School News: Microsoft Brings AI into the Classroom

Summer 2020

Seventh grader Brady Seaburg speaks enthusiastically about a new initiative that is bringing the latest information about artificial intelligence (AI) into his classroom at Quest Academy (IL). But he’s not just excited about the cutting-edge technology.
 
“It’s about hunger, poverty, or a lack of water,” he says earnestly in an interview for the local nightly news about the school’s new collaboration with Microsoft. “Last year we tried to make a water saver that was pretty effective, but obviously we can get a ton of help with this technology.”
 
Brady and his classmates are focused on using technology to benefit society, and Quest has stressed that mission in its first-in-the-nation AI curriculum, which it began using at the start of the 2019–2020 school year. School officials aren’t sure how Microsoft noticed, but the tech company contacted the school about collaborating through its AI for Good initiative, which supports worthy causes using new technology.
 
“We knew we did not want to create just a new AI class for a select number of our students or even a separate AI class for every grade,” says Brian Frank, a math teacher and team leader of the initiative. “We wanted to find a way to embed AI in all of our classes to enhance every part of our curriculum, from math to art to PE.”
 
To help the school do that, Microsoft shared real-world examples of AI use in employee training and marketing techniques and then asked a team of 12 Quest teachers from various departments to develop curriculum concepts. Willie Mason, Microsoft Services director of digital transformation, and Shaaz Nasir, Microsoft Services digital adviser, then helped the teachers fine-tune their work, which resulted in “specific grade-level learning objectives, along with projects and activities to achieve them,” Frank says.
 
The teams developed the Five Big Ideas that aligned with the curriculum, such as “Computers perceive the world using sensors” and “Computers can learn from data.”
 
From there, using the idea of how computers learn from data, for example, third grade students researched the life and travels of famous explorers and used the AI-enabled Cozmo Robot to explore various aspects of those journeys and how they could change if variables differed. 
 
Jacquelyn Negus, head of school, says the collaboration will benefit the school’s mission on an ongoing basis. “The partnership with Microsoft has provided the Quest Academy AI curriculum team with a solid foundation of concepts upon which we are designing our program,” she told Quintessential Barrington magazine, a local publication. “Our knowledge of the gifted child and gifted curricula, coupled with Microsoft’s research on artificial intelligence, affords us a perfect opportunity to develop an AI curricula for 21st century learners.”DSC05256-(1).JPG
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Quest Academy students work on robotic projects as part of a new collaboration with Microsoft.
 

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