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  • Writer's pictureLuke Nyswonger

Empowering the Next Generation: The Intersection of AI and STEAM Education

In the small town of Garden City, KS, my mother dedicated over 30 years of her life to kindling the curiosity of young minds as a kindergarten teacher. Through her tireless efforts, I was granted an up-close and personal view of the intricacies of melding arts and sciences into lesson plans, the late nights spent grading papers, and the constant awareness that technology would one day revolutionize education.


Growing up in this environment, I was fortunate to have parents who recognized the importance of fostering a well-rounded education. I didn’t know it at the time, but this holistic approach to learning became the foundation of my life’s journey. I dove into a vibrant world of artistic expression, exploring drawing, painting, and music with the piano, trumpet, and even the unconventional choice of a flute for a boy my age.


AI generated artwork of a teacher in Kansas

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was exposed to a diverse range of artistic and scientific pursuits. I was fortunate enough to have access to hands-on toys like Legos, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Etch A Sketch, and Speak & Spell, which ignited my passion for math and sciences at an early age. As technology advanced, so did my curiosity, and I eagerly explored high-tech toys like the programmable Big Trak, video game consoles, and eventually the emerging world of personal computers, starting with the Commodore 64 (C64). This time period is incredibly special to me, filled with memories of magic and excitement. My upbringing eventually paved the way for a diverse college experience where I pursued both Graphic Design and Computer Science at four different colleges, including a stint at the Colorado Institute of Art.

Looking back, I can see that I struggled with uncertainty and found it challenging to choose a clear path, which was reflected in both my military career and my diverse college coursework. However, little did I know that this seemingly indecisive phase was actually shaping a skill set that would be vital in the near future, a future that is now closely intertwined with the vast potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI).


 

With a background in both arts and sciences, I’ve come to appreciate the immense power of creative problem-solving in harnessing the full potential of AI systems. When considering the art of prompt engineering, it becomes evident that it goes far beyond merely stringing together words, as one might do in a search query. Instead, it demands a heightened level of creativity and ingenuity to effectively guide AI.


As technology continues to advance, professionals across various industries are witnessing a transformation in their respective disciplines, especially white-collar workers. In the field of software documentation, for instance, there is a growing demand for individuals to re-skill and develop a fresh perspective on their craft and responsibilities. The emergence of new technologies like AI has brought about the need for new skills such as prompt engineering and computational thinking, which are vital for effectively working with AI-driven technologies.


As a professional working in software documentation at Microsoft, I am experiencing this transformation firsthand. I am witnessing the importance of developing a comprehensive skill set that combines technical expertise, creative problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and design thinking to effectively work with AI-driven technologies. This emerging skill set is not only transforming the way we work, but also enriching my own personal pursuits.


As an avid homebrewer, I have found that leveraging generative AI and prompt engineering techniques can enhance the enjoyment of my hobby. By using AI-driven technology to analyze and generate new recipes or design new and creative beer names, I am learning critical skills for the future. These skills not only enrich my hobby but also prepare me for the challenges and opportunities presented by AI-driven technologies in my professional life.


A recent article from The Washington Post summed it up well.

Proponents of the growing field argue that the early weirdness of AI chatbots, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing Chat, is actually a failure of the human imagination — a problem that can be solved by the human giving the machine the right advice. And at advanced levels, the engineers’ dialogues play out like intricate logic puzzles: twisting narratives of requests and responses, all driving toward a single goal.

To stay ahead of the rapidly evolving AI landscape, I propose that we raise the profile of AI within the STEAM discipline of learning.

Introducing STE(Ai)M


AI generated picture of a brain
((STEM + Arts) + Artificial Intelligence) == STE(Ai)M

STE(Ai)M can be likened to a well-orchestrated piece of music, with each instrument, including the flute, playing a unique role in creating a harmonious and captivating sound. Just as a symphony requires a diverse range of instruments to create a beautiful melody, the STE(Ai)M framework highlights the need for a comprehensive set of skills to effectively work with AI-driven technologies. This includes technical expertise, creative problem-solving, communication, and design thinking. When all these skills come together, just like a symphony, the result is a masterpiece that captivates and inspires the audience.


The STE(Ai)M framework would emphasize the need for individuals to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of AI-driven industries by acquiring a diverse set of skills starting at an early age. These would include:

  1. Computational thinking: Computational thinking is a problem-solving skill that involves breaking down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. This involves recognizing patterns, identifying algorithms, and developing logical solutions. With the growing role of AI in various industries, computational thinking is becoming an essential skill for individuals who will be working with AI-driven technologies.

  2. Creativity: Creativity is the ability to think outside the box, explore new ideas, and generate innovative solutions. In the age of AI, creativity is becoming increasingly important as individuals are required to come up with new ways to work with and improve AI systems. This could involve developing new AI applications, designing human-centered AI interfaces, or finding new ways to improve AI algorithms.

  3. Communication: Communication is a crucial skill for individuals working with AI-driven technologies, as it involves effectively expressing ideas and sharing information with others. This could involve explaining complex technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders, collaborating with team members on AI projects, or designing user interfaces that are intuitive and easy to use.

  4. Collaboration: Collaboration is an essential skill for individuals working with AI, as it involves working with others to achieve common goals. This could involve collaborating with writers to develop AI writing guidelines, data scientists and engineers to develop AI models, working with product managers to design AI applications, or working with end-users to ensure that AI systems meet their needs.

  5. Critical thinking: As individuals are increasingly required to evaluate the accuracy and fairness of AI models, identify potential biases, and ensure that AI systems are developed in an ethical and responsible manner, critical thinking has become a crucial skill in the context of AI. It involves analyzing information, evaluating arguments, and making informed decisions. One need only examine the output of ChatGPT to understand the significance of this trend.

  6. Cultural competency: Cultural competency involves the ability to appreciate and respect diverse perspectives, cultures, and traditions. In the context of AI, cultural competency is becoming increasingly important as individuals work with AI systems that have the potential to impact different communities in different ways. This could involve designing AI applications that are sensitive to different cultural norms, or ensuring that AI systems are developed in a way that is inclusive and equitable for all users.

The skills needed for STE(Ai)M, such as computational thinking, creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and cultural competency, are all important in traditional STEAM education. However, the addition of AI requires individuals to develop a deeper understanding of AI technologies, algorithms, and ethics, and to apply creative problem-solving and design thinking skills to create human-centered AI solutions. This interdisciplinary education is crucial to prepare individuals for the challenges and opportunities presented by AI-driven technologies across industries and sectors.

Introducing AI concepts to elementary students can help them prepare for the future. They can learn basic concepts such as data analysis, pattern recognition, and decision-making algorithms to understand how AI works. This can help them become critical consumers and producers of AI-driven technologies, building a foundation for future learning and exploration.


 

As AI technology continues to advance at an astonishing pace, there has been growing concern about the need to hit the pause button for the sake of humanity (as seen in the open letter from the Future of Life Institute titled “Pause Giant AI Experiments”). Despite the uncertainty surrounding the outcome, it’s clear that educational institutions must take swift action to incorporate courses and activities that teach essential skills for the future of AI.


Let’s strive to educate and inspire the next generation of innovators, thinkers, and problem-solvers to boldly explore the exciting possibilities of AI and shape a future that reflects our collective values and aspirations.


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