Children in preschool and primary school to explore artificial intelligence

Tekoäly ja lapset (‘AI and Children’), a project headed by Professor Teemu Roos, has been awarded a grant of €80,000 by the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation.

In addition to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki, participating in the project are the University’s Faculty of Educational Sciences and the University of Eastern Finland.

The initial phase of the project will run for a year, during which learning materials and models will be tested as well as partnership classes selected, in addition to which ways to increase the openness of learning will be investigated.

– We are still at the preparatory stage, but the goal is to launch the project at the turn of the year. This will provide us with a solid foundation in the form of practical experience and feedback, Teemu Roos says.

The project as a whole will not come to an end in a year, but the first phase should provide a clear picture of how to further develop AI-related teaching targeted at children. There are already interesting partners involved, but additional parties are also being sought.

– We have real pedagogical stars with us from Eastern Finland, Roos notes. Contributing to brainstorming for the project is Mehackit, a business partner, while coding ambassador and author Linda Liukas will be offering her ideas for use.

The year-long project phase also includes materials testing at the Finnish Science Centre Heureka and at the SciFest in Joensuu. Project results will be presented at the Helsinki Education Week. A subsequent, larger project would also involve more extensive online learning modules.

No computer needed for exploring artificial intelligence

Next year, the project will primarily function as a workshop touring in preschool and primary school classes.

– These workshops will take place in cooperation with teachers, since preschoolers still need supervision, and they are unable to independently complete an online course or related materials, says Project Planning Officer Sanna Reponen.

However, the goal is to consider how to activate schoolchildren in their free time too. In the project, materials that can be more freely worked on at home will be designed, as will opportunities for families to complete activities together.

Furthermore, a computer is not necessarily needed to complete the assignments.

– As a subject area, it is more practicable to implement artificial intelligence and machine learning in the real word compared to, say, programming. To get started, you don’t need to know the basics of information technology, Roos says.

As an example, Roos refers to students with cheerleading as a hobby who designed a bot that uses computer vision to identify various movements.

Manual work can be used to illustrate the methods of machine learning in the physical world, and the assignments include a range of crafts tasks.

– Children remember the experience of doing something if it is fun and if they produce something as a result, Reponen notes. She points out that these creative and relaxing ways of working to be developed are not only for children. Wonderment and experimentation also work for adults.

The fundamental goal is to inspire and motivate children, as well as teach them how to work with artificial intelligence.

– You shouldn't underestimate the importance of fun. It remains a good motivator later on too when children start to learn about information technology in an increasingly in-depth manner, Reponen says.