Changing education: Artificial Intelligence mobile robot

Pennsylvania district launches AI program to encourage student exploration through everyday interactions with robotics
By: | December 6, 2019
Justin Aglio is director of academic achievement and district innovation at Montour School District in Pennsylvania. He is an FETC featured speaker.

Justin Aglio is director of academic achievement and district innovation at Montour School District in Pennsylvania. He was an FETC featured speaker.

Imagine a future where autonomous mobile robots travel around as if droids from Star Wars delivering items from classroom to classroom in elementary school. Well, the future is here at Montour Elementary School in Pennsylvania. Now, students experience an autonomous mobile robot every day in hallways, as it performs delivery tasks. It is part of the Montour School District’s Artificial Intelligence K-12  program.  

In fall 2018, Montour launched its AI program in middle school to teach students about AI autonomous robots, AI and ethics, AI music, AI experience, and AI computer science. To successfully kick off the program, the district partnered with several organizations to provide expertise. Among them: MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, Ready AI, Carnegie Learning: Zulama, Amper Score, WitLingo and Google.  

AI in action

The program was extended in August to the elementary level with the addition of TUG. TUG is a smart autonomous mobile robot from Aethon. This type of mobile robot currently automates material delivery in hospitals, manufacturing and hotels, making over 5 million deliveries per year. The TUG mobile robot at Montour Elementary School is the first deployed TUG at a school.  

According to educator, speaker and author Rachelle Poth, “It is important that we help our students understand not only the capabilities for using AI in learning, but also to develop their own skills to become the creators and innovators of the future.” This is one of several reasons for Montour’s program.

Many people fear AI, but as we know, people fear what they do not know. Therefore, TUG teaches our students about AI and using it for good to decrease the equity gap of society by providing opportunities to learn how AI can transform massive amounts of data.  

Robot ‘sparks curiosity’

Why an autonomous robot in an elementary school? “The first reason is that it is really cool and it sparks curiosity in our children about how it works and how it knows where to go and how to get back,” says Jason Shoaf, co-principal at Montour Elementary School. “Our goal is to encourage that kind of questioning and exploration daily.”

As Montour expanded its AI program to the elementary level, district leaders did not want to just teach AI, they wanted students to interact with AI on a daily basis. Every day, students witness the TUG robot traveling the hallways delivering items. One of our students’ favorite moments is when the TUG robot goes to a classroom, pulls in the door and says, “Your delivery is here.” As a fan of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, I guess this is the technological, modern-day Mr. McFeely, “speedy delivery.”  

One of our students’ favorite moments is when the TUG robot goes to a classroom, pulls in the door and says, “Your delivery is here.”

“To observe students and teachers interacting daily with robotics and AI is inspiring; I cannot help thinking whats going on in a 7-year-olds mind as they engage with this type of technology in their school,” says Christopher Stone, superintendent of schools for the Montour School District.

The goal of the TUG is to spark curiosity and discovery in minds of the students. At Montour Elementary School, they are intrigued naturally every day with how the TUG robot moves, how it stops when someone walks in front of it, and how it can self-navigate through the building, among other actions. In addition to the TUG robot, students in grades K-4 are learning AI through computer science using Google’s AI Experiment programs, such as Teachable Machines, Pattern Radio, Semiconductor and many more experiments that are available for free through Google Experiments.  

Next steps

Montour is continuing program expansion to high school level. It beta tested the AI4ALL Open Learning platform in spring 2019, and Montour High School received a $2,500 grant to continue the pilot of the platform. AI4ALL Open Learning provides tools to solve problems using AI. Made for high school students, this free program builds problem-solving and technical skills, and helps students understand how AI impacts their lives.  


Justin Aglio is director of academic achievement and district innovation at Montour School District in Pennsylvania. He was an FETC featured speaker.

 


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