI activities. For example, AI can be added to a science curriculum by showing kids how NASA used AI to land the Mars Perseverance rover and then having the kids build an actual AI that can guide a rover to land (if you would like this exercise, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org). For an art class, you can add activities where kids can use AI to build their own custom art by combining their drawings, styles from the internet, photos, etc., and have the AI create art for them. Some of the exercises that we have found that other teachers love are our "Can AI See? Activity for K-12", "How AIs are different from Robots activity for K-12", and our "Can AI understand Languages activity for K-12".
We have also had teachers teach an entire multi-month AI program. This usually involves teaching kids a series of AI concepts and then helping them create, build and explore AIs that use these concepts.
How can AI be used in schools?
While this blog is focused on teaching AI and on helping kids learn AI, it is worth noting that AI is already being used in schools for everything from improving learning outcomes to helping find gaps in student knowledge. As teachers become more aware of AI, it will also help them understand how tools they use in their classrooms already use AI.
How do I get started?
If you are a parent and would like to help your elementary school or primary school kid learn AI, please check out our courses here. If you are a teacher and would like to add AI to your classroom, please check out our educator resources here.