Why We Need to Teach All Our Students About Artificial Intelligence—Starting Now

We often think of artificial intelligence, or AI, as a mysterious black box. In truth, however, it surrounds us in so many aspects of daily life. From rideshare apps and social media feeds to video games anticipating next moves and online chatbots answering homework questions, both adults and kids use AI technology every day. Yet many students and teachers alike do not understand what AI is or how to talk about it, let alone teach it in the classroom.

Many believe that only those in the computer science department should teach data science and AI topics. However, only 45% of US high schools offer computer science courses, and many of them don’t require students to take these courses.

Why is learning about these technology concepts so important? The global economic impact of AI is expected to reach nearly $16 trillion by 2030. Our students will enter a workforce increasingly powered by AI. As with countless other technological advancements through history, the growing use of AI will lead to the creation of new jobs and disciplines. Ignoring AI is equivalent to ignoring the Internet in the late 20th century or ignoring social media a decade ago.

"Ignoring AI is equivalent to ignoring the Internet in the 20th Century"

"Ignoring AI is equivalent to ignoring the Internet in the 20th Century"

Artificial intelligence in the classroom

There are easy ways to learn how to teach AI, no matter the grade level or subject. It starts with educators who feel comfortable integrating the topic of AI into learning. Educators can weave the fundamental concepts of AI, like learning about data science and ethical design, into any classroom. This allows students to understand the potential impact of AI now, and in the future.

At Montour Public Schools in Montour, Pennsylvania, Justin Aglio, Director of Academic Achievement and District Innovation, believes every student should have exposure to AI. Montour’s AI program first started in the fall of 2018, but not as an isolated course. Rather infusion of AI education happened across the curriculum in math, science, music, and library classes.

“We did not want to make it an exclusive opportunity, but inclusive for all students,” said Aglio, who believes AI impacts all sectors and every content area.

April DeGennaro, a teacher at Peeple’s Elementary School in Peachtree City, Georgia, shares a similar approach by talking naturally about AI with all her students. Whether they are looking for patterns, breaking problems into parts, or decoding words, she wants to get rid of silos in teaching concepts about AI.

“I don’t want AI to become a topic. It’s not a separate thing. It needs to be integrated into every discipline,” said DeGennaro. “Kids need to understand the role of AI and ethical considerations. They will be the ones in charge of implementing AI. They need to be aware of the biases.”

Quote: "I don't want AI to become a topic. It's not a separate thing. It needs to be integrated into every discipline."

Quote: "I don't want AI to become a topic. It's not a separate thing. It needs to be integrated into every discipline."

The core of career success

Students graduating from high school need relevant skills to open more options in their careers, according to Kellie Lauth, Chief Executive Officer and President of mindSpark Learning, a nonprofit that provides professional development for educators. That means investing in instructional resources that emphasize skills such as analysis and problem-solving while leveraging the latest technology.

“AI will change 100 percent of jobs in the next 10 years in all sectors,” said Lauth. “In order for students to have access to that world, educators are that intermediary piece. If teachers are passionate about it, they can translate that to students to open up opportunities.”

Teachers need to embrace the idea that AI is not overwhelming or an optional topic to teach. Once demystified, it can be more easily integrated into curricula and used as an effective tool to evaluate critical thinking.

AI can engage kids in creative ways, says Nora Blasko, who teaches computer science at Great Mills High School in Great Mills, Maryland. For example, in one project, her students train a machine learning program to develop a model that identifies photos of poison ivy and different kinds of snakes. As the students learn about image recognition, Blasko discusses the potential of mislabeling people. As a result, students learn about the ethics involved with the technology.

Quote: AI will change 100 percent of jobs in the next 10 years in all sectors."

Quote: AI will change 100 percent of jobs in the next 10 years in all sectors."

An opportunity to harness imagination

Kids encounter AI with Snapchat filters and navigations systems in cars, and they are intrigued to learn more about how it works.

For example, many of DeGennaro’s students know people involved in agriculture. So they explored how AI-enabled cameras in airplanes send data to smartphones, which help farmers better manage their crops. She also teaches students to program small robots that use sensors to recognize objects and interact with the kids.

Students can have exposure to AI in every content area at every grade level. Here are a few ways teachers can infuse AI into the curriculum:

  • Analyze historical events in social studies
  • Help elementary students view patterns
  • Teach sequencing skills associated with literacy instruction
  • Engage math classrooms with content around algorithms and data
  • Personalize instruction for English language learners
  • Incorporate design thinking into social-emotional learning lessons to teach empathy and creative problem-solving

Want to learn how to bring AI into your classroom?

Teachers can help prepare their students for their future careers by teaching them about AI—starting now. IBM AI Education offers free, live online and on-demand institutes for K-12 teachers. These interactive webinars show educators how to prepare their students for the future of work and changes AI will bring about. The result? Students prepared for success in the modern workforce, regardless of their career paths. 

Yes, I Want to Learn More About AI