AI Robots for Kids

[In January I had a chance to join Susan Wells and her TechTerra team at the Future of Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. Susan has traveled around the world sharing her enormous knowledge to robotics and STEM with teachers and educators. I provided the Birdbrain Technologies connection for the Hummingbird and Finch. The debate will continue as Artificial Intelligence (AI) grows. In this article Susan highlights a variety of tools that are available for children.]

Susan Wells, TechTerra Founder

AI (artificial intelligence) includes a broad range of robots and devices that have the ability to gain and apply knowledge and skills through machine learning. This year has seen a barrage of AI robots and learning tools incorporating AI. These robots and tools are intended to provide information, companionship, monitoring, tutoring and more. Amazon Echo and Google Home already provide hands-free voice activated information to homes. As these computers learn more about the humans they interact with, the devices are better able to meet their needs. Now this technology is available for children.

Many see this as a movement toward equity because information is always available and it can allow personalization. For example, in The Driver in the Driverless Car, How our Technology Choices will Create the Future, Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever’s positive outlook on these developments, tell us that “Emerging technologies…will, with teachers provid(ing) guidance and coaching, supercharge learning by making it truly a one-to-one experience at every stop of the learning journey.”

As a counterpoint to the optimistic view, a more cautious approach was expressed by former President Barack Obama. In Wired, President Obama said, “If properly harnessed, it (AI) can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity. But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality. It could suppress wages.”

We know that potential downsides for children regarding AI exist. These include questions of privacy and concern that these toys could isolate children. There is a concern that AI robots could replace human companionship and leave children with machine companions rather than human friends.

What we know for sure is that this new market of AI robots and tools is expanding exponentially. It’s necessary for all of us to understand the tools, their capabilities, and their limitations. We need to decide if they could be a good fit for our kids. To make that decision, we want to know what is out in the market now. Becoming familiar with AI makes good sense for you and your child.

A few of the AI robots and tools available now in the market that we’ve had a chance to take a look at and to play with include:

CogniToys, the Wi-Fi-enabled, educational smart toy is a dinosaur that learns and grows with children. These are conversational dinos powered by IBM’s Watson and Elemental Path’s Friendgine technology. The technology allows the dinos to provide a child with a personalized play experience and the AI technology automatically grows with your child. This allows a child’s play experiences to become more personalized the more they play.

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Mattel Toy Company developed Aristotle, a device that combines AI, cameras, and voice recognition to help parents and kids and to serve as an artificially intelligent home assistant. It can talk, record video, place orders, and help humans become better communicators. Mattel describes Aristotle as a device aimed to be “a nanny, friend, and tutor, intended to both soothe a newborn and help a tween with their foreign language homework.” Privacy is, and has been, an important focus for companies. Mattel has worked to make sure that the way data is handled internally is both COPAA and HIPAA compliant. Because the device can be used to place orders, it is important for parents to talk with their kids about limits that parents may want to set.

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Kuri is a smart home robot from Bosch’s internal startup company, Mayfield Robotics. Kuri has a facial detection feature that allows the device to tailor its reactions and responses to faces and expressions it sees. That means it can smile back at people who smile at it, and watch your face with its eyes while waiting for your next instruction.

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Leka, is another new robotic companion but this robot is designed specifically for children with special needs. The goal behind Leka is to motivate these children and to help them learn, play, and progress with cognitive and motor skills.

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PARO is an advanced interactive robot developed by AIST, a Japanese industrial automation pioneer. PARO was designed to provide the benefits of animal therapy in hospital and extended care settings where live therapy animals might not be appropriate because of treatment or logistical difficulties.

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Real World Learning

Why Real World Learning (RWL)? The key is found in the Glossary of Educational Reform, “Realworld learning refers to education that is focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and challenges.”

When we start with a real world issue we’re providing a context or connection. Educational research indicates that deeper engagements occur when learners see a relationship or connection to what they are researching, studying, or investigating. When you add an “inter” or multidisciplinary approach, then you create another level of connection.

In my work with learning institutions in the Western Pennsylvania area I’ve observed several great examples of where students and staff are engaged in RWL. In this article I’ll highlight two elements:

  • Students as agents of social change and creative producers
  • Regional Opportunities

Students as agent of social change and creative producer

The Avonworth School District has developed over the years a number of projects that challenge not just a select group of students, but all students at a grade level to solve a real world problem that relates to the school community. According to Jason Smith, the 8th grade Civics Teacher, “After a recent class discussion around racism and discrimination in the country, students took an anonymous survey which showed that 76% of 8th grade students believed that our country was more ‘divided’ than ‘united.’ After brainstorming times and places where the country, their community or town felt ‘united,’ students and teachers cited sporting events and fundraisers as examples.” The students then took the idea a step further and decided to develop a 5K run that would raise money for an Avonworth family that had lost their home and daughter to a recent fire.

The students were divided into teams that included: Promotions, Public Relations, Design, Registration, and Sponsorship. What makes this project more real world and more challenging is the fact that it was not just one Civics class, but all six classes that Jason Smith taught. The students shared, for instance, lists of sponsors, and each team had an alphabetical range of names to contact. In order to promote the event each class had to design a website and then a team of experts selected the best website for the project.

When I observed students working on the project everyone was engaged and collaborating with their peers. This project demonstrated how every student can be an agent for social change and contribute creative products to a common effort.

Another Avonworth project that has engaged students for five years now is the high school Galleries Project. In this case students work hand-in-hand with art professionals from four partnering museums – Carnegie Museum of Art, The Warhol, Mattress Factory, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The organizations serve as mentors for students throughout the school year. The students select a project and then product artifacts that reflect the characteristics and mediums of the partnering museums. Last year according to Assistant Superintendent, Ken Lockett, the students wanted to address the question, “Who do we value?” So the students decided to change the way valedictorians were recognized as part of a series of photographs in one of the hallways. The students tapped into an Andy Warhol style of silk screen printing. Instead of traditional photographs, each valedictorian looked like an Andy Warhol poster shimmering with bright colors.

According to Ken Lockette, “The students are working on body images with the Warhol team – trying to get their peers to look up to an ideal.”

Avonworth realizes that the power of these real world learning projects. The school district is now connecting with other schools to expose a larger number of learners to the power of real world learning.

Just down the Interstate from Avonworth, students at the South Fayette School District are working on a variety of real world learning projects. In an interview with Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation, we discussed a middle school program focusing on sustainable systems, “Seeds of Change,” and a high school set of projects revolving around Student Innovation.

Like Avonworth South Fayette has all of its 8th grade students working on a community-focused challenge. Each team of students has come up with a concept to address the question: how do we build a sustainable community? Students have used Human-Centered Design strategies to identify stakeholders, key issues, milestones, and possible solutions. One group is focusing on a living wall that can be incorporated into a classroom. Another team is investigating aquaponics. Another group of learners are examining solar panels and composting.

In each case the students are engaged in a real world challenge that allows them to be creative producers with an engagement with either their class, school, or community.

At the high school level South Fayette students are tackling innovative solutions to real world problems. South Fayette did not have a curriculum in place to teach Python. A student-led team worked with a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student and an engineer from Google to develop an after-school program and then turn this into a curriculum for classroom use. Next year all 8th grade students will take the Python course developed by their high school peers.

Four years ago a team of students at South Fayette worked with Amanda Gunawardena, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon and Princeton, to create MyEduDecks. Over time new student teams have modified the program creating new iterations. As part of the project students conduct research and then share their findings at professional conferences. The students have presented their findings at conferences at Pepperdine University, Microsoft Research, and Brown University. The student findings are professionally published by Springer, a national publisher. According to Aileen Owens, “The most difficult thing is creating the research project and understanding what the data means.” What could be a more real-world problem?

As part of a middle school program around App Development students had to come up with solutions for community problems. One team of students about four years ago discovered from bus drivers that there was a problem with kids getting on the wrong bus. The original team developed “BusBudE” and today student app developers continue to provide new updates to the software. In the latest iteration the students are working on a version that can be shared with other school districts and a training module so other districts can link the software to their busing schedule. The student app team is also working on materials for parents so the parents understand what the data means.

Bringing the real world doesn’t stop at the end of the school year at South Fayette. Students work on the STEAM Innovation Summer Institute for educators. Students serve as tech coordinators as well as student assistants and teachers. Yes, the students who developed the Python course last summer trained teachers in the use of Python. While the students are the creative producers, the teachers need to understand their role as facilitators and mentors.

Regional Opportunities

Through the efforts of schools like Avonworth, South Fayette, and Elizabeth Forward, educators around the region and across the country can learn more about integrating the arts into Project-based Learning and Human Centered Design, STEAM, or FAB learning. Starting in June and continuing through July there are opportunities at each of the schools I’ve listed. In addition, this year Pittsburgh is hosting the Schools that Can National Forum from May 10-11.

Schools that Can (STC) Forum is an annual, public conference focused on a common theme. Sessions are led and attended by top urban educators from STC schools, innovative educational organizations, thought leaders, industry, and community partners. This year’s theme is: Real World Learning for the 21st Century. On the first day of the conference participants will have a chance to visit examples of projects representing the range of K-12 activities. Sites include Pittsburgh: Allegheny Traditional School, Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, Drew Mathieson Center, and City Charter High School. At each site students will share their “real world” experiences. On the second day the event will move to the University of Pittsburgh where panels of experts will share best practices around Real World Learning.

The Elizabeth Forward School District will host from June 15 to 18 a FAB Institute. Elizabeth Forward is opening its doors to any educator interested in creating or improving their own FAB or Fabrication Lab. Participants will learn real world skills such as: computer-aided design, embedded programming, 3D scanning and printing, and much more for implementation at elementary, middle, and high school levels. Apply online at Pittsburgh FAB Institute.

From June 14-25 the South Fayette School District will host its STEAM Innovation Summer Institute. Sessions for educators working in the K-20 arena (in school and out-of-school) range from one to four days. Topics include: Making for Young Children, Creating Sustainable Mindsets, Computational Thinking, Entrepreneurship, App Development, Robotics, and 3D Modeling for Young Children. This year the program also introduces two new workshops that focus on bringing real world projects into the classroom: Professional Development for Authentic PBL School to Business Partnerships and Teachers in the Workplace.

Last year the Avonworth School District partnered with the LUMA Institute and the Center for the Arts to develop Studio A, a 3 day workshop that integrates the Arts into Project-based Learning (PBL) using Human Centered Design. This summer Avonworth will roll out the second round of Studio A training from July 11 to July 13. Participants will learn new tools in design thinking and the arts to workshop ideas for developing authentic, real world PBL units. Teachers will build skills and knowledge to develop interdisciplinary, project-based lessons/units to engage students in meaningful learning and in applying 21st century skills.

 

Designing Learning Spaces

[As I travel and attend conferences I’m hearing more and more people talk about rethinking how we design learning spaces. In this Edsurge article, you’ll hear from Danish Kurani, an architect who now specializes in designing educational learning spaces. He has a fresh take on concepts like “flexibility” and “modular furniture.” He objects to design that is not purposeful and relevant to the needs of learners. In Pittsburgh there have been some excellent examples where learning spaces match the needs of students. The South Fayette School District created STEAM Studios in their new intermediate building. It was critical to have an informal environment that encouraged creative team-work. The walls were bright colors; the acoustics were appropriate; the furniture was purposeful providing collaborative opportunities. As soon as students or teachers walk into the room they understand the expectations for learning.  In the near future the Children’s Museum plans to create a Museum LAB that will be purposeful providing middle school learners with spaces similar to what Kurani has designed for schools.]

Apr 11, 2017

STEAM Studio

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

“Flexible.” It’s a word that often pops up in conversations about redesigning learning environments, relating to choices in furniture or movable walls. But according to Danish Kurani, redesigning 21st century classrooms goes much deeper than merely achieving flexibility—it involves going all the way back to considering Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Kurani is a licensed architect who focuses his work on learning spaces, and currently teaches a “Learning Environments for Tomorrow” course at the Harvard Graduate School of Education every year. Having worked on locations ranging from Denver’s Columbine Elementary to SELNY, a psychotherapy clinic and adult learning center in New York, Kurani has seen and used a variety of tactics to implement learning design in pursuit of specific goals.

This week, EdSurge sat down with him to hear about the most common design constraints, architecture gone wrong, and the work his firm recently conducted on the Code Next Lab in Oakland. Check out the Q&A below, or the recording on the EdSurge podcast.

EdSurge: Danish, as an architect, why did you decide to pursue education as a field for design?

Danish Kurani: A few years ago, when I started Kurani as a design practice, it was with the intent that we would use architecture to help solve global problems and challenges. I think, a lot of times, when we’re thinking about the biggest problems in the world—whether it’s poverty alleviation, or environmental issues, or healthy living and healthcare, or education—architects aren’t usually at that round table. I wanted to make sure that we had a seat at that table, because I think our surroundings make such an impact in our lives. Of course, you’ve got to pick somewhere to start, and being an immigrant in this country, when you grow up in an immigrant family, usually education’s paramount. Your parents understand that, for upward mobility, you’ve got to be educated. That was always of high importance in our family.

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