#218 – AI and Education, with Wren Hoffman

Unpacking Education September 13, 2023 44 min

In this episode, we are joined by Wren Hoffman, Professional Development Lead at the AI Education Project, aiEDU. Wren helps provide a better understanding of artificial intelligence (AI) and how it’s shaping our daily lives. She also outlines the many free resources offered by aiEDU, including a collection of engaging 5-minute AI snapshot activities, a project dashboard filled with full lessons, AI challenges for students who want to learn more, a clear overview of AI called AI in 5 minutes, and a 10-week project-based curriculum that can be used in your school.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

I think we’re at the cusp of using AI for probably the biggest positive transformation that education has ever seen. And the way we’re going to do that is by giving every student on the planet an artificially intelligent but amazing personal tutor, and we’re going to give every teacher on the planet an amazing, artificially intelligent teaching assistant.

Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy and now Khanmigo, an AI learning assistant


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Empowering Students and Teachers

Artificial intelligence has generated a lot of buzz in education circles. Emotions during these conversations have ranged from confusion to fear to excitement, as educators across the world try to figure out what this technology means for teaching and learning.

To support both students and educators, the AI Education Project (aiEDU) has developed a collection of free, helpful resources. Our guest for this episode, Wren Hoffman, Professional Development Lead at the AI Education Project, explains that the mission of aiEDU is to “create equitable learning experiences to excite and empower all learners with AI literacy.” She explains, “AI literacy is the collection of skills and knowledge that a person needs to understand, use, and critically evaluate artificial intelligence.”

Wren is passionate about the work that aiEDU is doing to advance AI literacy. She says enthusiastically, “I want to support the learners who are going to change the world, and I do that by supporting the teachers who are supporting those students’ dreams.” The following are a few highlights:

  • About Our Guest: Wren Hoffman is the Professional Development Lead at the AI Education Project, aiEDU. She designs, develops, and delivers professional development to educators around the country. Wren is a former computer science (CS) teacher, technology instructional coach, and CS state lead for the Iowa Department of Education.
  • Examples of AI: Wren helps to demystify AI by providing examples of how it is present in our daily lives. Examples include facial recognition software; recommendations on Spotify, Netflix, and YouTube; lane assist on cars; navigation apps; credit card fraud detection; and predictive text in emails or text messages.
  • A Definition of AI: Wren explains, “AI, or artificial intelligence, is the ability for machines to sense, reason, engage, and learn, which includes computer vision, and voice recognition, and things like robotics. Another way to think about it is that it’s a system that uses algorithms and data to solve problems by finding patterns, making decisions, and creating solutions to meet human-designated goals.”
  • An Uneasy Feeling: Although AI has been infused in our daily lives for a while now, many people have only become aware of artificial intelligence since the release of ChatGPT last November. This has led to a feeling that people didn’t have a chance to prepare for it and that the change has been sudden. Wren says, “I think people didn’t know AI was happening until ChatGPT came along.”
  • The aiEDU Mission: The mission of aiEDU is to “create equitable learning experiences to excite and empower all learners with AI literacy.”
  • Three Ways to Reach the aiEDU Mission: Wren describes the three-pronged approach of aiEDU for attaining its mission. The nonprofit works toward its goal by providing curricular materials, professional development, and advocacy.
  • AI Literacy: “AI literacy is the collection of skills and knowledge that a person needs to understand, use, and critically evaluate artificial intelligence, so it’s part of a well-rounded education,” explains Wren. She adds that these are skills students need in order to be “active, successful members of society.”
  • The Need to Engage: Wren says, “AI is here, and it’s part of our daily lives, so if we deny our students access to that information, it’s like not providing them the whole story of how a sentence is structured. AI literacy is not high-tech training. It’s comprehension of things like bias and data, what machine learning is, what prompt engineering is. And because it’s part of everything that we will do moving forward, it’s important that the students have a grasp on it.”
  • Critical Skills: “The students who have the knowledge and basic skills in AI are going to have an advantage, whether it’s writing an essay for an application or using AI on the job,” says Wren. For that reason, it is important that schools support students in AI education. For many students, school will be their only opportunity to receive this learning.
  • AI Snapshots: These free materials from aiEDU are 5-minute activities that work like bell ringers. There are 180 sets of question/answer slides split into math, science, social studies, and English. Teachers can pick and choose the slides that work for them.
  • Project Dashboard: These are projects that can be used to supplement a unit or fill in gaps if you have a few extra days between units or before a holiday break. Lesson plans and student guides are provided.
  • Intro to AI: This is a free, 10-week project-based curriculum. It is great for zero hour, CS class, or a CTE course. Students learn about real-life AI situations, as well as topics like bias and data, while they build their own recommendation app, like Netflix and YouTube. Lessons, slide decks, student workbooks, and a teacher guide are included.
  • AI Challenges: These are independent opportunities for students or educators to explore AI further. If student interest is piqued and they want to learn more, teachers can direct them to these AI Challenges for additional activities.
  • AI in 5 Minutes: Wren explains, “Because AI is so complex, the page breaks it down into manageable chunks, and having a grasp of what AI is helps people build some comfort around this, so there isn’t that fear that we talked about earlier.”
  • Teacher Resources: aiEDU offers a range of teacher support resources, including free, monthly webinars; customized, in-person and virtual PD experiences for a fee; and the Visionary Teacher Leader Impact Initiative. Teachers who wish to join this cohort of teachers can complete an application available on the aiEDU website.
  • A Positive Mindset: Wren says, “You can do this. AI is big and complex, and it might be intimidating or scary, but you don’t have to do it alone. You have the support of the team at aiEDU, and yes, you can do this. Take small steps, one day at a time. You don’t have to know it all today. It’s a journey, but you got this.”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • Where have you experienced artificial intelligence in your daily life?
  • What makes you nervous about AI?
  • What gets you excited about AI?
  • What resources from aiEDU do you want to explore?
  • How can you support your students and empower them with knowledge of AI?

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