Integrating Artificial Intelligence with Smart Engineering and English Language Arts in Upper Elementary Education

Integrating Artificial Intelligence with Smart Engineering and English Language Arts in Upper Elementary Education


This project will develop upper elementary school students’ abilities to work with Artificial intelligence (AI) in future careers. AI will be a critical tool for influencing and increasing productivity in the future of work. As such, it is increasingly important to introduce K-12 students to basic AI knowledge and skills, build familiarity with AI technologies, and train students to be competitive in the workforce. Through this project, a team of robotics and education researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts and Maryville University in St. Louis, MO will work with over 50 teachers in St. Louis County to develop a research-informed educational ecosystem bringing AI concepts to upper elementary school students. This ecosystem will include a novel, low-cost, AI-enabled hardware toolset, including components such as sensors, actuators, and a microcontroller, for students to build smart systems, as well as support for teacher professional development. Through after-school and summer programs, the project will engage over 1000 St. Louis County students in constructing functional AI-enabled solutions to problems presented in fictional stories that the students read in English language arts and summer reading programs. The goal of the approach is to encourage transdisciplinary learning at the intersection of AI, engineering, and literacy. The education program testing will include 12 teachers and 500 students from the upper elementary target audience, with other participants in pilot testing across the K-12 grade band. The project aims to generate a new model for introducing vital AI concepts to elementary students that reduces barriers to integrating computational thinking into school curricula and provides tangible, trainable representations of AI for students to explore.

Researchers will investigate three primary research questions: 1) How does the introduction of tangible artificial intelligence elements lead to changes in upper elementary students’ understanding of artificial intelligence concepts and attitudes towards artificial intelligence? 2) How do different levels of complexity and variety of tangible artificial intelligence learning tools impact students' engagement and the diversity of their solutions and designs? 3) What are the potential benefits and challenges of introducing tangible artificial intelligence elements in integrated engineering and literacy activities? The project team will apply a design-based research (DBR) approach to jointly generate interdisciplinary education and learning sciences theory alongside iteratively designing and developing the toolset, professional development, and activities. The research will include interviews and surveys with AI professionals to develop and validate grade-appropriate measures of students’ understanding of AI concepts and attitudes. The team will evaluate the research questions with a mixed-methods analytic approach, triangulating qualitative data from teacher interviews, lesson and professional development observations, student-made artifact analysis, and artifact-based student interviews with quantitative data from teacher and student surveys. The project’s contribution will shift the artificial intelligence education paradigm towards a convergent curriculum and away from the status quo of coding and computing requiring separate instruction. The project findings will help inform the field about challenges specific to AI education in upper elementary grades. The deliverables from this project will include the AI Animated Inventions (AI2) hardware toolset, a teacher professional development model, a gallery of example activities and student work, and measures of the program’s effectiveness, as well as the usability and utility of the tangible artificial intelligence elements for learning AI concepts.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.



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2021 - 2024


Tufts Univeristy Boston, MA

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