Join Upper School Computer Science Department Chair and Teacher Ash Hansberry, Middle School Computer Science Teacher Bobby Oommen and Lower School Computer Science and Technology Integration Specialist Fiona Deeney for a discussion about how computer science is integrated into classroom activities at Latin and why it's important to adapt to technological changes in today's the world.
Ash Hansberry: I’m Ash Hansberry and I am an upper school computer science teacher. I am also the Department Chair for the Computer Science Department.
Bobby Oommen: I'm Bobby Oommen, middle school computer science teacher.
Fiona Deeney: I'm Fiona Deeney, the lower school computer science and technology integration specialist.
What is an example of a computer science exercise taking place in the classroom?
Deeney: One of the examples of the projects that we are doing with the second graders right now, they're in the middle of a social studies unit where they're learning about the states and it was trying to figure out a way to incorporate some of their activities that they're doing in art with learning organic lines. And then also with something that they could do with technology. They worked with a 3D printing program, and first of all, worked with shapes that they were using in math. They were using geometric shapes. One example I had them do was think about a two-dimensional shape, such as a triangle, and then using the 3D printing app to turn that into a three-dimensional shape. So they turned that triangle into a pyramid. They had to think about what that looks like as you change the shape. They're also thinking about how the program works, that it's not magic. It doesn't go from using this 3D printing app to just coming out of a machine that that's being sent to the machine. And this is how it builds the shape. So they worked with a geometric shape and then move that into a three-dimensional shape. The next step they did was learn about organic lines. They were learning about it in art, and then we were using the free design draw, the free drawing tool in the app to think about drawing different shapes of things that they might find in nature. And then the connection with the social studies unit then is that after they did those two projects, then they had to think about how they could draw the state that they were studying and then what they would add to it to make it have a three-dimensional design. So they drew the outline of their shape using the free drawing tool, unless they have a great state like Colorado and they lucked out. They were really happy when they found that out, but then they also added some different components, some natural parts of the land that maybe on there. The students that did Hawaii were able to add different layers into the design that they made. And then we've been 3D printing those for them to look at and sort of see the comparison of what those seats look like.
Oommen: So briefly in the middle school, one of the ways that we integrate computer science and computational thinking into an art class is Mr. Harris talks to the seventh graders about color theory and, and how the color wheel is organized and how colors are coordinated together. So I come in and ask them, well, this is great. You've got color. How would a computer that operates on ones and zeros represent color? And so I give them a little magnifying glass and they look up on their their screens and they're able to see these red, green and blue lights that are actually put together. And they're like RGB red, green, blue. We've been talking about additive and subtractive colors and how those work together to make all these different colors that we're aware of. So then we talk about how computers are using that same idea now in turning a red light on, I can turn a red light on with a computer and I can turn it off. And so we combine those ideas into a larger project where they paint some of the colors and then they use a computer to recreate some of the shapes, print those shapes out, put them in addition to their painted colors. And now they've understood color theory from both from the computer's perspective, as well as just their art perspective.
I would say really quickly as well, in seventh grade social studies, we recently had a new unit on artificial intelligence. So one of their culminating projects was how can AI be used to help in the Syrian refugee and refugee crises in general. And so they talked about how AI incorporates things like representation and reasoning, human interaction vision. And so we talked about these different things. And so students came up with different possible ways that AI could help those crises. And so again, just helping them see how we can now incorporate some of these things into larger, you know, worldwide problems.
Hansberry: The example that I had in mind for the upper school actually touches on that idea of big worldwide problems as well. By the time students are in the upper school, they've done a lot of connecting computer science to their science classes, to their math classes, to their art classes, even, which is so awesome. And so by the time they're in the upper school, we like to take it one step further and have the students both how they can use computational tools to study different subjects, but then how they can also make their own tools to study different subjects. So we have a unit in computer science principles where we use NetLogo. NetLogo is a program that students can use to make simulations and models. And so we start off in that unit and the students can look at models about all sorts of things, and we make a point to make sure that students look at models, not just about science or not just about math, but we look at models about historical population growth, or we look at a model about segregation and see how a community becomes segregated based on individual's preferences. And so we're able to talk about how does this computational model allow us to better understand our world? You know, they can make connections to the problems they're seeing in history or to things they've read in English class. And then for their final project, that unit, they make a model of their own. And I've seen students make models on everything from students looking at climate change to students trying to model traffic in the cafeteria here at Latin a to students trying to model Coronavirus and how it changed people's movement around the city. And so they're able to apply it to basically whatever subject they have interest in.
Why is it important to adapt to technology changes in the world?
Hansberry: I think this is a great question because technology clearly changes so quickly. I think we're all aware of new technology, whether it's phones, apps, websites, it's clearly a part of everyone's day to day life. And so it's increasingly true that in order to function in the world, you need to have some amount of technology knowledge. But what I think is even more important is to have the skills to keep up with that technology. And that's something that I think we do a good job of by teaching computational thinking skills. So not only do our students get to use all of these tools, they get exposure to lots of different apps to different programming languages, but we're really focused on teaching them the skills that will help them keep up with it in the future. So no matter what app we teach them or what programming language we teach them, there's going to be something new by the time they're out of our class. And there's definitely going to be something new by the time they're in college, or they're looking for a job someday, but what's not going to be new is those core computational thinking skills, they're going to continue to apply. No matter what technology there is, the kids are going to be able to use their skills and well, let's take that technology and break it down. What are the instructions that this technology is following? Where is it getting its data? You know, what are the inputs and outputs that are going to this technology? So the skills that we give them to take care of whatever technology we see today is going to benefit them with the technology of tomorrow as well. And it's going to make sure that they're set up for whatever changes keep coming their way.
Oommen: So one of the reasons why I think it's also important to adapt to technology changes in the world is in the ways in which it affects us in the way that we live life in policy, in so many things. So going back to that AI unit, we talked about algorithmic bias and similar to what Ash referred to. So where is this data coming from for this AI? Why could AI recognize white faces and not recognize black faces? Why did this AI, when it was processing, whether a person blinked, could recognize white people blinking, but not Asian people? And so talking about how, you know, this can feed into different ways where it it's not just bias, but then all of a sudden it becomes discrimination. And so how can our students be aware of how the technology can be used and where they need to be thinking about this tool can benefit everyone and avoid the mistakes that you know different policies and things have made in the past.
Deeney: Bobby, with the discussion you're talking about AI, we have just a lighter version of those discussions in the younger grades. Something that I've had to discuss with the third graders was that we were using Google quick draw, which uses machine learning as behind it. And they were amazed thatvit could solve what they were drawing so quickly, but they also very quickly went into a discussion about if you are tricking the system enough that like what is a negative outcome that potentially it could have for a tool like that. Then what that extends to in larger world issues that we have to be aware of where the data is coming from. And then also how we use the data to determine what tools are useful. And then also that that's where things can go in a direction that the tool was not necessarily made for. And that we have to be aware of that.
- lower school
- middle school
- upper school