In a recent episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Zoey, a software developer, learns that her company’s smart watch has a coding glitch – it doesn’t recognize Black people. What she discovers is that this is not merely a software problem but a systemic problem in her company and her industry, where there is a disproportionately low number of Black employees. Though the show is fictional, the storyline is not. As more and more products utilizing artificial intelligence enter the market, we are finding that even computers can exhibit bias.
As Joy Buolamwini explains in this TED Talk from 2016, facial recognition programs are dependent on machine learning, and that learning is dependent on training sets. If those sets are not diverse, then we end up with problems like those described by Buolamwini and others.
After realizing that she needed to be part of the solution for this problem, which Buolamwini describes as “The Coded Gaze,” she set up The Algorithmic Justice League, which aims to combat racism as well as any type of discrimination in artificial intelligence. In a recent Twitter thread for National Geographic during Black History Month, Buoloamwini gives more examples of the ways AI can fail.
As artificial intelligence becomes more ubiquitous, it is important to continue to encourage diverse groups of young people to learn how to code ethically so that future generations will not inadvertently (or deliberately) create biased programs.
There are two more days for interested parents to sign up students for my free course using CoSpaces. There is no obligation to participate once signed up, but the deadline is January 9, 2021. It’s best for students 9-13, but students who are tech proficient at 8 years old should be fine. This course is a “beta” course for me, so it will only be 3 weeks long, with one hour a week. On the interest form you can indicate if you prefer weeknights or Saturday mornings. Click here for more info on CoSpaces, and the link to the form (near the end of the post).
UPDATE 1/11/2021: Here is a list of great Alexa skills for kids from Commonsense Media!
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I want to share a few things I learned at ISTE 2020 last week. One of the sessions I “attended” virtually was about Artificial Intelligence, presented by Hall Davidson. Among the great resources he shared, Davidson mentioned that you can customize some of the Amazon Alexa responses using “Skill Blueprints.” I know that many classrooms can’t have an Alexa due to district and privacy issues, but if you do have one – or have one at home – this site should definitely be of interest to you. Using the Alexa Blueprints, you can customize stories, games, celebrations, and even taking turns. In addition, there are 5 different “Learning and Knowledge” templates. Davidson mentioned that he had worked with schools where the students had filled out the templates, giving them a bit of education on some of the uses of Artificial Intelligence.
I cannot express enough how participating in the first Hour of Code several years ago changed my life, and hopefully made a positive difference in the lives of my students. We were all new to coding in my classroom back then, and learned together. From that time on, coding has been part of my life and integrated into my classes. I am still not an expert by any means – which has been a great benefit to me as a teacher. It allows me to encourage productive struggle and for all of us to celebrate when problems are solved.
This year’s Hour of Code will be from December 7-11, 2020. One way you can participate is by finding activities on this page, which allows you to filter for grade level, ability level, and device. You can even do “unplugged” activities. Another option is to use one of the Choice Boards created by Shannon Miller for this occasion.
If you want to delve deeper after Hour of Code, I highly, highly recommend the free Code.org courses, which are very engaging for students and provide a dashboard and lesson plans to teachers. I taught this as an elective for 6th graders last year, and they really took it to the next level.
I’m going to be creating a Wakelet of coding resources that I will share next week. Also, if you are interested in having me present to your staff on Coding for beginners and how to integrate it into your curriculum, please contact me at @engagetheirminds.com
As some of you know, I have a slightly scary addiction to Kickstarter. However, I feel like I’ve been pretty good at choosing some winning products to back, which makes my addiction a bit less scary – though not less impactful on my wallet. The Turing Tumble was one Kickstarter product that lived up to its promise, and I even recommended it for Gifts for the Gifted in 2018. You can read more about it here. I have used Turing Tumble with various age groups, and the kids who love it often don’t want to let anyone else try. Put that together with, well, Covid-19, where you don’t exactly want to encourage people to share their toys, and you might have a bit of a challenge playing this game. This is where the recently launched site, Tumble Together, can help out. Tumble Together is a Turing Tumble simulator (say that 10 times fast). You can mesmerize yourself by moving the pieces and dropping the marbles to your heart’s content. You can even click on the menu to do 30 different challenges. But the best part is that you can open your own shared room and invite your friends to work on it with you! Without worrying about germs!
Turing Tumble – it’s a game, it’s an education, it’s a plethora of conundrums. Check it out. And, don’t forget that Turing Tumble offers Educator Resources here, including discounts on the physical game which is a delight.
TED Ed has so many great videos for the classroom. These videos have interactive questions, which can be customized for your own students. You can sort the videos by subject if you are just browsing, or you can search for keywords. Many of the videos are short animations offering information about topics like coronavirus and “A Day as a Teenage Samurai.” Other videos pose riddles for the viewers, such as the ones in this playlist. (The River Crossing Riddle is a student favorite!)
If you know young people who like to code, TED Ed also has a series of 10 short (about 6 minutes long) videos where viewers are given challenges that reinforce coding concepts such as loops and conditionals. Think Like a Coder tells the story of a programmer named, “Ethic,” and her sidekick, “Hedge.” It begins when Ethic awakes to find herself imprisoned, and Hedge helps her to escape her locked room. Ethic must give Hedge specific instructions in order to discover the code to open the combination. The animation guides the viewer through the process of developing a code with loops, which would be more efficient than creating a line of code for each potential combination.
Think Like a Coder feels like a video game, but it isn’t. It also probably won’t appeal to students who are brand new to coding. If I was using this in the classroom, Think Like a Coder would be the perfect supplement for a Code.org studio course, and I might use the TED Ed or EdPuzzle tools to crop the video so that students can offer answers before the solution is given. This series would also be great to offer students who have high interest in this area, and would benefit from watching the videos independently.