This Five Towns school is embracing Artificial Intelligence


Whether they will incorporate artificial intelligence into their curriculums — and if so, how — continues to be a hot topic of discussion in Five Towns schools.

AI, the ability for a computer program to think and learn substantially faster than humans, processing language and solving problems, is now in the spotlight, though the technology is hardly new. Smart speaker voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri, and automated phone services, have been around for years.

Children attending school are growing up with technology.

So how much of a role should it play in their education?

According to an EdWeek Research Center survey, 33 percent of educators view AI tools as “fairly important” when it comes to teaching students.

Lawrence Woodmere Academy, in Woodmere, is fully embracing AI, according to Hank William Sr., the school’s headmaster.

“We’re looking to embrace it, because I think the reality is — and it can be very debatable — that I don’t think it’s going away,” Williams said with a chuckle.

“If we can expose it the right way, and have students understand it and use it the right way and embrace it enough, I think it would benefit the kids in the future.”

LWA, which completed several renovations and upgrades throughout its Woodmere Boulevard building in preparation for the new school year, also brought in tech expert teacher John Tiliakos to acquaint students with the technology.

Tiliakos has taught children and adults computer programming, and will lead students in grades five through 12 in a new class called “How Artificial Intelligence Works in our World,” which can be taken as a semester or full-year course with activities/assignments changing based on grade level.

“When we speak about artificial intelligence, we want a machine to ‘think like an individual,’” Tiliakos said. “So we must guide the machine to do things.”

But there are concerns about artificial intelligence’s impact. Most likely troubled by sky-is-falling stories in the media and their own worries, 54 percent of Americans view AI as a threat to humanity, according to a recent Quinnipiac University survey.

“You have to teach discipline to the individual, even adults,” Tiliakos said. “What to do and what not to do. It’s getting them engaged the right way. You give them the tool, but you must teach them how to use it properly.”

The Nassau County Council of School Superintendents, which provides programs for educational staff development, worked with superintendents in the spring on becoming more familiar with AI and training their teachers to work with the technology.

“It’s here, kids are accessing it — now how do we acknowledge that and use that for the value that it has?” said Lawrence school district superintendent Ann Pedersen, who took part in the training.

Before it began, Pedersen acknowledged, her view on the technology was that it “should go away.” But that changed as she began to see its potential.

“It was fascinating,” she recalled feeling.

“I was arms folded, like ‘Nope, nope, nope, never going to use it,’ but then I walked away saying, ‘Oh, this is unbelievable.’”

The Hewlett-Woodmere district, too, is moving cautiously toward using AI.

“Our administrators and some teachers have attended conferences and workshops pertaining to AI and the impact that it will have on education,” Amanda Kavanagh, the district’s assistant superintendent for teaching, learning and technology, wrote in an email.

“We will continue to learn as these tools evolve and more research comes to light.”

Asked how he would teach his students at Lawrence Woodmere Academy, Tiliakos said that one of his first assignments would actually be a field trip, so they could see it live at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, a hands-on science and technology center with over 400 exhibits.

“We have to go in the field set and see it in action, most definitely,” he said.

“Theory is one thing, watching the videotape is another, but to go into the actual environment is totally different.”


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