By Katherine Ouellette | MIT Open Learning
The first annual Day of AI on Friday, May 13 introduced artificial intelligence literacy to classrooms all over the world. An initiative of MIT Responsible AI for Social Empowerment and Education (RAISE), Day of AI is an opportunity for teachers to introduce K-12 students of all backgrounds to artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in their lives.
With over 3,000 registrations from educators across 88 countries — far exceeding the first-year goal of 1,000 registrations in the United States — the initiative has clearly struck a chord with students and teachers who want to better understand the technology that’s increasingly part of everyday life.
In today’s technology-driven world, kids are exposed to and interact with AI in ways they might not realize — from search algorithms to smart devices, video recommendations to facial recognition. Day of AI aims to help educators and students develop AI literacy with an easy entry point, with free curricula and hands-on activities developed by MIT RAISE for grades 3-12.
Professor Cynthia Breazeal, director of MIT RAISE, dean for digital learning, and head of the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots research group, says “We’re so inspired by the enthusiasm that students have expressed about learning about AI. We created this program because we want students and their teachers to be able to learn about these technologies in a way that’s engaging, that’s meaningful, that gives them the experience so they know that they can do AI too.”
AI is for everyone
The MIT RAISE team designed all Day of AI activities to be accessible to educators and students of all backgrounds and abilities, including those with little or no technology experience. In collaboration with education provider i2 Learning, MIT RAISE also offered teachers free professional development sessions prior to teaching the material. “That really helped me understand GANs and how that works,” says Gar-Hay Kit, a sixth-grade teacher from Mary Lyon School in Boston. “The slides that we were given were easy to work with and my class was engaged with all of the activities that we did that day.”
Students engaged with AI topics such as deepfakes, generative adversarial networks (GANs), algorithmic bias in datasets, and responsible design in social media platforms. Through hands-on activities and accessible, age-appropriate lessons, they learned what these technologies do, how they’re built, the potential dangers, along with responsible design and use — to bring benefit while mitigating unintended negative consequences.
To celebrate the inaugural Day of AI, the RAISE team hosted an event at WBUR CitySpace. Students from the fifth and sixth grade at Mary Lyon School shared projects they had created using the Day of AI curriculum during the previous few days. They demonstrated how Google QuickDraw was more likely to recognize spotted cows when the majority of users submit input with drawings of cows with spots; the AI didn’t have a wide enough dataset to draw from to be able to account for other breeds of cows that have different patterns or solid colors.
In a project about responsible social media and game design, students showed how the Roblox game platform only recommends gendered clothing for characters based on the user-entered gender. The solution the students proposed was to change the design of the recommendation system by inputting more options that were less overtly gendered, and allowing all users access to all of the clothing.
When asked what stuck out the most about the Day of AI activities, sixth-grade student Julia said, "It was cool how they were teaching young students AI and how we got to watch videos, and draw on the website."
“One of the great benefits of this program is that no experience is necessary. You can be from anywhere and still have access to this career,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito at the event. The accessibility of Day of AI curricula relates to the tenet of Massachusetts STEM Week, “See yourself in STEM,” and Massachusetts’ STEM education goals at large. When Polito asked the audience of fifth- and sixth-graders from Mary Lyon School if they saw themselves in STEM, dozens of hands shot up in the air.