The emergence of artificial intelligence has raised questions about its impact on creativity and critical thinking. While Gwinnett County, Georgia, has gone all-in, launching a curriculum that brings the technology into classrooms, starting in kindergarten., one school district in
The approach goes beyond robotics and computer science class. Teachers and students embrace artificial intelligence in nearly every subject taught, from English to art class. So far, the machines seem to be winning over students, parents and teachers, but there is still a lot to learn.
At Patrick Elementary School in Buford, Georgia, about an hour outside Atlanta, first graders are "programming" Lego bricks, as part of a lesson involving creative problem-solving. More than just blocks, they're building familiarity with technology, like iPads, that are part of a pilot, public school program trying to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities that come along with the rise of AI.
Even if they don't know what "AI" stands for, the young learners already know how to use it. Six-year-old Gabriella went beyond the lesson and figured out how to program a sensor to respond to specific colors.
She said she likes coding. "I like that we can build stuff, and do stuff we haven't done before," she said.
It's something Gwinnett County schools haven't done before, either. But about five years ago, administrators decided to use some of their regular annual funding to develop an AI-driven syllabus, first at a new high school, then expanding to a middle school and three elementary schools. The district's K-12 program is called Computer Science for All.
"AI is such a popular buzzword right now, but we've actually been doing this for a couple of years," said Sallie Holloway, the director of AI and computer science for the district. "For us it's thinking about: what do our kids need to know and do to be ready for their future? We're not, like, always messing with a robot. But what we are doing is teaching them how to think and solve problems with these tools."
Sometimes, however, they are messing with robots – designing, coding and coming up with ideas.
At Seckinger High School in Buford, social studies teacher Scott Gaffney is incorporating the technology in less obvious ways. Students ask ChatGPT to analyze years of traffic data, then use the findings to help come up with solutions for safer roads.
Gaffney said that five or 10 years ago, without this technology, that lesson would have been approached much differently. "That would've taken probably about four or five days," he said. "The way that these kids think, they process information so fast. So, if we can give them something challenging real-time, they are very engaged with it."
By all estimates, machine learning is something the kids will have to continue to engage with once they enter the workforce. One study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates 10% of the jobs created by the year 2030 will be in previously unknown fields, and most will see at least some level of automation.
Down the hall in art class, students were asked to draw a sketch, then enter a description of the sketch into an AI image generator, leading to debates over whether the computer-created works inspired them to change their original design.
One student said, "Overall, it didn't really help with what I wanted or what I was looking for."
Another student offered, "Using AI, sometimes it helps me. Sometimes it's chaos. Other times actually, it comes up with a couple of things that I can use, like certain angles of the head."
But when it came to the question of artistic integrity, no one thought that AI art is "real" art.
"AI is just taking everyone's work and just collaging it together," said one girl. "Technically, not original."
It's an ongoing debate, as the line between AI-assisted learning and outright outsourcing is still being defined.
Teacher Gaffney was asked if he thought kids will use AI to cheat on their academic work as they become more familiar with it.
"When I was in high school, there was this thing that came out, that everyone was really upset about, called Google! And they thought that that was just going to really ruin education. And it hasn't," he said.
Still, administrators acknowledge there's a lot they – and all of us – don't yet know about the technology.
"We lead with ethical conversations about AI," said Sallie Holloway. "Just because we can maybe doesn't mean that we should.
"I think that really opens the door to kind of let them choose the problems that they want to explore, and then hopefully lays the foundation for where they're heading and the things they're going to encounter in the real world," she said.
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