Artificial intelligence is becoming the future of the workforce, and it could also become the future of Florida’s K-12 classrooms, with help from UF.
AI uses machine learning and cognition as opposed to the natural intelligence of humans. AI applications are becoming increasingly prevalent in careers and everyday life, said David Reed, UF associate provost for strategic initiatives.
“AI is a system of technologies that have existed — believe it or not — since the 1950s,” Reed said. “It’s old in terms of the way we think about AI, but its application has been revived in the last few years.”
A National Science Foundation program, the Artificial Intelligence for K-12 Initiative, or AI4K12, has established guidelines for incorporating AI curriculum and knowledge into classrooms. The initiative prompted UF to implement its own AI curriculum in public schools. Florida teachers learn about AI fundamentals in professional development trainings led by UF.
The university currently has about $250,000 in state funding for AI professional development, said Nancy Ruzicki, UF materials science and engineering associate professor. UF funding for the program will run out next year after the current grant money runs out, she said.
“There is a need for continued funding to fund teachers and professional development,” Ruzicki said.
There are four courses that UF is developing standards under the AI initiative. First is AI in the world and second is applications of AI. The remaining two courses are still under development.
Three teachers currently teach the AI curriculum in Osceola, Orange and Broward counties. The grant will help fund coaches with expertise in AI initiatives and meet with teachers on a weekly or biweekly basis to discuss successes and obstacles in implementing AI into classrooms.
Boyd H. in Sloan Robbins Lauderdale Lakes. AI in the World is taught to ninth through 12th grade students at Anderson High School. He says the course looks at AI in a general philosophical sense, with his students focusing on computer awareness and designing smart electrical grids.
“AI is the future of where everything is going,” Robbins said. “Every career field across the board has some things they really deal with.”
Juan Tovar also teaches AI in the world at Neocity Academy in Kissimmee. He has used AI teaching in previous computer science courses and currently teaches his students the basics of programming while creating their own chatbots. His principal learned about UF’s AI initiative from Ruzicki. The principal arrived in Tovar to teach a class this semester.
“He told me, ‘Hey, that’s a great idea to run,'” Tovar said. “I think we can do it here and we decided to run it.”
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UF coaches connect with Tovar and Robbins at least once every two weeks to monitor their courses’ instructional progress. The next semester-long course Robbins and Tovar plan to teach, Applications of AI, will focus on AI in disciplines.
Coaches address issues teachers face while implementing AI curricula and ensure teachers fully understand the lessons.
“Our job is to help teachers teach the materials so it’s more effective for students,” Ruzicki said.
UF held three-week boot camps for AI professional development that 11 school districts held over the summer in Miami-Dade, Osceola and Orange counties. Boot camps explain AI fundamentals and the purpose of the program.
The UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering hosted its own two-day symposium Oct. 19-20, offering workshop sessions and resources to teachers from 27 Florida districts.
UF’s two-day symposium is funded by a special grant and is open to teachers throughout Florida. While 30 teachers in the state paid to attend, other districts applied and paid for teachers to attend.
Christina Gardner-McCune, a UF associate professor of computer and information science and engineering who co-founded AI4K12, spoke to about 45 teachers who attended the event.
“My goal is to equip them with an understanding of all the hidden places where AI exists in their everyday lives — hidden in plain sight,” Gardner-McCune said.
Gardner-McCune says AI education should start in the classroom.
“This is really an opportunity to spread AI across the state and make it accessible to our K-12 students,” Gardner-McCune said. “We’re on the bleeding edge of this work that we’re doing as a state.”
Gardner-McCune developed the AI4K12 framework for four courses in Orange County a year ago. After her sabbatical, UF worked with the state to update the framework, which prioritizes professional development opportunities for teachers.
“There’s no teaching material out there for AI,” Ruzicki said. “We strive to deliver content that meets the standards in the frameworks and builds students’ literacy and competency for AI.”
Ruzicki said the sessions aim to answer the central question.
“How can we get a program out to teachers when nobody knows how to teach it — when nobody knows what it is?” Ruzicki asked.
Miami-Dade County teachers Alvaro Montes de Oca and Libni Simons said the experience was eye-opening. Montes de Oca teaches high school robotics and business application at Westland Hialeah High School in Hialeah, while Simons teaches at the John F. Teaches seventh grade engineering and technology applications at Kennedy Middle School.
“It’s a great first step — being here and getting all this information,” Montes de Oca said.
Simons also said he saw the value of the program.
“It’s not just robotics — it’s from a farming perspective, or even from a cooking perspective,” Simons said. “It’s embedded in every aspect.”
Contact Sophia Bailey firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sophia_bailly.
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Sophia Bailey is a first-year journalism major who covers K-12 education for The Alligator. In her spare time she enjoys reading, writing, listening to The Beatles and exploring local coffee shops.