AI for Good Challenge: Werribee Secondary College’s amazing race to success

It was almost the very end of term 2 when Jayanti Nayak found the flyer in her pigeon hole. Time was running out, but there was something about the AI for Good Challenge opportunity that was too good to ignore.

Here was the opportunity to encourage her students at Werribee Secondary College to stretch their creative muscles, test their innovation ability and extend themselves beyond the walls of the classroom.

Jayanti Nayak teaches Computing, Maths and Science and is Faculty Head for Computing at Werribee Secondary College, a 7-12 high school in Melbourne’s south west with a track record in innovation – it was the first Victorian government school authorised to offer students the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.

Microsoft’s AI for Good Challenge was designed to give all high school students the opportunity to ideate solutions that use artificial intelligence to make a positive impact in their world. It ran for the first time in Australian in 2019.

When Jayanti first saw the flyer she admits; “I didn’t know anything about this challenge. But I was excited – and I thought it would be good for the students to have a go at it. But I had no idea how.”

To support teachers engaging with AI for Good, and working with Education Changemakers, Microsoft posted a series of videos on its website and developed four learning modules aligned to the Australian curriculum standards to support teachers to flexibly deliver the content to their students in grades 7-12 who were participating in the Challenge. Jayanti went online, lapped up the videos, and started to work out how she could get Werribee’s students engaged.

She shared it with other ICT teachers in her faculty. She spent one week using the Microsoft resources working with her Year 11 students first on how to identify a problem, then form design teams of three to sketch out possible solutions, and then to present ideas to the class and brainstorm their ideas. Junior students were also encouraged to participate. Lunchtime sessions were organized for junior students (7-10) and they did so enthusiastically says Jayanti.

Although Microsoft scheduled a series of 14 hackathons around the country to support AI for Good in 2019, it was too late by the time Jayanti found the flyer to organise her students to attend. This year may be different.

Jayanti is keen to repeat the experience in 2020 as AI for Good proved an important learning experience she says. Before starting the challenge Jayanti says students had little knowledge of artificial intelligence; some thought it was about robots, some felt it was beyond their capabilities.

Jayanti put them straight. “They don’t have to program it, just come up with the ideas. This is more about ideation and design thinking,” she adds.

Student enthusiasm swelled and three of the school’s submissions made it to the State final. One, the e-chair, made it all the way to Nationals, eventually taking out fourth place out of 545 submissions from 325 registered schools across Australia.

The e-chair was the brainchild of two of Jayanti’s Year 11 students, who proposed an AI-powered wheelchair that helped users find the best route to their destination, and also featured voice activations and Braille commands to ensure its accessibility.

According to Jayanti, the experience was enormously valuable to all students, building their confidence, exposing them to new ways of thinking, extending their technical, creative and collaboration skills. “Even taking them to the Microsoft office and seeing other ideas, and getting to develop presentation skills. It was the best thing that happened to them,” she says, adding that for the final three-minute presentation the students honed their performance and “rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed” until they were word perfect.

“That is what children need, that is the future. In the classroom we can’t give them that exposure – we have to stick to materials and the classroom structure. For me as a teacher it was a good learning curve about what I can do with the students so that when they leave school they understand AI – and if they are interested they can do it in the future.”

Jayanti is keen to repeat the experience in 2020. She says that she has created what she describes as the “ambassadors” for the program, her students who made it through to the State and National levels of the challenge in 2019. This time though she will register the school early to give students an even greater opportunity for success.

Registrations for the 2020 AI for Good Challenge are open now. The Challenge will run from Term 1 2020 with hackathons again scheduled around the country. Finals are slated for July/August. For more information on the 2020 AI for Good Challenge including teacher resources, hackathon dates and prizes go to www.aiforgood.com.au.

 

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