In Classroom No. 18 at Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, teacher Malcolm Eckel is witnessing his students utilize artificial intelligence for the game Tic-Tac-Toe. Every Friday, Eckel offers a course on artificial intelligence, which […]
In Classroom No. 18 at Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology in Fairfax County, Virginia, teacher Malcolm Eckel is witnessing his students utilize artificial intelligence for the game Tic-Tac-Toe.
Every Friday, Eckel offers a course on artificial intelligence, which is attended by many third and fourth-grade students who are interested in pursuing computer science or artificial intelligence after graduation. The course provides students with an overview of the field of artificial intelligence.
Unlike traditional homework or tests, the course consists of open-ended projects that students work on for weeks. The goal is to encourage students to spend two to three weeks coding for each task and develop the skill of independent problem-solving through coding by the end of the school year.
The course adapts to new technologies but has been offered to prestigious school students for years, according to Eckel.
During a recent class, Eckel briefly discussed the task with the students, after which they opened their laptops and began coding. Each unit comes with a “real-life puzzle, problem, brain teaser, or scenario.”
Currently, the students are writing artificial intelligence for the game Othello. The artificial intelligence they create will be able to defeat “almost any human” in the game, according to Eckel.
In the final unit, the objective is to use artificial intelligence to solve 100 sudoku puzzles in less than a second.
Eckel highlights that the solutions are often unique to each student, which is one of the advantages of open-ended problems.
Approximately 40% of students at this school are learning artificial intelligence, according to Eckel.
Student Anika Saraf describes the artificial intelligence course as one of the best offered in high school, mainly due to the problem-solving skills students acquire. The skills learned in the course can be applied to non-academic concepts, such as home furnishing and determining room functionalities.
“We are given a lot of these big problems for which we have to come up with our own methodology to solve,” Saraf said.
Sophia Huang suggests that artificial intelligence can be useful in navigation contexts as well.
“In games, we create ways to find the shortest path to a solution,” Huang said. “For example, in GPS, you find the shortest path to your location.”
At the end of the year, students will write a neural network from scratch that can recognize handwritten numbers, according to Eckel.
“I want them to feel empowered to write something new,” Eckel said.
Eckel emphasizes the importance of students experimenting with artificial intelligence, highlighting that new innovations sometimes cause public concerns.
“People’s worries about this are often exaggerated,” Eckel said. “When the pocket calculator was invented, it didn’t make learning math impossible or unnecessary. Similarly, Chat GPT will not make learning something impossible or unnecessary.”
Younger student Aarush Vinod believes that the benefits of artificial intelligence outweigh the risks, citing its applications in medicine.
On the other hand, Eckel predicts that this technology will become commonplace, similar to how people currently use Google searches.
He asserts that programs “don’t create new ideas; they only combine what they’ve been trained on.”
“I don’t think we’ve reached Skynet yet,” he said.