Code.org curriculum now teaches AI to every student!

Our brand new AI and Machine Learning Unit is rolling out for the ‘21-’22 school year. It’s suitable for students in grades 6–12.

In December of last year, we shared our plans to offer a comprehensive and age-appropriate K-12 approach to teaching artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

Now, we’re excited to announce the integration of AI and ML lessons into our computer science curricula, which touches millions of students and teachers around the globe.

Just in time for the ‘21-’22 school year, our CS Discoveries curriculum will include the brand new AI and Machine Learning Unit. CS Discoveries is our introductory computer science course for middle school students, and encourages students to see computer science as a medium for creativity, communication, problem solving, and fun.

It can also be taught as a standalone module appropriate for students in grades 6–12, making it a great fit for CS Principles teachers.

AI and ML technologies allow computers to recognize patterns and make decisions without being explicitly programmed. Countless industries are seeking to fulfill the promise of AI to create efficiencies, detect and predict issues, and help make data-driven decisions. As these technologies touch more and more of our daily lives, they have become an essential part of foundational computer science education. But, AI is not yet covered in K-12 computer science standards, and as a result, few K-12 students globally have been exposed to this fast-growing, critical field.

With help from Microsoft last year, we began working on introducing AI/ML to millions of students globally, and this unit is just one part of a whole suite of updates and offerings to enhance our AI/ML learning materials. Previously announced AI resources include an unplugged lesson for grades 6–12 that explores and explains AI ethics, and an 8-video instructional series on AI basics featuring an introduction by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

“Every student should have the opportunity to learn about artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Kate Behncken, Vice President and Lead of Microsoft Philanthropies. “That’s why we’ve partnered with Code.org to help teach these technologies to all K-12 students, using courses that combine computer science curriculum and critical thinking skills. At the same time, our partnership will help students consider the ethical issues that AI raises to maximize the benefits of AI technologies and reduce their risks.”

A look at the AI Lab activity in the unit.

With the addition of the AI/ML unit into our school curriculum, we can equip all students — particularly young women and students from other underrepresented groups in technology — with the basic understanding of how these technologies are shaping the world around us, and inspire them to imagine how they can harness the power of AI/ML to shape our world in the future.

What you can expect in CS Discoveries

The AI and Machine Learning Unit focuses on the personal and societal impact of these technologies, as well as helping students connect concepts to their everyday lives.

A snapshot of just some of the datasets students can choose from in the unit. Students can also create their own datasets.

Since machine learning depends on large sets of data, the new unit includes real life datasets on healthcare, demographics, and more to engage students while exploring questions like, “What is a problem machine learning can help solve?” “How can AI help society?” “Who is benefiting from AI?” “Who is being harmed?” “Who is involved?” “Who is missing?”

An AI Lab app in action! This student-made app uses a pre-existing dataset to predict the gas mileage of a car given a set of factors. Use it for yourself here.

Ethical considerations will be at the forefront of these discussions, with frequent discussion points and lessons around the impacts of these technologies. This will help students develop a holistic, thoughtful understanding of these technologies while they learn the technical underpinnings of how the technologies work.

An example animation that shows how A.I. Bot uses training data.

Concrete, tangible activities in each step of the process help learners feel confident in the material, while flexibility in datasets — students can use Code.org datasets or create their own — help students feel more ownership in their learning.

Remember A.I. Bot from our AI for Oceans tutorial? It returns for a portion of the unit as a wizard!

New vocabulary will introduce students to fundamental AI concepts they will apply in new activities. For example, students will learn about “models” — a computer program designed to make a decision — and then train a model from rows of raw data. Other activities a student might work on in the unit include recreating an algorithm through an unplugged activity and discussing issues of bias and ethics by analyzing model cards, which are in-lesson tools designed to help document decisions.

Teachers can find specifics about how to adopt the unit into their classroom in the Curriculum Guide and the CS Discoveries Implementation Guide.

By pairing technological expertise with ethical considerations and hands-on activities, we hope to teach students how to create an AI-enhanced world that is more equitable and democratic for all.

Beyond AI, new goodies you’ll find in CS Fundamentals

In addition to the changes coming to CS Discoveries, we have exciting announcements about changes and additions to CS Fundamentals, which is geared toward students in grades K-5.

CS Fundamentals teachers can expect significant updates to Sprite Lab, including new lessons, videos, hundreds of sprite costumes, backgrounds and more. Sprite Lab is Code.org’s block-based programming environment where students can make simple animations and games with objects and characters that interact with each other.

The curriculum now also includes more open-ended student projects and new teacher-authored “cross-curricular” extension activities to help students better understand how computer science connects to other subjects.

Brand new sprites, brand new backgrounds!

Recapping updates to CS Principles

Our CS Principles course, geared toward students in grades 9–12, will see only minor modifications this year since it underwent major changes for the 2020–2021 school year. Teachers who taught the course this year may have noticed:

  • A more consistent lesson structure based on teacher feedback that includes a short warm-up, a longer activity, and a quick wrap-up. Lessons were also standardized to be taught in 45-minute blocks.
  • A new pedagogy called EIPM (Explore, Investigate, Practice, Make). This approach clarifies the role of the teacher, supports more collaboration, leads to deeper understanding of topics, and empowers greater creativity and independence on projects.
  • Updates to App Lab — Code.org’s programming environment that allows students to make working, shareable apps — mean students can create apps that feel more like ones they use every day while also supporting engaging new learning experiences. App Lab has a number of new features, including new color themes and a full library of datasets students can use to power apps or explore with built-in visualizer tools.

Thank you to those who helped us get here

Introducing a new unit into any of our curricula is a monumental task. Our team has spent countless hours researching, writing and editing these lessons, but we want to acknowledge and thank the teachers in classrooms across the country who helped pilot these lessons. Their detailed feedback and suggestions ensures this material is classroom ready.

Providing relevant and meaningful curriculum for a subject that evolves and impacts society at lightning speed is no easy task, but luckily we are far from alone in this endeavor. Thank you for joining us!

-Emily McLeod, Director of Curriculum, and the Code.org curriculum team

Code.org® is dedicated to expanding access to computer science increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups.