Teaching AI to fourth-graders is a thing now


Real-world projects taught by industry leaders help fourth-graders understand AI in an innovative way, an alternative to cranking out a learn-to-code factory.

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Image: Create & Learn

Coders are getting younger by the day, some circumventing college and heading to a job right out of high school. Granted, elementary school-age children are a tad too young to begin the climb up the corporate ladder, but not so young that they can’t understand artificial intelligence (AI). 

In fact, Google Cloud Platform founding member Jessie Jiang didn’t think her 6-year-old daughter was too young to start learning about computer science, notably while they were sheltering at home and home schooling. One thing she knew: Her curriculum would have a holistic STEM approach, to foster a more well-rounded, tech-aware life. 

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Internet pioneer Jiang–a National Medal of Science winner, Stanford MBA, UCLA computer science Ph.D., and co-inventor of 19 patents–harnessed her experience (which includes nine years at Google) to found Create & Learn in 2016. The school is geared toward what she calls “the next generation of K-12” computer science education.

Jiang said the Create & Learn curriculum is the first program to “cover AI comprehensively and age-appropriate for grades four to six.”

“At fourth grade, students have enough basic science and cognitive abilities to understand more in-depth technologies as well as social impacts of AI,” Jiang said, adding that they will add a curriculum to teach AI to students in second and third grades. “There is now a nationwide AI4k12 initiative with the goal of eventually creating national guidelines for AI education for K-12. For younger kids, we will ease them into more advanced materials over time.”

The first class introducing students to AI offers “examples of AI, seeing AI (computer vision), talking AI (language processing), as well as AI in robotics.” It also covers examples of  “cutting-edge AI applications such as self-driving cars, medical imaging, and gaming. It is a very interactive class as teachers ask students questions to explore and discover together. There are several really cool videos, and we also play an AI game that does computer vision.” The class, Jiang said, “flies by really fast.”

Home-schooling during the lockdown, sparked an interest in computer science in students. Jiang noted that “CS and AI, unlike most other subjects, are naturally connected with computers. They tend to work much better than many other subjects when being taught online. We definitely have been seeing a huge surge in interest recently.”

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Studying AI for elementary and middle school students “in times like this, lets children see the bigger pictures, the future, the hope, and the excitement in the tech world, even though we can’t move around in the physical world as freely for now.” Online classes also open “up tremendous opportunities and can be even more effective than in-person learning in some cases.” Teachers undergo rigorous training.”

Jiang said the AI courses “connect strongly with the real world. We do a thorough review of AI applications broadly, introduce key concepts in AI such as supervised learning, reinforcement learning, and neural networks, and also address key social issues associated with AI such as potential biases.” 

In addition to their schedule of on-line tech-learning classes, Create & Learn is offering Online Summer Camp (currently half price), live courses with no more than four students to a teacher.

AI Explorers 1 (grades 4 to 6) is a summer camp session for fourth- to sixth-grade students and introduces them to AI, as they learn the key concepts in AI, get first-hand experiences with age-appropriate cutting-edge AI applications in image-recognition, chatbot, and machine learning, etc. The class is designed so kids will get ample opportunities to exercise their creativity, critical thinking, and communication skills.

My First Mobile Apps 1 (grades 4 to 7) another summer camp course for students to learn the basics of the mobile programming environment as well as code their own apps. They learn to employ text, device sensors, and cameras to build projects and games that involve image recognition, word games, and riddles.

Robot Adventures 1 (grades 4 to 6) in this summer camp session, students introduced to the basics of robots. Students use VEX robotics for coding and work in a virtual world and complete challenges based on what they have learned.

The Power of Color (grades 4 to 6) students learn to define and organize color and how to combine colors to create moods, effects, understanding, and meaning. Class exercises cover applying color in different contexts in the real world.

Jessie Jiang

Jessie Jiang, founder of Create & Learn.

Image: Create & Learn

Each summer camp course consists of four sessions, 55 mins., with a maximum of four students per session and is now half off the regular $129, $64.50. New camps are added twice weekly.

The regular online classes can be searched through three grade levels, starting with grades 2 to 3, 4 to 5, and 6 to 9.

Since schools shuttered in March, Create & Learn offered a series of free large, online events/classes with experts from top companies like Google, Apple, Pixar, and Roblox. “For instance,” Jiang said, “a Senior Scientist from Nvidia did a talk on GPU and how it enables real-time graphics rendering and AI, a Google expert shared what data centers are and how they play a huge role in the internet, and a two-time Oscar winner shared how computer science is used in making animations. At the end of June, a NASA expert will talk about robotics and AI in the mission to Mars. 

“It would have been unthinkable just a few years ago that a fourth grader can use the top AI tools to recognize what’s in an image or use big data tools to analyze all the writings of Shakespeare,” Jiang said. “It is now all doable and, moreover,  just takes a couple of minutes to do. This is why exciting changes are ready to happen with CS education in K-12.”

Create & Learn announced seed-funding to expand the school today, and said it has raised $1.7M led by GSV Ventures.

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