Science

This District Hopes Seeing What AI Can Do Will Spur More Students to Take Computer Science

By Alyson Klein — December 19, 2023 2 min read
Students creating programs while using laptop
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Could guiding an AI -powered sloth emoji as it grooves to singer Olivia Rodrigo’s hit “Good 4 U” help students become more passionate about computer science?

Florida’s Broward County schools are hoping so. The district joined others around the country in putting an AI twist on Hour of Code, an annual celebration of computer science, launched by Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding access to computer science education.

Broward was among the first school systems to embrace Hour of Code, which the district makes a monthlong event. Hour of Code, which includes suggested activities, was designed to ignite student and educator interest in computer science. It has been running for a decade.

Broward’s work this year through Hour of Code—which took place at some 100 of the district’s roughly 300 schools—featured low-lift, high-interest AI activities. In one, students used AI to get information at key decision points in the popular game Minecraft. In another, students created a code-able “dance party,” featuring a character they helped create performing dance moves they selected to a song they chose. (More on the district’s work here.)

In Broward, AI is incorporated primarily into one computer science course, though a handful of middle school teachers are also working on integrating it into their subjects.

Lisa V. Milenkovic, the district’s supervisor for science, math, and technology—including computer science, is hoping that AI might be the hook that entices students to take a deeper look into computer science more generally.

Some students may see computer science as a dry subject, but AI is a hot topic these days.

“AI is in the news all the time,” Milenkovic said. “They know that everyone needs to know a little bit about AI. This is a hook to get more interested in what AI is. Now, maybe they think they want to do something with AI” and may elect to take a computer science class.

Computer science is a lucrative and expanding field, but very few students nationwide take courses in the subject.

Overall, 57.5 percent of high schools offer foundational computer science courses, a 4.5 percentage point jump over last year, the largest since 2018, according to a report released earlier this year by Code.org. But only 5.8 percent of high school students are enrolled in those courses in the 35 states where data are available. That percentage is similar to the percentage of a year ago.

Courses that touch on AI or AI literacy are even more limited across the country. In fact, more than three-quarters of educators (77 percent) said they or the teachers they supervise are not prepared to teach students the skills they need to be successful in an AI-powered world, according to an Edweek Research Center survey conducted this summer.

The Hour of Code activities may help spur interest in AI among teachers, too, though Broward’s educators already see possibilities for the technology. Fifty teachers signed up for an AI workshop held last summer, twice as many as for any other computer science workshop, Milenkovic said.

For educators who haven’t had much experience with AI, Hour of Code has “given them an opportunity now to start that conversation about AI,” Milenkovic. “We think teachers are more interested in it for their own use.”

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