Thousands of high school students throughout Florida will have access to a curriculum covering artificial intelligence this year. The University of Florida (UF) partnership with public schools aims to equip Florida youth with essential skills needed in an emerging AI-enabled workforce.
The UF-designed AI education program was piloted last year in three school districts. UF is expanding the program to 12 districts beginning this month. The coursework, called AI Foundations, will be delivered through the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.
“We’ve been building out this supportive pipeline for AI and data science in the state of Florida with the ultimate goal of infusing AI throughout the state’s public school curriculum, from kindergarten through 12th grade,” said Nancy Ruzycki, an instructional and associate professor at UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and one of the program architects.
The pilot program was successful in Broward, Orange and Osceola counties. It’s expanding this year to Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam, Seminole and Volusia counties.
The curriculum framework includes four courses: Artificial Intelligence in the World, Applications of Artificial Intelligence, Procedural Programming, and Foundations of Machine Learning. The complexity increases with each course, according to Ruzycki.
The first course, Artificial Intelligence in the World, helps students identify AI around them and how it works. In the second course, students begin to look at how AI is applied in different fields to solve problems. They’ll also begin to learn to create their own AI systems to address issues they’re passionate about.
The next two courses dive deeper into the content, teaching students how to build some of the AI applications they have become familiar with and to use those skills to land an entry-level job or continue their education.
“The job we’re doing right now in this area is important for everybody,” said Juan Tover, a cybersecurity and AI instructor at NeoCity Academy in Kissimmee. “I feel we are writing history.”
Most students who participated in the pilot program were freshman, though some sophomores and juniors also participated. All entered the program without programming experience.
“They don’t need a programming background because we’re starting at the beginning. They’re learning about concepts, ethics, and potential problems of AI,” Tover said. “The point is that AI is happening so fast, and we must move fast as well. Everyone needs to learn a little bit about the basics to avoid the misconceptions and the fear of AI.”
By the end of the first year of the coursework, Tovar said more than 20 of his students received Microsoft Azure AI certification, a specialization normally held by engineering and computer science students and professionals.
In addition to developing the new framework for the AI coursework, Ruzycki and her team designed and implemented a professional development program for teachers to prepare them to teach AI concepts. Summer training boot camps began last year and served 150 teachers from 16 districts through this summer.
UF received funding from the Florida Department of Education through a Cybersecurity and IT Pathways Expansion grant.
UF plans to continue to expand the program, as well as create a similar data science curriculum and summer camps for kids as young as middle school.
“Florida is way ahead of the curve in how the state is formalizing its AI education,” Ruzycki said. “AI should be infused throughout the curriculum, but it must be done correctly to prevent spreading misinformation. Our teachers are gaining a clear understanding of the technology before they pass it on to their students, so they can arm them with the skills necessary to thrive in an ever-evolving world.”