Toggle open
Learning Library Blog Simple Starters for AI Literacy and Digital Citizenship Learning
Expand breadcrumbs
AI Digital Citizenship Codeapillar2 r

When surveyed last spring, half of teachers felt that artificial intelligence (AI) would make their jobs more challenging. Even more noteworthy, 96% reported not receiving any training on the topic of AI. In our own small survey at New York’s NYSCATE Annual conference last November, we saw a range of emotions on the topic from excitement to fear. Teaching digital citizenship, a broad multidisciplinary subject, was already challenging. But how to incorporate emerging AI technologies into it?

In our work, we aim to mitigate those fears or feelings of overwhelm with simple ideas for incorporating both AI and digital citizenship into the classroom.

First, how do AI and digital citizenship intersect? Some areas of overlap are easier to find, particularly around media literacy. Who owns the content when created through a user prompt in an AI system? AI has made it easier to develop deep fakes and other mis- or disinformation. Deciphering what is real, what is fake and everything in between takes an understanding of media literacy.

Along with media literacy, AI is connected to digital citizenship in the realms of online safety and the digital economy. Scams and spam have proliferated online with AI. Platforms and policy makers are struggling to constrain the rise in this synthetic content and opportunities for scammers.

However, teachers should go beyond those specific subjects to include the broader, overarching topic: ethics. Digital citizenship addresses the whys of technology; it encourages our students and us to reflect both on our system ecosystems and digital behavior. AI raises many ethical questions, such as:

  • Who benefits from AI?
  • Who owns the AI content?
  • What does it mean to be creative?
  • What does it mean to be human?

The ISTE Student standards encourage these deeper and more critical questions. With AI, we are all operating with ambiguity—the laws haven’t caught up, and it’s often unclear what’s real. ISTE Student Standard 1.4.d. (Open-ended Problems) addresses this: “Students exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.” We need learners who can adapt, reflect, and operate in this sometimes-confusing liminal space in AI we all are part of. But how can we teach our students to learn these skills?

Grade-Level AI and Digital Citizenship Activities 

Grades K-2

Introduce K-2 students to basic concepts relating to AI and its applications. Start with simple machines and the notion of what it means to think. Discuss the steps required to complete common daily activities and how we make decisions. Continue with an overview of the basic language of computer science.

Vocabulary words for K-2 students should include:

  • Real
  • Artificial
  • Algorithm
  • Intelligence
  • Learning
  • Machine
  • Training

Activities can address foundational ideas, such as what it means for something to be artificial, what it means to be intelligent, how machines learn, and the difference between a human and AI.

Many activities for this age group can be rooted in play. Have students “teach” a simple robot to navigate a maze as a way to understand robot “learning.” There are a variety of appropriate platforms for this type of activity, including Fisher-Price Code-A-Pillars, Bee-Bot Robots, LEGO SPIKE Prime, and others. If robots are not available, students might take turns in an “unplugged” activity, such as playing the role of a robot in navigating a maze with instructions provided by a partner. They can also use a program to move a sprite on a screen through a maze.

Kindergarten students are "training" their code-a-pillars to complete a maze. To accomplish this, they must add segments that direct the motion of the code-a-pillar. Photos courtesy of the authors. 

Grades 3-6

In grades 3-6, students can delve deeper into machine learning and what it means to “train” an AI system. developed AI for Oceans, a fun way for students to learn about artificial intelligence, machine learning, training data, and bias, while exploring ethical issues and how AI can address world problems. It is also important for students to see positive applications of AI and become increasingly aware that AI systems' actions depend on the training data used in the development of those systems. Students may also be encouraged to read articles and books on the subject. A search of the topic “artificial intelligence” on Newsela provides many articles that may interest students.

Grades 7-12

In the secondary grades (7-12), it is important for students to address the pros and cons of AI. Students might view short clips from popular media (“WALL-E,” “Star Wars,” “Ironman,” “Free Guy,” “A.I.”) and discuss machine learning applications, artificial intelligence, and deep learning. Students at this stage enjoy delving into the topic of deep fake technologies and the ethics associated with AI applications. One interesting activity is to explore how popular movies would look if a different actor were placed in a leading role (Charlize Theron as Captain Marvel, Tom Holland replacing Toby McGuire in the 2002 “Spiderman,” Harrison Ford as Han Solo in “Solo,” or Brenden Frasier in “The Mummy” reboot).

Addressing these ethical considerations through literature circles is also a great way to engage this age group. Students could examine a book in which an individual or group wishes to change the thoughts and perceptions of another group. Examples of age-appropriate novels for this activity include:

  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
  • Matched by Allie Condie
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfield
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver

As a culminating group project for the literature circles, students could use green screen technology to create their own images or videos about the novel's characters, organizations, and/or topics. Discuss the ramifications of creating extremely realistic ("deep fake") imagery and video. What are the risks and benefits of this technology? What are the challenges? What are some examples of harm that could come from it?

It is important for schools to engage students in exploring AI and its applications. Some people fear it, others embrace it, but regardless of where we stand, it is here to stay. Ultimately, the course artificial intelligence takes depends on us. The development of AI technologies and policies regarding their use are driven by human decision-making. It is, therefore, essential for us all to work together for the ethical application of artificial intelligence. Working together begins with a basic understanding of the vocabulary, underlying concepts, benefits, and challenges. As educators, we play a key role in helping our students develop foundational knowledge to allow for sound decision-making in the future.

Join Lisa Bank and Carrie Rogers-Whitehead for their session "Creating a culture of trust with AI and Digital Citizenship" at ISTELive 24. Register now!

Lisa Blank, the Director of STEM Programs for Watertown City School District in Watertown, New York, is an ISTE certified educator and DoD STEM Ambassador. Lisa is passionate about creating rich STEM learning opportunities and believes in equipping all students with skills, knowledge, and dispositions to solve big problems in our world.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the founder of Digital Respons-Ability, a mission-based company that teaches tens of thousands of students, parents and educators digital citizenship. She is the co-author of the recent ISTE title, Deepening Digital Citizenship: a Guide to Systemwide Policy and Practice.